Written by on May 26, 2016

‘Learn By Doing’ Goes Digital

Kennedy, pictured second from right, with the El Mustang staff, 1941.


LESSON ONE Creating a learning-by-doing polytechnic school like many a worthy project, may depend originally upon imagination and vision, but making it survive and prosper takes persuasion, persistence, and great skill in politics

                  -Robert E. Kennedy


With permission from the Robert E. Kennedy Family Trust, Special Collections and Archives has digitized Learn by Doing: Memoirs of a University President by former Cal Poly President Robert E. Kennedy. The ebook version is now available though the library’s online archive.

“Learn by Doing is our ethos,” said President Armstrong. “One of Robert E. Kennedy’s many contributions to Cal Poly are his detailed recollections as an educator and leader. His legacy endures with this new online book of his memoirs.”


Readers may “turn” electronic pages and perform specific searches within the text for people, places, dates, and more.


With candor and the lively flair of a seasoned reporter, Kennedy chronicles Cal Poly’s evolution from a struggling vocational school to a competitive four-year university. He traces his impressive 39-year academic and administrative career, including his arrival in 1940 as a journalism professor, through his presidency from 1967-1979.

“This book is a touchstone for anyone interested in Cal Poly history. Students use it every quarter,” said Director of Special Collections and Archives, Jessica Holada. “We are grateful to the Kennedy family for their willingness to make this out-of-print book widely available to students, faculty, alumni, friends of the university, and others who are interested in Kennedy’s influence and the history of higher education in California.”


Robert E. Kennedy at his retirement party with his wife Mary, 1979.


The Kennedy family responded to the news about the book with this warm remembrance. “In the 40s, 50s, 60s we listened to a different kind of music in the Kennedy household—the rhythmic clicking of the old standard typewriter. Dad was first a journalist, always writing it down and making sure he got his facts straight. He would be so pleased to know that Learn By Doing: Memoirs of a University President can now be easily accessed through the web and those facts might be a learning tool for generations to come.”

The book was first published in 2001 for Cal Poly’s Centennial, and continues to serves as a rich trove of information on Cal Poly’s signature Learn By Doing educational philosophy, which defines the university to this day.

Kennedy also had a vital hand in shaping the journalism curriculum and the student-run newspaper, which celebrates its 100-year anniversary this year. Journalism Department Chair Mary Glick remarked that, “generations of students will be forever grateful for Robert Kennedy’s insight and foresight in helping to establish an important place for journalism at Cal Poly.”


The Publications Committee (El Rodeo, 1947). Without any English or Journalism majors to draw from at the time, Kennedy recruited agricultural and industrial majors, training them in the fundamentals of writing and editing.


To learn more about Robert E. Kennedy and the history of Cal Poly, explore the University Archives webpage, or contact us in Special Collections and Archives.


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