Extreme Makeover: Poly House edition

“This class illustrates exactly what Learn By Doing is, and that’s what we are so proud of,” Jose Macedo industrial and manufacturing engineering department chair said. Courtesy photo

Move over, Ty Pennington, Cal Poly’s bringing the house down.

The Poly House Program and the industrial and manufacturing engineering department will renovate the home of a local family for their disabled son. The group started off with absolutely no funding and has only six days to complete the project, which began May 13 and will resume Friday.
At the center of the project is 16-year-old Jacob Slattery from Shandon, Calif.

At a young age, Slattery was diagnosed with a severe form of spina bifida — a birth defect in which the neural tube does not develop or close properly, affecting in the backbone and spinal cord. Slattery is paralyzed from the mid-chest down and has been in a wheelchair since the age of 2.

Slattery has also undergone 12 major surgeries and suffered from — known as water on the brain — and osteoporosis.

The Poly team said it hopes to include a larger room to ease accessibility, a wheelchair-friendly bathroom, larger doorway entrances, a wheelchair-accessible backyard with an activity area and other renovations to make it easier for Slattery to get around the house.

The project will help change Slattery’s life, said Kelly Yip, the Poly House events coordinator and publicist.

“It’s a really interesting case because people (with this disease) don’t survive that long,” Yip said. “We’re doing this for a really great cause. He has a chance.”

After hearing about Slattery through participating nonprofit organizations, Yip said the Poly House team decided this was the time to step up and help Slattery any way it could.

“We want to help him be more independent,” Yip said. 

This project would not have been possible without the Poly House foundation. The participating class, Technological Project Management, was first started by Roya Javadpour eight years ago as a way to teach and enhance Cal Poly’s “Learn By Doing” mantra.

“This class illustrates exactly what Learn By Doing is, and that’s what we are so proud of,” Jose Macedo industrial and manufacturing engineering department chair said.

And Macedo knows that following the university’s motto doesn’t come easy.

“This class is about project management, and to learn the principles and concepts of project management,” Macedo said. “It makes more sense when you limit the resources available to execute the project.”

The set limit of resources is slim for this project. The team of approximately 40 students start off with no money — they rely entirely on fundraising and donations. Therefore, when supplies are low, the students need to carefully plan every step.

“Everything has to be planned,” Macedo said. “When you severely restrict the time and constrain it, that’s the challenging side of it. They need to know what needs to be done, or they will not be able to pull it off.”

With only two weekends to complete the house renovation, Macedo stressed the importance of working quickly, but safely. He said the students have created their own safety plans as well as a “back-up” in case things do not go accordingly.

“By executing the project they have planned, they can learn how well their plan was; what worked and what didn’t work,” Macedo said. “They learn a lot sometimes when things don’t go exactly the way they plan (because) they have to use their back-up plan. If (they) had to do this in a lab, it would not be as real.”

Poly House project founder Javadpour said she knows her students participate in this class to experience just how “real” it gets, and to give back to the community they love.

“They don’t do it just for class or for the grade,” Javadpour said. “They do it to make a difference and to improve the quality of life for someone in the community. Their enthusiasm really shines through.”

The students started working the beginning of the quarter to make sure the building renovation runs smoothly, and Javadpour said she is eager to see the final product.

“We’re very excited,” Javadpour said. “It’s a lot of work, but I have no doubt that the students will deliver a great end product,” 

The Slattery family will stay in the Los Angeles area during the renovation — a gift donated by the Poly House.