Students from Cabrillo College conduct a topographical survey at Rich and DeAnne Hart’s home in Watsonville. —contributed

WATSONVILLE—In 1961, two years after Cabrillo College in Aptos was established, Rich Hart was hired by the school to start its brand new Engineering department. 

Hart would go on to be chair of the department as well as its sole instructor for 34 years, teaching a number of different courses before retiring and passing his role to Jo-Ann Panzardi in 1995.

Hart’s history with and continuing support of the department recently prompted his wife, DeAnne Hart, to reach out to Panzardi with a proposition: She asked Panzardi if this year’s Engineering (ENGR) 1A Surveying class could help them with a project.

On Nov. 19 the class, led by instructor Kyle O’Hara, showed up at the Harts’ home off of Larkin Valley Road in Watsonville to conduct a topographical survey. The couple needed to build a new walking path around the house, which is built onto a steep hill, Panzardi explained.

“Rich can’t really walk up and down stairs,” she said. “There is an elevator lift, but he needs a way to get out if there’s an electric outage. They wanted to put in a path on the hillside to easily get him down to the driveway with his walker or wheelchair.”

DeAnne and Rich Hart (on balcony) look on as a survey is conducted on their property on Nov. 19. —contributed photo

O’Hara, a Cabrillo alumni himself who is currently studying for his PhD from UC Davis in geotechnical engineering, led the class in a survey of the property to find out where the path should go. The results were then used to create a topographical map, which is a map showing the elevation changes on a property. 

ENGR 1A is a required course for engineering students. However, it is taken by all sorts of students, Panzardi said. Some of them are studying to be a surveyor, others want to be a technician. Certain students have taken the class to learn how to survey and build on their own properties.

“I think what students really love is when they can connect what they’re learning in the classroom to the real world,” she said. “The biggest model of our program is that engineering is a helping profession. We do things to help people and communities.”

Panzardi said that ENGR 1A always conducts a field project, such as a few years ago when they surveyed the Santa Cruz Harbor in the aftermath of a tsunami. But this year’s project is “extra special” because they are helping Hart, she said.

“Rich basically got this department started,” Panzardi said. “He’s also always been so supportive of me at the helm. He’s raised a lot of funds for scholarships, getting alumni to donate to the program. We owe him a lot.”

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


  1. as a trustee for our soon -to-be renamed community college, I applaud this great project. our county has interesting and somewhat challenging topography. thanks to all who are making this project happen.

  2. Dear fellow community members, I urge you not to become embroiled in a ridiculous shouting match from Steve. It adds traffic to the website which equates to money for the company.
    Please boycott any conversation in which Steve tries to egg on a response from the community. I’m starting to think he I in cahoots with the paper to drive up interest in the site in increase revenues

    Thank you for understanding


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