Working hard to design and decorate the Rose Parade float is a longtime tradition for Cal Poly students. Monday will mark the universities' 70th appearance in the annual Rose Parade. 

This year, students from the San Luis Obispo and Pomona campuses worked together to create "Dreams Take Flight," an invitation to onlookers to take flight on the airplane wings of a trio of cuddly critters -- a koala bear, sea otter and red panda. 

The float is among 44 in this year's parade that will roll down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena on New Year's Day. 

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Pomona students Kendall Searing, Sara Novell, Alex Brod, Jeffrey Glassett and Tyler Courverette will be on the float, too. 

While not on the float, Ali Harake, mechanical engineering major and president of the Rose Float program, will be behind the scenes "waiting for the moment the Cal Poly float rounds the television corner." 

"The split-second when my heart starts racing and the Cal Poly stands are already on their feet chanting -- it's an inexplainable feeling," Harake said.

The float celebrates the 2018 parade theme, "Making a Difference," honoring those individuals in the community who act in selfless, generous and kind ways to benefit others. 

The process of building the float began last January. The concept was selected from more than 100 ideas submitted by students, alumni, friends of the Rose Float program and local communities. 

The 18-by-54-foot entry uses animation to breathe life into its trio of amiable aviators as they swoop and sway amid the clouds. The float's colors and elements transition from day to night, representing dreams of creativity and inspiration. 

Paula the Koala, the largest element on the float, flies a striped-red biplane, controlling the craft's flaps, rudders, ailerons and elevators, as she glances between the sky and audience. She leads Ollie the Otter's seaplane, which emerges from a cluster of swirling clouds, while Rusty the Red Panda soars behind, banking left to right, some 28 feet above the float. 

The design, which will also include more than 40,000 blooms, includes a nod to Cal Poly's rich history dating back to the 1949 parade. Stamps of past Cal Poly universities floats are depicted on the planes in tribute. 

Just like passport stamps remind people where they've been, the stamps on each of the planes show previous floats. The planes and stamps together celebrate Cal Poly's past as the university and the world look forward to the future, according to a statement. 

The float inspires the audience to join the young animals' journey to take flight, in much the same way that Cal Poly students journey through college, and the diversity of the animals represents the diversity of the Rose Float team, the statement continued.

Over the years, Cal Poly entries have earned more than 50 awards, including the Founders' Trophy in 2017 for the most beautiful float built and decorated by volunteers from a community or organization. 

Novell, assistant construction chair, who will be on the float again Monday, said that she was excited to have a different experience. Last year, she was an operator. This year, she'll be on board operating the drive engine that powers the animation on the float, and will be hidden from view. "Dreams Take Flight" is the fourth float she's worked on. 

"You don't get a whole lost of rest the night leading up to the parade," Novell said. "But when it's starting and you hit the parade route, it's a little nerve-wracking. It's the first time when millions of people are seeing what we made, and to see the crowd is so unique. It's a very euphoric and such a neat experience."

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210