About Cal Poly


Cal Poly is in San Luis Obispo, a city of about 44,000 on California's central coast, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The city and university share a neighborly, small-campus, small-town feeling and one of the finest natural environments anywhere. With its year round temperate climate, majestic peaks, quiet valleys and the nearby ocean, Cal Poly is an ideal environment for learning and growing.


From Cal Poly's compact, 1321-acre main campus, you can take in sweeping views of the nearby peaks and valleys. To the north of the academic core is an additional 8,357 acres of rolling campus devoted to student farming, experimental architecture and other outdoor laboratory studies, making Cal Poly one of the largest campuses in the nation.

Click on the links below to read more about Cal Poly, its history, and its programs.

The Place The Program The History

The Place

Cal Poly's facilities complement its reputation as one of the finest universities in the western region.

Possibilities for recreation and other activities are limitless. Cal Poly students partake in music, dance, drama, films, fine arts, rodeo, radio, student government and many other opportunities to develop skills and interests.

Students live both on and off campus. Cal Poly has more residence halls than any other CSU campus. They offer a variety of living arrangements for about 3,600 students.

Students are responsible for running the university's high-tech recreational sports complex, which offers exercise and fitness rooms, a 50 meter swimming pool, double level gymnasium, racquetball courts and martial arts rooms.

Instructional facilities are as specialized and lab-oriented as the instructional programs. Cal Poly never stops developing new facilities and adapting old facilities to include the latest technology. A prime example is the 21,000 square foot Dairy Products Technology Center (DPTC).

The university's spacious, modern library contains about 620,000 books and 107,000 bound periodicals, and an extensive government documents collection and other special collections.

The Program

Unlike most universities, Cal Poly requires that every prospective student apply for a particular major field of study, whether seeking to enter from high school or from a community college or another university. Instruction in the major begins on the first day of class.

Over 60 undergraduate majors are offered and nine are available within the CSU system only at Cal Poly, and another eight are offered only at one other CSU campus. The university's career orientation is evident in its programs in Agriculture, Architecture, Business, Design, Education, Engineering, Graphic Communication and Journalism.

From row crops to computers, Cal Poly believes that the best way for someone to learn something is to do it. That's been the school's philosophy since it began.

Walk around the Cal Poly campus and look into the classrooms, labs and lounges; you'll find Cal Poly students reading, studying, and attending class. But that's not all. You'll find them working - rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty.

Career education at Cal Poly is taught within the framework of a thorough general education that helps students develop fully, not just as trained professionals, but as educated individuals. Curriculum is designed to teach students to think logically, judge critically and communicate clearly.

At Cal Poly you'll find students testing the strength of beams, raising livestock, publishing a newspaper, designing structures, caring for young children and writing computer programs. You find them machining metal, testing aircraft, auditing books, developing experiments, and building all kinds of things.

The History

In 1849, on a cold rainy December day, with gold-rush fever running high, a young West Point dropout gets off a ship in San Francisco and looks for a job. His last cent was spent getting there.

All night he slogs through muddy streets, but the next morning a man hails him:

"Say, boy, do you want a job?

"Yes, sir!" "Get up on that building and nail on those shingles. I'll give you $8 a day."

The young man pauses.

"Mister, I never drove a nail in my life."

Someone else got the job. The young man was Myron Angel. By the 1890's he had become a prominent San Luis Obispo resident and chronicler of the county's history, but he hadn't forgotten that hard lesson learned on a cold morning in a strange city.

"I could have told the man a great deal I had learned in books," Angel recalled, "but nothing about building a house."

Angel was a leader in the campaign that at first aimed to establish a state "normal" school ... (a teachers' training school) at San Luis Obispo. But when that prospect dimmed, he shifted his support to the idea of a polytechnic institute, an idea suggested by the district's state senator, Sylvester C. Smith of Bakersfield.

Looking back to his arrival in San Francisco, Angel made an eloquent case for a technical school, and in the same stroke articulated the institution's future. He envisioned a school that would "teach the hand as well as the head, so that no young man or young woman will be sent off in the world to earn their living as poorly equipped for the task as I when I landed in San Francisco in 1849."

In 1901, San Luis Obispo was a farm and rail community of just over 3,000 people. What is now the Cal Poly campus was farmland some distance north of town. The Southern Pacific Railroad had just completed the last link in its coastal route and supported the proposal to build a technical school as one way of increasing business for the new line. March 8, 1901, saw the legislation founding the California Polytechnic school signed into law after six years of debate.

The mandate was clear: "to furnish to young people of both sexes mental and manual training in the arts and sciences, including agriculture, mechanics, engineering, business methods, domestic economy, and such other branches as will fit the student for non-professional walks of life."

Much has changed in the ensuing years, including the definition of "professional," as Cal Poly has grown from a vocational high school into a major university. But the essence of that original charge is still part of state law, and Cal Poly has never lost sight of the purpose for which it was created.

Cal Poly's style was clear from the beginning as the first day of class demonstrated. When 15 young men and women showed up on October 1, 1903, the main building was not finished. Construction debris still littered the dormitory. But Director Leroy Anderson, Mrs. Anderson and the students moved in, set to work and set the example that others are still following.

As the school's director until 1908, Anderson emphasized learning by doing and earning while learning, and established once and for all Cal Poly's hands-on approach to its polytechnic subject matter.

During its first three decades, Cal Poly evolved into the equivalent of a junior college, and governance was transferred from a local board of trustees to the State Board of Education. Then the depression hit, and hit hard. The legislature considered abolishing the institution. But in 1933 Cal Poly got a new start. Julian A. McPhee, Chief of the California Bureau of Agricultural Education, agreed to become the school's president.

McPhee assumed leadership of what had been reorganized as a two-year technical college offering instruction in agriculture and industrial fields. Enrollment had been limited to men as of 1929.

During the next 33 years, until his retirement in 1966, McPhee guided Cal Poly's transformation. A third year of instruction was added in 1936, a fourth in 1940. Cal Poly's first baccalaureate exercises were held on May 28, 1942.

During World War II, the campus was the site of a naval flight preparatory school. After the war, a wave of practical-minded veterans using the GI Bill helped inject fresh vigor into the college's programs. The curriculum, facilities, and enrollment expanded rapidly.

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