html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: CalPoly was good to me.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

CalPoly was good to me.

My irrigation professor at CalPoly recruited me away from the Bureau of Reclamation; he liked the way I edited one of his reports. I hadn’t thought about being an engineer before. When I called my Dad to tell him I chose that program, I said “Wow, you’ll have two engineer daughters” and my Dad answered “At least.” I think my baby sister was four at the time.

My irrigation professor is an extremely honorable man; I’m proud that he is part of my academic pedigree. He knows a phenomenal amount about delivering water to fields, but that’s about what you’d expect. I was more impressed with how much attention he paid to how people interact with water projects. The week we designed hand-move sprinkler systems, he took us out to the practice field and made us carry pipe. He wanted us to know what our design was requiring of field workers.

I’d never met people like my classmates at CalPoly. Most of them were white, sons of growers from the Valley. They may well have been the third or fourth generation of their family at CalPoly. I remember one ranch kid telling me he had never eaten meat bought from a store until he went away to college and he’ll never do that again. There were a handful of Mexican-American men, taking the step that was going to move them out of being laborers. (Respect.) When they met each other, they would exchange names and the crops they grew up picking. “Anselmo, tomatoes.” “Hector, peaches.”

I was too different to become friends with the farm kids, but I liked them. For one, they are pretty. Oh man. A lifetime of constant work gave them muscled builds and a graceful, economical way of moving. They worked together in a way I have never seen in urban people. Not much discussion, but all patient and alert to what has to happen next, providing the right lift or tool or shifting a burden. I expected them to be more racist, but most knew good and well how hard field work is and respected the people who did it. The one time I heard picking lettuce referred to as “Mexican golf” my professor put an authoritative stop to that.

My professor believes there is exactly one correct way to do engineering, or really anything. He demanded a rigorously methodical approach, zero shortcuts, everything meticulously spelled out and justified. He himself never varied. That was good for me because I was new to engineering, but it exasperated some of my classmates. I asked my professor one time what he did in Vietnam. He defused unexploded bombs and mines. One correct way, indeed.

5 Comments:

Blogger The Bench Jockey said...

Your professor sounds a lot like my late Grandfather. Two ways to do things; His Way or the Wrong Way. Over time, His way was proved to be the right way because he'd already considered other ways and dismissed them.

Oh, and he was a mining engineer. You get that wrong, and you've got real problems.

2:50 PM  
Blogger matt said...

My grandfather sounds quite a bit like your professor as well. He wasn't an engineer -- he was a pastor, actually -- but he was a proper German from the Old Country, not quite as far back as Prussia, but with a childhood full of his parents' stories of those days.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous thelonious_nick said...

"I remember one ranch kid telling me he had never eaten meat bought from a store until he went away to college and he’ll never do that again."

For moral reasons? Or does the meat taste better? We sometimes buy meat at the local farmers' market but to tell you the truth I can't really tell the difference like I can with the vegetables.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

He thought store-bought meat tasted terrible.

8:12 AM  
Anonymous hamilton said...

You had made some quip when you started this line of blogging about your readers going away. These posts are even more interesting than your posts on socializing and boys (and that's saying something).

10:57 PM  

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