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Student Stories PLUS:

Pennoni Honors College presents Howard Pyle, His Students & the Golden Age of American Illustration

From the Dean


e are pleased to publish our third installment of the PHC Magazine with articles on and by faculty and staff, students, and alumni. This is another great issue for which we thank our indomitable Pennoni Honors College Communications Director, Erica Levi Zelinger.

The College continues to sponsor activities and events within and across its five units. Some recent highlights: More Pennoni Panels: expert discussions of timely issues, open to the entire campus. We’ve had three so far this academic year and there are two in the works for this spring, including “A Tale of Two Mayors,” with former Mayor and Governor Ed Rendell and former Mayor Michael Nutter. We’ve also introduced two specialized cohorts within the College: Students in Aspire

Dean Cohen in her office

Scholars in the Center for Scholar Development, underwritten by a donor with involvement in our Fellowship activities, explore their future in a holistic way and learn how to find and cultivate a mentor. Students in the Luminary Program in the Honors Paula Marantz Cohen

Program pursue a specialized plan of study and devote their sophomore summer to

Dean, Pennoni Honors College

Honors courses and activities, ending with a trip to the University of Sydney, Australia.

Distinguished Professor of English 215.895.1266 •

Our Office of Undergraduate Research will launch the Week of Undergraduate Excellence this spring. Almost all the Colleges at Drexel will take part and showcase the work of their best students.

In the arena of the arts, in February, the Pennoni Honors College hosted Bill Horberg, an Academy-Awardwinning producer, for the American debut of his latest film, “The Promise.” In April, we will debut a world-class art exhibition, Howard Pyle, His Students & the Golden Age of American Illustration, curated by the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, R.I., and underwritten by a generous donor. Read more about it on page 10. We have also launched a new series of Honors Dinners. We held our first in late January. Greg Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems, Drexel Trustee, and Chair of the Pennoni Advisory Board, talked about the importance of salesmanship and gave an overview of his career path. A second dinner is planned for April, featuring businessman and art collector, Andrew Sordoni. Finally, we have continued our “Taste of Honors” series — programming for alumni and parents — that we began last year. Taste of Honors took on a love theme for a pre-Valentine’s Day program. Our next event, in Washington, D.C. in May, will focus on museums, with talks followed by tours and a reception in our D.C. office with its spectacular roof terrace. Please sign up — and keep a lookout for other activities. We continue to build momentum toward an Honors House and will keep you posted on that and other initiatives. Enjoy the issue and email us at with any comments or suggestions.


Volume 2 • Issue 2 • Spring/Summer 2017

In Brief


Consider This


Alumni News


Student Stories



By Donna Kwon

by Erica Levi Zelinger

Room for Improv-ment

Student Stories

10 Pyle In

by Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen

PHC Magazine is published biannually by the

Dean: Paula Marantz Cohen

communications team of Drexel University’s

Editorial Staff

Pennoni Honors College.

Editor: Erica Levi Zelinger Copy Editor: Melinda Lewis Designer: Diane Pizzuto

Comments? Contact us at

Administration Director, Administration & Finance: Ann Alexander Executive Assistant to the Dean: Karen Sams Director of Communications: Erica Levi Zelinger Strategic Initiatives Coordinator: Melinda Lewis

From the app store to the newsstand, and from D.C. to Mount Kilimanjaro, Honors College students are accomplishing great things. Here are four of their stories. On the Cover



by Erica Levi Zelinger

by Brannon Blunk

A Program to Aspire and Reflect

What I Needed in “Hard Times”


Nanodiamonds Are This Girl’s Best Friend By Erica Levi Zelinger

Honors Program

Center for Cultural Media

Associate Dean, Director: Daniel Dougherty Associate Director: Carly Meluney Assistant Director: Eric Kennedy Program Coordinator: Julia Wisniewski

Director: Richard Abowitz Managing Editor, The Smart Set and Table Matters: Melinda Lewis Assistant Director: Brian Kantorek Program Manager: Eric Mondgock

Office of Undergraduate Research Associate Dean, Director: Suzanne Rocheleau Associate Director: Jaya Mohan Program Coordinator: Emily Kashka

Center for Scholar Development Director: Meredith Wooten Assistant Director, Fellowships: Ben Rayder Program Coordinator: Martha Meiers

Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry Director: Kevin Egan Assistant Director: Ana Castillo-Nye Pennoni Faculty Fellows: Lloyd Ackert, Shannon Marquez, Rick McCourt, Debra Ruben Visiting Fellow: Julia Novak Colwell


You can make a difference! When you make a gift to the Pennoni Honors College, you support the tradition of an interdisciplinary education. Every gift counts. To learn more about how you can support the Honors College, contact: Susan Baren-Pearson 215.571.4907


The Symposium’s Visiting Fellow talks about her love for the liquid


s a resource, water is shaping the geopolitics of

accomplishments that I jumped into the deep end with all my

our time — global climate change, pollution,

clothes on to show him my new skills!

ecosystem collapse, and the spread of disease are threatening populations worldwide. For

PHC: What brought you to Drexel and The Symposium?

Dr. Julia Novak Colwell, the visiting fellow

for The Symposium, the interdisciplinary course series

JNC: I earned my PhD at Michigan State University but my

examining the theme of water this year, was a child growing

research was in India marine fisheries. I looked at how water as

up on Lake Erie in Cleveland, water meant trips to the beach

a medium for life (fish) and efforts to manage marine resources

with Grandpa and his jar of pickles and Mom and her can of

was linked to peoples’ livelihoods. My research, because it dealt

cheeseballs. But some days after storms, the beach would be

with not only ecosystem health but socio-cultural and economic

shut down because of water quality issues, and Julia started

influences was very interdisciplinary in nature. This is what

to take notice.

drew me to the Symposium at Drexel. Developing and teaching courses on different interdisciplinary aspects of water with

PENNONI HONORS COLLEGE: What made you initially

other faculty here at Drexel is a unique opportunity and I’m

interested in the study of water? How did you get into

super excited for the upcoming classes this year!

the field? PHC: What do you hope Symposium students get from the JULIA NOVAK COLWELL: I have always been interested

courses you are teaching?

in water. We would go to the beach as kids from sunrise to sunset in the summer; my Grandpa would pack a jar of

JNC: Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the

pickles and my Mom would bring a can of cheeseballs and

Symposium courses, I hope the students gain a broader

call it a day! But some days after storms the beach would be

understanding of the role water plays in shaping our society,

closed. When I started understanding why this was, I started

not only in the here-and-now but also how water has shaped

to become interested in water quality issues and aquatic

exploration, how access to water differs around the world, and

ecosystem health.

how the right to water is highly politicized. Studying water can take so many forms.

PHC: What is your first memory of water? PHC: Any interesting anecdotes from The Symposium? JNC: My first memory of water was not actually learning how to swim but what happened after. I learned how to swim

JNC: As part of the current water course we took a great trip

with my mom and after I successfully swam in the deep end,

to the Philadelphia Water Works. Did you know the lands that

I got dressed and was waiting for my dad to come pick me

make up Fairmount Park today were originally bought by the

up by the pool. When he arrived, I was so excited about my

city to protect Philly’s water supply?




Indian Summer In Summer, 2016, two STAR Scholars, Brandon Gordon and Aakankschit Nandkeolayar, both first-year students in the School of Biomedical Engineering

Growing Like Seaweed The Honors College course offerings are designed to explore unique and interdisciplinary topics. This is what made possible the course: “Ocean to Table: Plants in the Sea and their Roles in Ecology, Climate, and Aquaculture.” Dr. Richard McCourt, professor in the Department of Botany and Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Sciences, will teach this spring Honors Program course – an extension of this year’s Symposium theme of water – as part of an interdisci-

and Science, participated in a unique iSTAR experience at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-Madras), Chennai, India. Through this new partnership, the students were able to spend eight weeks at India’s premier engineering institution and conduct projects related to the development of mathematical models to describe the progression to active tuberculosis and to analyze electromyography signals to estimate the grip force of skeletal muscles. “The experience was a rewarding one for both students as well as for our two universities and we expect to send additional biomedical engineering students to IIT-Madras for summer 2017,” says Dr. Suzanne Rocheleau, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

plinary cohort of faculty teaching for the Pennoni Honors College. Recent news articles about how seaweeds are being used both for food and for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere prompted Dr. McCourt to teach students from all majors about the algae and plants that make up the base of the food chain in the ocean. He

