Home News Cal Poly Float Wins Founders’ Trophy at 2017 Rose Parade

Cal Poly Float Wins Founders’ Trophy at 2017 Rose Parade

Pasadena, Calif., (January 12, 2017) – Cal Poly universities’ “A New Leaf,” featuring an animated family of chameleons exploring the wonders of a vibrantly colorful world around them, received the Founders’ Trophy for the most beautiful float built and decorated by volunteers from a community or organization at the 128th Rose Parade held Jan. 2.

The float, designed and built by teams of students from Cal Poly and California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, celebrates the 2017 parade theme, “Echoes of Success.” The theme tells the story of how character is developed through the selfless contributions of others and celebrates their inspirational gifts.

“The Cal Poly universities’ float is a shining example of our students’ embrace of the Learn by Doing experience,” Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong said of the annual yearlong project. “Students from a range of majors spanning our campus join their peers from Pomona each year to design, construct, shape and decorate a unique creation that delights Cal Poly alumni, family and fans. “This year’s entry is no exception. The students continue to develop new innovations that deliver ingenious animation and bring their flower-covered creatures to life.”

“A New Leaf” is among 41 entries and is the only student-built float. The 18- by 55-foot entry is just under 30 feet tall, with the largest chameleon measuring about 25 feet long and 7 feet tall. The students developed an intricate mechanism that raises and lowers some of the flowers on the largest chameleon, making its stripes appear to change color from orange to yellow.

“It’s a perfect fantasy world of wonder and amazement,” said design chair Zach Cooperband, a Cal Poly math and architectural engineering senior. “These chameleons are some of the biggest characters we’ve made in recent history. This is also the first time in Cal Poly history that we’ve done a tiered float.”


Construction chair Sara Novell and her team tackled the challenge of building several moving mechanisms on the float.

“The most innovative is the color-changing mechanism,” said Novell, a Cal Poly mechanical engineering junior. “We have about 2-inch-thick foam, which we cut into strips and drilled holes and put in dowels. Half of the strips are moving and half are stationary, so you basically kind of have a checkerboard.”

During the recent Decorations Week in Pasadena, the float was adorned with thousands of flowers — including about 9,500 roses and 4,200 Gerbera daisies. The chameleons were covered in about 32,500 button mums, said decorations chair Belen Castillo, a Cal Poly forestry and natural resources junior.

“It’s just unreal how much time and steel, how much shaping, how many flowers went into making the float,” Castillo said. “The very last thing we do is put on all the flowers. It looks so beautiful.”

Awards were announced at 6 a.m., two hours before the start of the 5½-mile parade down Colorado Boulevard. Normally held on New Year’s Day, the Tournament of Roses has maintained a “Never on Sunday” tradition since 1893 to avoid frightening horses that would be hitched outside churches and thus interfering with worship services.

“I’m always overjoyed to have their work rewarded with a banner,” said Josh D’acquisto, Cal Poly’s Rose Parade float advisor. “It’s kind of that cherry on top that says not only did you compete at this level but you took home a trophy as well.”

The schools were also honored for their commitment to California’s flower farmers. It’s the sixth consecutive year the float has earned the “California Grown” designation from the California Cut Flower Commission, which recognizes an entry decorated with at least 85 percent of cut flowers and plant materials from the Golden State.

The Cal Poly universities’ float has about 94 percent of cut flowers and plant materials from California, including orange and yellow marigolds grown on the San Luis Obispo campus.


Since 1949, students from San Luis Obispo and Pomona have come together across 240 miles to produce the float — one of only a handful of self-built entries — for Pasadena’s signature event. Since then, the two schools’ entries have earned more than 50 awards, including the Lathrop K. Leishman Trophy in 2016 for the most beautiful non-commercial float. 

A symbol of the partnership between the two campuses is the float’s chassis, whose front and back halves are joined mid-October each year in Pomona to officially unite both the float and the teams.

Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing ethos is exemplified in all facets of the float program, as students from throughout all six of the university’s colleges get hands-on experience welding, metal shaping, machining, foam carving, woodworking, painting and flower harvesting — ultimately competing against professional float builders with corporate sponsorships.

The parade is watched in person by 700,000 people and on television by an international audience estimated at more than 100 million.

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