A little over a week ago, approximately one million people came to Pasadena for the Tournament of Roses Parade while tens of millions watched from their living rooms. However, while the nation learned about high school marching bands, city centennials, and a lot about roses, there was no mention that Pasadena happens to be the home of one of the top research and educational institutions in the world. Many a Caltech student has wondered why people haven’t heard of their school – why when strangers hear, “Caltech” they say, “you mean Cal Poly?” The answers may have been on parade on New Year’s Day.
The students of Cal Poly have built a float every year since 1949, while Caltech students have built a float only twice during that period. The Caltech community seems largely ignorant of the Tournament of Roses; I bet you didn’t know that three Caltech girls reached the quarterfinals for Rose Queen this year. Maybe we could focus our efforts in that direction, but I think engineers still outnumber girls on this campus.
On the day after New Year’s, I visited the Post Parade exhibit at the intersection of Sierra Madre and Washington Boulevards. Seeing the floats up close reinforced my belief that Caltech students would be very capable of building a float on a regular basis. The underlying infrastructure is no more complicated than the average Dabney Drop Day party. The moving parts require no more intricacy than the average ME72 project. Our only weakness may be a shortage of free time; The Tournament of Roses doesn’t hand out E’s.
If Caltech students wanted to do this, it would take a great deal of planning and organization. In my eyes, there are three main aspects of a Caltech rose float project. One aspect will rely on the students. A permanent committee would need to be formed where students are selected each year to be responsible for the float. For this aspect, we can likely learn a lot from Cal Poly, and a quick drive out to Pomona could start us on that path.
Another major aspect will rely on the Institute and the faculty. For the 1991 float, ME100 gave 4 units to students working on the float. At the very least, we would need a place to build the float. Getting faculty members and administrators involved would contribute greatly to the institutional memory, and at such a small school, every additional pair of hands will be able to contribute. In the final phase of building a float, flowers need to be affixed by hand, and while most of the student body is away for the holidays, involving the staff population on campus and at JPL would be essential.
The last aspect is money. In 1950, Caltech allocated funds to commemorate the opening of the Palomar Observatory. In 1991, Caltech set aside a huge centennial budget. To make a Caltech rose float a long-term reality, a permanent source of funds would need to be established. It is unlikely a single donor will make a Gordon Moore-like commitment to a rose float, but students should be able to solicit donations from a variety of corporations and philanthropists for this very public project.
A Caltech rose float is likely still a few years away, and since I’m graduating this year, I am unfortunately not in a prime position to lead this project. However, I think the timing is perfect to start such an initiative. With the campaign just kicking off, I think the additional publicity for Caltech would be extremely valuable. If there is an underclassman, a professor, an administrator, or a staff member who is reading this and shares my sentiments, please contact me and perhaps we can help make these dreams, wishes, and imagination into reality.