2017 Engineering Leader of the Year

Meal Ticket

Pennoni Honors College is proud to

The Honors Program has resurrected

Course highlights will include guest

announce that our own benefactor, C.R.

a once-popular extracurricular event –

lectures by world authorities on the

“Chuck” Pennoni, was named Drexel

the Honors Program dinner party. Held

diversity of algae and plants in the

University’s College of Engineering’s

in the Sky View Room of MacAlister

sea (the tiniest plankton to the largest

2017 Engineering Leader of the Year.

Hall, Honors students are invited to

seaweeds make up forests in Long

Pennoni, founder and chairman of

attend a dinner once a term with a

Island Sound and elsewhere). Several

Pennoni Associates Inc., former acting

special guest speaker. The first speaker

optional field trips to nearby New Jersey

President and long-time advocate for

was Greg Bentley, Chairman, President

estuaries and areas in the northeast

Drexel, will be recognized at an awards

and CEO of Bentley Systems; Drexel

will focus on where seaweed grows in

ceremony this month for his leadership

Trustee; and Chair of the Pennoni

abundance and is cultured for harvest.

in developing technology-based solutions

Honors College Advisory Board. He

also explains how we as humans are starting to use these plants for food.

to societal problems. Pennoni is among

spoke to a group of students in January

McCourt hopes to end the course with a

CEOs, inventors, and astronauts to have

about salesmanship – and how it isn’t

seaweed feast potluck.

received this honor.

just for business majors. DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI


In Brief Celebrating Achievement The Office of Undergraduate Research, in partnership with the Hagerty Library, Student Life, and individual Colleges, Schools, and student organizations, will present the First Annual Week of Undergraduate Excellence (WUE) from May 1-May 5, 2017. The WUE will be a weeklong celebration of undergraduate excellence as demonstrated in poster sessions, oral presentations, demonstrations, performances, exhibits, workshops, and immersive experiences designed to showcase the achievements of Drexel University undergraduate students, primarily those in sophomore through junior year.


In addition, there will be workshops


targeted to undergraduate students


hat can music, particularly punk, tell us about the state of higher education? I think quite a bit, and I’ve been using it recently as a lens to understand where we are and where we may be going as educators in the 21st century. Just as punk disrupted an ossified music scene in the late 1970s, higher ed is undergoing a series

of technological, economic, and pedagogical disruptions … or at least that’s what I

argued in a piece, “Minor Threat,” for Drexel’s The Smart Set ( I did not anticipate that this thought piece would put me on a trajectory to become the punk section chair for the Popular Culture Association, yet I now find myself in that very position. This has been a welcome opportunity to join others who view punk – its

intended to help transition them to the workplace or graduate school. “With multiple events occurring each day, we hope to showcase the many ways in which our undergraduates can demonstrate their varied accomplishments of experiential learning,” says Dr. Suzanne Rocheleau, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

DIY aesthetic, counterculture attitude, and social justice commentary – as a necessary and valuable contribution to the academic landscape. And, just as punk opened the door for a wide array of musical experimentation in the 1980s, our hope is that the disruptions academia is currently facing give rise to a new wave of experiments in teaching and learning.

In March, Dr. Egan and Ana Castillo-Nye, Assistant Director for Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry, presented papers about cultivating critical reflection through design-thinking practices at the College Student Educators International in Columbus, Ohio. 6


The WUE logo was designed by Rishabh Rathod, Chemical Engineering ‘17, as part of a contest sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Gender and the Motion Picture


n the winter Honors course “Mars and Venus at the Movies,” former Philadelphia Inquirer movie critic and first-time Drexel instructor

Carrie Rickey spent 10 weeks with 18 students comparing and contrasting similarly-themed films made by male and female directors. Students studied film pairings, such as “Basquiat” and “Frida,” to “determine whether the gender of the filmmaker has a verifiable effect on the film’s point of view.” Rickey, who now freelances for truthdig and Yahoo, says her favorite films include “The Earrings of Madame de...," "Broadcast News," "Clueless," and "Sherlock, Jr.” She hopes the class will expose students to different ways of reading moving images. Bypassing the “knotty issue of Hollywood as a Boys’ Club,” Rickey asked her students to decide whether there are definitive male

