Justin Ellerbee '15, aeronautical and astronautical engineering

Justin Ellerbee

Any aerospace engineer can tell you that becoming an NCAA Division II champion pole vaulter defies the laws of physics.

Justin Ellerbee knows that for a fact: He is both.

The former Bronco works at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, running one of the biggest wind tunnels in the world.

“I’m very excited about this new job.” Ellerbee says.  “I thought I might end up stuck with a job sitting at a computer all day and constantly doing the same thing.”

Ellerbee was determined not to have a routine job. When he was in high school, he became interested in aerodynamics. First, it was physics and then the science of flight.

His interest in aerodynamics was coincidental to his success in vaulting. While at Rocklin High School near Sacramento, Ellerbee was a section champion in the pole vault. Ellerbee says he had several options for college, but chose Cal Poly Pomona because of its rich history and acclaimed engineering program. While he was a Bronco, he added to both legacies.

The life of a student-athlete is hectic, and is even more demanding in a difficult field such as engineering. Ellerbee estimates that he spent eight to 10 hours a day on campus and up to three of those hours were committed to perfecting his pole vault form. This does not include travel time on weekends for track and field meets. In class, he was working with wind tunnels, an experience that gave him a foundation for his job.

It took time for Ellerbee to shine as a student and as an athlete. But the perseverance paid off.

In the classroom, he graduated in four years from a demanding major magna cum laude, made the dean’s list nine times and the athletic director’s honor roll 11 times, and was a member of the Sigma Gamma Tau Honor Society.

On the field, he set the Cal Poly Pomona record with a vault of 17 feet, 6.5 inches and earned prestigious awards for his athletics, winning the California Collegiate Athletic Association Athlete of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors in the same year. He became the first male athlete in conference history to accomplish that feat.

When the laurels are laid out, even Ellerbee has trouble sorting them out.

“I would have to say that I’m more proud of my athletic accomplishments just because I feel there are fewer people who can say they have done what I’ve accomplished,” Ellerbee says. “However, I also feel that the combination of my academic and athletic awards is what makes my situation more unique.”

Ellerbee’s job at an elite testing facility proves that the long hours and late nights studying have been rewarded.

“I work with the two subsonic wind tunnels, one of them being the largest in the world, 120 feet by 80 feet, and we get a range of tests which can be anything from parachutes to helicopters,” Ellerbee says.

Behind Ellerbee’s academic and athletic accomplishments is a loyal Cal Poly Pomona team.   

“I know that those accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my teammates and coaching staff who pushed me, as well as my teachers who helped and supported me when I had to catch up on work when athletics got busier,” Ellerbee says.