The Power of Doing

The Campaign for Learn by Doing

The future is filled with both exhilarating opportunities and arduous challenges in fields of agriculture, food and environmental sciences. For generations, students have attended Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences for the hands-on training and education needed to prepare them to be leaders in the industry. They graduate poised and ready to employ innovative solutions to the challenges ahead, such as feeding a growing population, meeting the demands for more efficient, sustainable production methods, and navigating a global marketplace.

Funding research gives professors the opportunity to continue their scholarly advancements while researching issues important to farming in California and take that knowledge back to the classroom.

— Rick Tomlinson, president of the California Strawberry Commission

Students are hard at work. They are analyzing data and using technology to increase the pace of automation. They are working on best management practices and supply chain solutions to ensure a safe food supply. They are engineering solutions to find smarter and more efficient ways to use and conserve water. And this is just the beginning.

The Learn by Doing opportunities that enable students to create, collaborate and innovate are driven by the college’s mission to be a center of excellence in applied sciences through responsive scholarship, leadership and service to others.

Cal Poly’s fundraising campaign –The Power of Doing: The Campaign for Learn by Doing –made public in May, is intended to empower the college to do even more by providing the funding needed to increase the college’s investment in cutting-edge facilities, enhance hands-on learning opportunities and expand access to applied research and technology.

The college is building for the future and progress is already underway in several key areas – all because of donors who have been willing to step forward and invest in the future.

The JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture, the Boswell Ag Tech Center in the new William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation (name pending CSU Board of Trustees approval), and the George Wurzel Plant Sciences Building will all bring faculty, students and industry together to discover new solutions to the complex issues of the future. To date, donors such as Jerry Lohr, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Jim and Suzanne Boswell and the James G. Boswell Foundation, and Jimand Michelle Marderosian have contributed more than $20 million to those three buildings alone. Butthere is much more to be done.

Critical areas in need of support to provide Learn by Doing opportunities include investment in scholarships to recruit and retain the best and brightest students, the Summer Undergraduate Research Program to encourage more students to work closely with faculty and engage in research projects that tackle complex issues, and the Industry Engagement Fund to strengthen the college’s ties to industry in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the field.

Dean Andrew Thulin and Jerry Lohr at the construction site
of the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture.

Cal Poly’s Power of Doing capital campaign has a goal of $700 million raised by 2021. Funds raised will support three primary campaign pillars: Empowering Students, Empowering Excellence, and Empowering Innovation. Below are several stories about what has compelled some of the college’s donors in each of these areas.

Strawberries use less than 1% of California’s farmland to create the fourth most valuable crop in California. When new challenges emerged to its continued success, the industry turned to Cal Poly.

In 2014, the California Strawberry Commission partnered with Cal Poly to create a Strawberry Center on campus to foster innovation and problem solving. With an original investment of $1 million from the commission, Cal Poly hired a new faculty position and launched the Strawberry Center, which has since grown to include an on-campus test farm and a team of faculty and staff specialized in plant pathology, entomology and automation.

Rick Tomlinson, president of the California Strawberry Commission, said that the private-public partnership is about investing in human knowledge to help California farmers. “That is what a university does – it cultivates knowledge and people,” Tomlinson said. “The true partnership is converting the investment into value for everyone — learning opportunities for students, scholarly research for faculty, and solutions for farmers. Funding is required, but the real innovation is the collaboration.”

Now in the fifth year of this partnership, the California Strawberry Commission has contributed $4 million to Cal Poly and attracted an additional $1.2 million in state and federal grants. Industry funding has been used to purchase equipment for laboratories, to provide facilities for faculty and students, to hire additional scientists and technicians, to fund numerous research projects, and to provide internships and Learn by Doing opportunities for 53 undergraduate and 10 graduate students.

“Funding research gives professors the opportunity to continue their scholarly advancements while researching issues important to farming in California and take that knowledge back to the classroom,” Tomlinson said. “Cal Poly with its Learn by Doing focus is interested in giving students real experiences. We are investing in the next generation who will enter the strawberry industry ready to address future challenges and implement new solutions in agriculture, engineering and data science – advancing strawberries into the next generation of precision agriculture.”

Empowering Excellence

Jerry Lohr, founder and co-owner of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, has donated more than $2.5 million to the college’s JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture and has been an instrumental proponent of the project.

Lohr made the first $1 million pledge in 2011 to kick-off the fundraising efforts for the project and has continued to give since. He sees it as an investment in the future of the industry and in the students, who are eager for hands-on experiences.

The value of education is immeasurable, he said. Lohr, the oldest of five siblings, said the importance of higher education was imparted to him at a young age, following in the footsteps of his parents and family before him.

“I have a tremendous appreciation for education and when I think of the opportunities I was lucky enough to have in universities, I want others to have those same opportunities,” Lohr said. “The new winery will give students real world experience in techniques that you can only learn by doing.”

Lohr frequently employs Cal Poly students and alumni at his own vineyards in Monterey and Paso Robles. Each summer as many as 15 Cal Poly interns work at the J. Lohr Paso Robles Vineyard and Winery in production, viticulture and the laboratory. “Cal Poly students are practical, intelligent, and still down to earth,” Lohr said. “Students come to us eager to see how what they have learned in the classroom is applied – now they will be able to do that on campus. We are not only raising the bar of their educational experience, we are raising the industry professionalism on the Central Coast and beyond.”

Empowering Students

Andy LaVelle (Ornamental Horticulture, ’92) and his wife Lisa (Agricultural Business, ’93) recently donated $27,000 to create the Andrew and Lisa LaVelle Scholarship Endowment to benefit students within the college for years to come.

“While attending Cal Poly, our experiences were fantastic,” said Andy LaVelle, president of Arborwell, a professional tree management company in California. “I also know the value of a Cal Poly degree, as it meant a lot within my career because the Cal Poly name is held in such high regard in terms of agriculture in California.”

LaVelle said he and his wife, Lisa, who is vice president of the Gap Outlet global inventory management, decided to fund the endowment to give a focus to their philanthropy after assessing their overall charitable giving to a variety of organizations. The couple maximized matching funds from each of their employers to create the endowment.

Andy LaVelle recently joined the advisory council of the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department to provide industry insight and expertise. Arborwell employs nearly a dozen Cal Poly graduates, he said.

“We realize how much it now costs students in California to attend college,” he said. “We just loved our experience at Cal Poly and want to as much as possible make that opportunity available to others.“



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