Prison Term Cassandra Hirsch has spent time in prison – teaching classes at a Philadelphia correctional facility and working with incarcerated students through the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program. Hirsch taught the Prison Reading Project, an Honors Program Colloquium started by Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen, Dean of the Honors College. Dr. Cohen taught the class herself the first time around, but then sought out Hirsch who’d already worked in a jail teaching memoir writing. Hirsch said: “Class discourse takes place in three ways: with each other about what we learn about mass incarceration; with texts we choose to share with incarcerated learners; and with those learners when we respond to their writing about the texts we send.” “This course, still evolving, takes an approach that offers students a chance to learn and to teach,” Hirsch continued. “We look beyond the scope of our own education, to engage with others who don't have access to the same level of education, by offering texts and questions about those texts to the incarcerated learners.”

and female styles of filmmaking.

A RockSTAR Researcher “The support and guidance I have received from the Office

Thanawala (BS Biology ’17, Honors)

Rushi credits his participation in OUR’s

won first prize for the best oral presen-

STAR Scholars Program as the launching

of Undergraduate Research has

tation at the 1st World Congress of

pad for his research. Thanawala worked

International Research in Qatar. The

with Drs. Harpreet Singh and Devasena

allowed me to succeed in my

Congress brought together the top 250

Ponnalagu in the Department of

research, and has given me an

undergraduate student researchers

Pharmacology and Physiology at Drexel

enriching academic experience that fosters the flame of scientific

in the world from 11 countries, four

University College of Medicine to study

continents, and 55 educational insti-

chloride intercellular ion channels found

tutions. The gathering focused on the

in mitochondria and the mechanism of

curiosity within,” said senior

significant challenges facing the global

how they perform cardiac protection

Rushi Thanawala.

community today.

from ischemic reprofusion injury. DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI


Consider This Conceived as a complement to the programs and initiatives of Pennoni Honors College, the Pennoni Panels (P2) speaker series carves out space for engagement with complicated and controversial ideas. Among the panelists at a recent P2 event about mentorship, Valerie Graves, former Chief Creative Officer for such brands as Ford, AT&T, and Pepsi, and author of a new memoir, “Pressure Makes Diamonds,” sat next to her mentee Angela Walker Campbell, a former Executive Creative Director who has now moved into the non-profit sector. Here, they each reflect on what it is to be a mentor and a mentee.



efore the day Byron Lewis, founder and CEO of UniWorld Group, tasked me with administering his UniPact Internship Program, there had been precious few opportunities to mentor in my 10-year general market career. I had moved from copywriter to Associate Creative Director,

never working with another African American creative — who might have struck me as a natural mentee — or with any person who saw me, the lone black creative, as being the most influential mentor. This may have been a good thing; 10 years strikes me as a good amount of time to have spent in the business before presuming to show someone else the ropes. Our five interns had been hand-selected for their excellence and potential. They were female and male, came from varying disciplines, and had in common that they’d be spending their internships as outposts of diversity in the mostly-white agency world. My first job as mentor was to figure out what I had to offer them. The most valuable thing turned out to be that I had survived and progressed to the level of creative director in the amusement park we call advertising. They had all entered the profession because it sounded like fun. No one had prepared them for the monotonous carousel of paying dues at the beginning of a career, the hard knocks they should expect from the boss and client bumper cars; the death-defying roller coaster of creating, selling and producing campaigns. Not to mention the ever-present competitiveness and the otherness of being people of color in an overwhelmingly white industry. I shared some basics about how to dismount the corporate merry-go-round, shake off a nasty jolt in the bumper, how to navigate the rowdy, competitive crowd jostling for a spot on the leadership thrill ride. Be exceptional. Be resilient. Be excellent and resourceful. But every career is a different visit to



Photo: Valerie Graves (left) and Angela Walker Campbell (right) at the Honors College’s P2 event, The Value of Mentorship.

the park, which is why I never tried, as a mentor, to develop one-size-fits-all strategies for maximizing the work experience. Of our five interns, two went on to become advertising creative directors and one is a renowned Hollywood director and producer, so at the very least, having me as a mentor didn’t seem to do them any harm. What l think was most valuable for those I mentored was that I was there; as advocate, friend, and survivor of twists and turns who had lived to lend an empathetic ear and offer a suggestion or two. And since that’s what I most appreciate in the people who’ve mentored me, I’m going to believe it’s enough.



