Message from the director

Lizabeth Thompson

Lizabeth Thompson, PhD, PE

Director, General Engineering

Professor, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering 

Acting Department Chair, Materials Engineering (Winter 2024)

I have been at Cal Poly for 30 years and have been the Director for General Engineering for three years. I love this position as I get to work with students to find their major home, create a curriculum to follow a dream, or create a graduation plan for those who have a complex path to graduation. All these students inspire me and help me to believe in a world where all can achieve their dreams. My goal is for GENE to be inclusive and equitable with an emphasis on the wellbeing of staff, students, and faculty.

Just a little bit about me:  Although I have been in engineering for nearly 40 years, my area of research is engineering education and institutional change to create a more just and inclusive world. I participate in many activities in this area, including five active NSF grants that all contribute to this goal. 1)  ENGAGE 2)  EcoSTEM 3)  an ADVANCE grant called KIND 4)  Breaking the Binary (grant with the CPE department to transform Engineering departments) and 5) an iCorps grant to aid a startup called Mense: A tampon-like menstrual cup and applicator system.

In 2024 we will be working on some important changes in General Engineering:

  • Creating two advisory groups made up of faculty and students
  • Developing policies and procedures for GENE governance
  • Moving into a new space which will include a student gathering area

If you are interested in hearing more about the activities in GENE or would like to share some ideas, please come by or contact me via email:


Liz Thompson


Degree Description

Degree Description

General Engineering serves three types of students:

  • First time first years (FTFY) who are unsure about their desired major. GENE is ideal for first time students who are undecided as to which engineering discipline they want to major in. You will be able to take your first few quarters at Cal Poly and explore various majors without falling behind in most majors. If you are planning on changing majors, it is best to initiate the process as soon as possible.

  • Students who are interested in pursuing a course of study whose scope reaches beyond the established curriculum of any single existing department at Cal Poly. This can be accomplished through the Individual Course of Study concentration (ICS) in GENE. Examples of some of the courses of study pursued by GENE majors include Bioengineering, Biomechanics, Chemical Engineering, Engineering Sustainability, Entrepreneur Engineering, Ocean Engineering, Product Development and Design, Peace Engineering, Audio Engineering, Education, and Pre-medical studies.

  • Students who have had a complex path in engineering and are looking to create a short and efficient route to graduation with a General Engineering degree.


The General Engineering (GENE) program at Cal Poly evolved from the Engineering Science Program, which was established in 1960. The program name was changed to General Engineering in 1996, and existed at the college level under the direction of an Associate Dean until 2006, when the Biomedical and General Engineering Department was established. The BMED program became a department in 2015 when the GENE program also became independent. Click here for a paper on the history of the General Engineering Program. 


The mission of the General Engineering Program is to provide students with the highest quality technical and professional engineering education, with a particular emphasis in new or evolving interdisciplinary areas, while allowing the students to participate in designing their own programs of study.

    • An ability to identify, formulate, and solve complex engineering problems by applying principles of engineering, science, and mathematics.
    • An ability to apply engineering design to produce solutions that meet specified needs with consideration of public health, safety, and welfare, as well as global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors.
    • An ability to communicate effectively with a range of audiences.
    • An ability to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations and make informed judgments, which must consider the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts.
    • An ability to function effectively on a team whose members together provide leadership, create a collaborative and inclusive environment, establish goals, plan tasks, and meet objectives.
    • An ability to develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data, and use engineering judgment to draw conclusions.
    • An ability to acquire and apply new knowledge as needed, using appropriate learning strategies.

General Engineering is not ABET accredited. However, Cal Poly is Accredited by WSCUC and all other majors in the College of Engineering are accredited by ABET. This means that all courses you will take are from accredited programs.

The Faculty in the college have been thoughtful as to the advantages and disadvantages of ABET accreditation for General Engineering. Below is a list of the items considered:

  • Cal Poly Engineering has an excellent reputation of graduating outstanding engineers.
  • Many companies do not care about the ABET accreditation. However, although it is uncommon, some government contractors may require ABET accreditation.
  • Some elite universities with engineering degrees are not accredited. For instance, Stanford has nine engineering programs and only two are accredited.
  • All courses taken in the GENE curriculum are from programs accredited by ABET.
  • If you work as an engineer that requires a PE license, it will take two years more work experience to be eligible for the license.
  • It is very likely that General Engineering could be accredited, but the resources of both faculty and staff time make it difficult at this point.
  • General Engineering curriculum is designed to be ABET accredited following the recommended Math, Science, and Engineering courses.
  • It is a priority to maintain the flexibility in the General Engineering Program, which may add complexity to the accreditation process.
  • Cal Poly is well regarded; therefore, a General Engineering degree from Cal Poly will also be well regarded despite its lack of accreditation.