Out near Cal Poly’s Campus Market is a large room containing what could easily be mistaken for several autopsy tables. Everything is metal and clean enough to eat off of. It has the eerie feeling of a science fiction movie.
Half a carcass hung by a hook is wheeled out of one of the vault-like coolers on a rack suspended from the ceiling. The skin is coral orange and the inside is a bright blood red.
A large man with a deep, gruff voice takes the carcass off the hook and starts to saw through its bones. The muscle tissue has to be cut with a knife to preserve the quality. In meat processing, it’s all about the value of the cut, said ASCI 211 professor Bob Delmore. As he breaks the hog carcass down into five cuts, leaving just the right amount of fat on each, he talks about industry standards, anatomy and what customers want.
“I know some of you are concerned about our caloric intake, but pork fat is awesome,” Delmore enthusiastically tells the class in his voluminous voice.
Besides Delmore’s meat processing course, Cal Poly offers several unusual classes that range from printing to plastics to the martial art of capoeira. These are not typical, study-oriented classes like statistics or great books. These classes cover obscure or artistic topics, all the while offering a physical element to break an everyday routine.
Once Delmore finished his demonstrations, the students took turns sawing through their carcasses. The blood dripping onto the tables became darker with time and the thick layers of fat between meat and skin softened in the heat.
The students carried their cuts of meat like heavy bundles of fabric to the Butcher Boy, a giant metal “P” with a long serrated blade. When on, the Butcher Boy rumbled like a hot rod and sung as it sliced through bone.
ASCI 211, meat science, is required for animal science majors, but other students take it as well. Every Friday, the meats class holds a sale of their products in the Food Processing building. Emily Lewis, an animal science junior, works at the meat sale.
“You learn how to turn a cow or a chicken into what you see on the dinner table,” Lewis said about the class. “We’re looking for more people interested in meat to take an active role in the process at Cal Poly.”
On the opposite end of campus, at the top of the stairs in the Rec Center, students in a very different class learn the martial art of capoeira.
As the tribal sound of men’s voices chant through a sound system, two people in the middle of a circle move together and then away as though waiting for cues from each other.
Juan Lopez, an architecture major, stood in the circle around the fighters and clapped with the group.
“They try to outsmart each other just like a game of chess,” Lopez said of the fighters in the middle of the roda, or wheel. He has been practicing capoeira for six years and is now an instructor.
Although classes offered at the Rec Center do cost an additional fee, Charles Mafuahingano, a junior manufacturing engineering major, wasn’t complaining.
“It’s pretty cheap compared to elsewhere,” he said, noting that it’s $45 for a 10-week capoeira class at Cal Poly, whereas other places charge $10 per session. He wanted to take advantage of the class while he could.
Lopez said none of the other martial arts classes the Rec Center had to offer when he came to college were artistic enough.
“They teach you to fight, but not about the philosophy, culture or art,” he said.
Other unusual classes also go against the technical grain of Cal Poly tradition by featuring a more artistic aspect. Specialty printing technologies – a graphic communication class offered for credit -appealed to Neven Samara, a graphic communication and art and design senior. Samara said he liked the creative freedom and process of designing his own T-shirts.
The material covered expands beyond just screen-printing on T-shirts to pad, security and sublimation printing. Pad printing allows the student to print on almost any surface from walnuts to golf balls while security printing involves money and passports. Professor Penny Bennett took the class on a field trip to a company in Grover Beach called Voler which specializes in using sublimation printing to make customized bicycle jerseys.
“(Students) enjoy the diversity of the projects they can do,” Bennett said. Projects range from printing on mouse pads to coffee mugs. Christine Gibbons, a graphic communication senior, was disappointed at first that the class had expanded from just screen-printing. But after three weeks, she said she liked being exposed to techniques she would not otherwise.
Plastics is also a field that people don’t know very much about. Roger Keep, a professor for the plastic processes and applications class, estimated that less than 15 universities in the country offer a course in this area.
“You’re going to be a handful of people in the country who know anything about plastics,” Keep told his students. They learned about injection, compression and blow molding among other plastic processes. They made bottles, thread, boxes, guitar picks and more.
Every career field is exposed to plastics, especially architecture and clothing industries. In fact, the reach of plastics is so huge, an average Cal Poly student might come in contact with a thousand plastics a day just walking around campus, Keep said.
“Plastics so dominate the world and people just aren’t aware,” he said.
Because the class fills the Area F general education requirement, Angie Eckhardt, a senior political science major, decided to take it.
“I like that it’s interactive,” she said. “There are people from lots of different majors too – you get to meet other people.”
Out of the 101 students enrolled in plastics, 80 were majors other than industrial technology.
Joe Levyssohn-Silva, a mechanical engineering junior who works at the Health Center, recommended that students take classes outside of their major. He advised taking a class with some physical aspect, like a hands-on lab, to help relieve stress.
“It distracts your mind from other things,” he said, adding that it’s a good way to meet different kinds of people.
Alison Massetti, a nutrition senior who also works at the Health Center, said it’s beneficial to use the other side of your brain.
Additional classes Massetti and Levyssohn-Silva suggested include KINE 309, creative and nontraditional games; PE 135, skin diving; and MSL 111, an orienteering class that deals with reading maps.
Although for many students these unusual classes provide only an escape from the humdrum or a fulfillment of units, for some they are a passion. Like graduate student Phil Bass who is the manager of the meat room and grew up in a meat-harvesting family.
“I’ve always enjoyed cutting meat,” Bass said, clad in a white plastic cap and a white lab coat covered in the faint rust colored stains of the slaughter. “You can eat your end product and I like that.”