ncertainty. It’s the state of mind I most easily recall

show a genuine interest in your day-to-day responsibilities. The

when I think about the start of my advertising career.

importance of work-life balance to millennials has been amply

I’d just left my first job after graduation, an entry-level

documented. However, I’m afraid this zealous pursuit of balance

management position at a reputable Fortune 100 Company. It

can sometimes be mistaken for career apathy. Demonstrating

was the type of well known blue chip your parents can’t resist

passion for your career will draw the attention of those around and

name-dropping to everyone from the most distant of relatives

above you, and may help get you noticed by a potential mentor.

to the supermarket cashier. My position was recognized as a career path to upper management; it was stable, well paid, and

Ask questions and listen. Once you have found a mentor (or

boring as hell. When serendipity intervened in the form of a

mentors) don’t be passive. It’s not the time to suffer from

paid internship to pursue my dream career as an advertising

bouts of shyness. Ask relevant questions and just as important,

copywriter, I wasted no time in resigning and moving to New

know when to be quiet and listen. If you don’t understand a

York City. I didn’t care about the $10K pay cut coupled with the

piece of guidance, say so and ask for clarification. If you don’t

stratospheric higher cost of living. I was thrilled and uncertain.

agree with something, then tactfully explain why. It’s called

Was this career change a big mistake? Would I be any good?

a mentoring relationship due to the nature of its two-way connection and interaction.

Support in overcoming crises of confidence, guidance in understanding your profession’s success track, navigating

Acknowledge and express gratitude. It shouldn’t have to be

a new office culture, recognizing and avoiding industry

said, but I’ll say it anyway. Whatever value you derive from your

landmines, access to career-boosting opportunities, and

mentor – an introduction, heightened self-awareness, access,

overall personal growth and development are just a few of the

knowledge, friendship, a listening ear – acknowledge your

ways in which mentoring relationships can be of enormous

mentor’s role. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture, a simple

value. My mentor Valerie Graves has provided these and more

thank you is always appreciated. It can be a remark as casual

throughout the course of my career for which I am extremely

as, “When I gave that big presentation, I used the technique you

grateful. But what is the mentee’s role? What are the qualities

suggested and it made a real difference. Thanks.”

of a good mentee? Following are a few tips I believe are essential to mentee desirability:

Pay it forward. Don’t wait until you’ve reached some lofty career perch to mentor someone. You can start right now, just look

Demonstrate enthusiasm and passion. If you aren’t sure how

around. If there isn’t someone in your office who could benefit

to find an appropriate mentor, then make it easy for a potential

from your counsel, how about a local college or high school

mentor to spot you. Be enthusiastic about what you do and

student? Show your mentor that he or she is building a legacy. DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI






ho can resist the appeal of great illustrative art? It seduces the eye


in its blending of the marvelous and the concrete; it excites the emotions in its vivid representation of myth, history, and romance; and

it engages the mind through its ability to tell stories through pictures. Although illustration has evolved to embrace the technologies of the 21st century, one still associates the greatest


illustrations with work in magazines and books from the beginning of the 20th century. Drexel is proud to have played a role in launching the Golden Age of American Illustration. At the origin of this Golden Age was one prodigious talent: Howard Pyle, who was an instructor at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry (now Drexel University) from 1894–1900. During his time at Drexel, Pyle taught Maxfield Parrish, Frank E. Schoonover, Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Violet Oakley, and others who would go on to become masters of illustrative art. In tribute to Pyle and his students, Drexel’s Pennoni Honors College, in partnership with the National Museum of American Illustration, presents Howard Pyle, His Students & the Golden Age of American Illustration as part of the 125th anniversary celebration of Drexel University’s founding. 1 Elizabeth Shippen Green, “When Tarzan Gets Up” 2 Howard Pyle, “Here Andre a Spy” 3 Philip R. Goodwin, “Sam Houston at San Jaciento” 4 Violet Oakley, “The Divine Law — Study”

For more information:

5 Howard Pyle, “Marooned” 6 J.C. Leyendecker, “Cleaning Up — New Year’s Baby”

Howard Pyle, His Students & the Golden Age of

7 Sarah Stilwell Weber, “Young Girl with Books and Umbrella” 8 Norman Rockwell, “Skating

American Illustration: April 4-June 18, 2017;

Race” 9 Jessie Willcox Smith, “Little Jack Horner, Sat in a Corner, Eating a Christmas Pie”

Paul Peck Alumni Center, 32nd and Market streets;


215.895.1609; PHC MAGAZINE

4 3





© 2017 National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI. DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI Photos courtesy Archives of American Illustrators Gallery, New York, NY.


