Written by on June 27, 2017

Interdisciplinary projects thrive at Kennedy Library

Cal Poly students are taking a Learn by Doing approach to applying their skills in spaces outside the classroom.

Materials engineering senior Zak Lilley applied his knowledge and skillset to improving the acoustics within the library’s student collaboration fishbowls. Lilley joined efforts with architecture students Erik Yarosh and Jeffrey Skilling, and the three created a prototype that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Jean Lee, a faculty member of the Materials Engineering Department, and Dale Clifford, assistant professor in the Architecture Department, served as project advisors. They received funding for the project from CPConnect, which supports interdisciplinary engineering for original senior projects.

“We’re making a mass-customizable system to develop an organic system for covering walls beautifully and effectively,”  Yarosh said.

The view from inside the fishbowl with the prototype installed.

The students installed their prototype in the library on June 14, where it will remain for at least three to six months. The final result is a product of months of collaboration, designing and planning. Lilley said that the collaborative aspect of the project allowed him to see how two types of people work together.

“It’s interdisciplinary and I wouldn’t do it any other way. As an engineer, you get get into a certain rhythm, but now working with people [from other majors] makes a difference,” Lilley said.

The project became more interdisciplinary when the students ran into a challenge: manufacturing their model quickly. A prototype for one fishbowl requires 300 square feet of felt, meaning the students would have to hand cut approximately 2,000 hexagons.

“That would have taken us the rest of the quarter,” Yarosh said.

Instead, the students reached out to the Industrial Technology department for suggestions. They let the students use a water jet that cuts the felt much faster.

“I’m impressed by how creative the group was and how quickly they were able to think of a solution,” said Sarah Sayeed, Facilities and Information Technology Coordinator at Kennedy Library. The students consulted with Sayeed and Sheree Fu, Librarian for the College of Engineering,  to ensure the project complied with state facility fire safety regulations.

Sayeed saw the value in bringing together students from multiple majors for this assignment. “Collaboration made the project more successful, and it was multidisciplinary,” she said.


Lilley, Yarosh, and Skilling mapped out where the pieces would go before installing them by hand.

The experience for students was also unforgettable.

“From an architect’s perspective, this is a diverse portfolio. This is a project you won’t get at other schools. Other people don’t get to work at this scale, with this budget and have another person who’s an expert in the field like you,” Yarosh said.

The library fishbowl closest to Julian’s is now functioning with Lilley, Yarosh and Skilling’s design. The project ties in three disciplines in a space where all students can enjoy the improved acoustics and good design.

Read more about how Environmental Engineering students helped gather data for the project.


Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story did not recognize Lee, Clifford and Fu for their contributions to the project. This was an oversight, as their work was invaluable to its success.

Megan Schellong is a fourth-year journalism major with a concentration in news and editing at Cal Poly, and works as a communications student assistant for Kennedy Library.  As both a student and a library employee, she brings a unique perspective to sharing stories with the library’s friends and neighbors. Originally from Connecticut, Megan enjoys the abundance of sun and Mexican food in California. She is on a mission to find the best place to eat tacos.

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