Jeffrey Knight '84, computer information systems; '87, MBA

Jeffrey Knight

Jeffrey Knight never had to pull an all-nighter studying to earn his computer information systems degree from Cal Poly Pomona, but he’s done it several times building the Cal Poly Universities’ Rose Float.

“It’s one of those things you start getting into and the next thing you know, it’s 5 or 6 in the morning,” Knight says. “When you’re working with people, those kinds of hours under those conditions, you build bonds."

Since helping to build a Rose Float more than 30 years ago, Knight has undertaken the role of historian of the Rose Float for Cal Poly Pomona. That also means collecting float memorabilia with historic significance.

Knight (’84, computer information systems; ’87, MBA) grew up in Eagle Rock, only a few miles from the Rose Parade route, so he knew about the program before listening to Ron Simons preach about building a float.  

As a freshman in 1980, Knight was a member of the Management Information Systems Student Association. He was looking to expand his social network outside of the College of Business Administration when he attended a presentation by the man known as Mr. Cal Poly Pomona.

Within three years, Knight was riding down Colorado Boulevard on New Year’s Day in the award-winning float “While the Cat’s At Play.”

“There are people all over the world that recognize Cal Poly Pomona because of our involvement with the Rose Parade,” Knight says. “In our 68 years, we’ve won 55 major awards. We’re winners, we’re innovators and we’re touting the university.”

During his time as the chairman of the 1985 float, Knight realized there was already 37 years’ worth of Cal Poly Pomona involvement with the parade. He added a historian position to his committee, and the gathering of memorabilia began.

Knight had the opportunity to mingle with names etched in float folklore, such as Don Miller, Henry House and Jolly Bachelor as they visited the Rose Float Lab. Preserving the past quickly became a passion.

Officially known as the Rose Float Special Collection, float nostalgia outgrew Knight’s house. The collection was moved and shared space with the Arabian horse archives in what is now the Bronco Student Center.

“I might be the collector, but that history was created by people,” Knight says. “It’s a major part of the campus and you have to understand the significance of the program to understand the significance of the history.”

Moved to the third floor of the University Library in the ’90s, the collection is curated by the special collections staff. The latest challenge is the cost of software to properly index archives.

Knight says his experiences working on the float have broadened his skill set and come in handy when there is a 120-volt wiring job around the house or when metal needs welding.

“I was a business major and I learned about computers and business, but I also learned to design and build mechanisms,” Knight says. “You’re going to meet people that are architects or engineers. It’s nice because I wanted that diversity.”

Knight, a program manager for NBCUniversal, credits the teamwork involved in float construction with helping him develop other skills.

“There’s absolutely no reason for Pomona and San Luis Obispo to work together except they’ve got a common goal,” Knight says. “You learn to work with people of different personalities and motivations.”

Knight doesn’t always wait until December to return to his alma mater. When he’s not visiting the Rose Float Lab, he brings his two children to Arabian horse shows the first Sunday of each month.

When asked how long it would be before he stops building floats, he chuckled and told the story of Barry Clark, one of the original float builders and chair for multiple years.

According to Knight, Clark came back each year until he was physically unable to. Even then, Knight says Clark still helped significantly as a donor.

More than 30 years after building that first float, Knight appears to be following Clark’s footsteps.

“My major time goes to Rose Float, but I love the campus,” Knight says. “Hopefully, I can get one of my kids to go there.”