Materials Engineering Department’s Anniversary Campaign Doubles Original Fundraising Goal, Raising Money for Labs

Materials engineering lecturer Desalegn Alemu Mengistie works with MATE student Vincent Guarino in a lab.
Materials engineering lecturer Desalegn Alemu Mengistie shows MATE student Vincent Guarino how to operate a scanning electron microscope in MATE 401 (Materials Characterization Techniques).

A fundraising campaign coinciding with the Materials Engineering Department’s 60th anniversary exceeded expectations, nearly doubling its goal, said Department Chair Trevor Harding.

The campaign, which raised close to $45,000, was matched with $50,000 provided by alumnus Bill LaFontaine.

“The success of the Materials Engineering 60th Anniversary Capital Campaign was driven by two factors,” Harding said. “First, the department is blessed to have an enthusiastic and engaged alumni base that is committed to the department’s success.  Second, Dr. Bill LaFontaine’s matching challenge gift likely motivated many of his fellow alums to give more than they might otherwise have done. We’re grateful to Bill for his incredible generosity – and to that competitive streak in our alums that made him write that matching gift!”

After earning his degree from Cal Poly in 1985, LaFontaine went on to earn a doctorate from Cornell and eventually rose through the ranks as a top IBM executive. Grateful to have been able to put his own two sons through college, he began to think of ways to contribute more to the MATE Department.

LaFontaine said he hoped his matching gift would inspire others to support those that follow their path to Cal Poly.

MATE alumnus Bill LaFontaine’s $50,000 matching donation helped raise an additional $45,000 for the department. (Photo courtest of Bill LaFontaine)

“All of us have benefitted in one way or another from our stay in San Luis Obispo, and we can help with extending the legacy of the Learn by Doing approach, which is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago when I showed up on campus,” LaFontaine said last year. “As we compete with other countries, we need many well-trained engineers and scientists in our workforce, inventing products and services. Lastly, the investment in a Cal Poly student is an investment that will pay off in society for decades to come. How many gifts can one give that will have impacts like this?”

The department paired the campaign with the recognition of its 60th anniversary, which will be officially celebrated this spring. The original goal was to raise $25,000.

“The alumni are incredibly enthusiastic about the campaign and the upcoming 60th Anniversary celebration,” Harding said. “For those from the early days of the program, they see this as a way to give back to a department, chaired by R.C. Wiley, that helped them launch their careers and achieve their success.”

More recent alumni have been engaged as well, he said, and want to improve opportunities for the next generation of MATE students.

“That commitment to continuously improving the department is​ irreplaceable,” Harding said.

The money will be directed toward laboratory spaces, he added. Specifically, it will help finance the completion of a wirelessly integrated modeling and simulation lab and begin the renovation of an electron microscopy lab that will be essential to research and learning in nanotechnology.

“Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing motto is not just words on a page,” Harding said. “Our faculty, staff and students live by these words every day.  But, as technology advances, our Learn by Doing activities and facilities have to keep pace.” 

The plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary had been postponed previously due to the pandemic. The celebration was rescheduled for May 19-22, 2022.

The festivities will begin with the San Luis Obispo Farmer’s Market and lead into several days of activities, which include lab tours; banquets; wine and beer tasting; live music; opportunities to attend a MATE class; a sculpture dedication to Wiley, the founder of the department, and more.

To donate to the Materials Engineering Department, please visit this site.


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