ROOM FOR Pennoni Aspire students learn improv techniques to deal with the uncertainties in research BY DONNA KWON, BIOLOGY ‘17



s both an educator and a researcher, Dr. Gabriela Marcu, an Assistant Professor in the College of Computing and Informatics and a Research Fellow with the A.J. Drexel Autism

DK: How did you come up with the idea for the improv workshop?

Institute here at Drexel, has consistently shown great dedication to improving learning and living

GM: I was inspired by Alan Alda’s “Improvisation for Scientists”

conditions for underrepresented populations.

Program. I have a passion for training new researchers, especially at the undergraduate level. And his approach made a

I had the opportunity to participate in Dr. Marcu’s

lot of sense to me. I could immediately see a lot of possibilities

interactive workshop, “Fake It Till You Make It: Improv

for using improv to help newbies with some of the challenges of

for Future Researchers,” during the fall term, as part of the

starting out in research. Plus, I love opportunities to make my

Pennoni Aspire Program. Through this workshop, I and

two worlds collide: my research career and my improv hobby. I

several other students from different majors learned how and

had wanted to do something like this for a while, and Pennoni

why to apply improvisational techniques to a research career.

enabled me to make it happen, for which I’m very grateful.

Dr. Marcu’s workshop was remarkable in its appeal to

DK: What are some of the main points you try to impart to

students of all educational backgrounds, providing a crucial,w

students through improv?

yet often overlooked perspective on what it means to do research. I wanted to know more about Dr. Marcu and what

GM: Students are trained to follow directions, do readings

led her to combine her research with improvisation. Here is my

before class, revise drafts, rehearse presentations, and

interview with her:

generally be well prepared. Rules, steps, rubrics, and right or wrong answers are often what our schooling revolves around.

DONNA KWON: Please tell me a little bit about your research.

Students don’t always get opportunities to learn how to be flexible, how to know what to do when there are no rules or

DR. GABRIELA MARCU: My research is about using

steps, and how to be confident about their work when there

technology to empower people and level the playing field in

are no rubrics and there is no right or wrong answer. Improv

their social lives. As mobile, social, and wearable technol-

helps you find your voice and your way under these circum-

ogies infiltrate every aspect of our lives, I want to make sure

stances. You can speak up and have something to contribute

they have a positive impact. I am especially passionate about

no matter who you are or how much experience you have. You

working with populations who are underserved, margin-

can be engaged and feel like you belong, even if you have no

alized, or stigmatized. I interact with them to understand

idea what’s going on — yet. You can be okay with uncertainty,

their experiences and needs, and then design and develop

and be confident and comfortable when your smarts and

new technologies together with them. My projects have

preparation can’t save you.

focused on supporting children with autism spectrum disorders and other behavioral health needs; the dispropor-

Oh, and students sometimes think that being intelligent and

tionate effects of HIV on young African American men who

knowledgeable means being critical and tearing down others’

have sex with men and transgender women; the barriers

ideas. I love using improv to show that we can be open to

faced by breast cancer survivors in becoming physically

crazy ideas and diverse opinions, have fun, and make everyone

active after treatment; and the social pressures on young

feel heard and included … while still developing our critical

women of color that lead to their being pushed out of the

thinking skills, having high standards, and doing rigorous work.

school system. Empathy often drives work on these projects, so I direct what I've aptly named the Empathic Design and

DK: How do you use improv in your own research and

Technology Research Group.

teaching/mentoring? GM: When students step into my lab as research assistants, the first thing they have to do is shake the assumption that



everyone knows exactly what they are doing, and the sense of intimidation they feel along with that. Much like improv, in research we deal with a lot of unknowns and uncertainties. Students always look to me to tell them exactly what to do and

GM: I started training in improv, at Philly Improv Theater, when

predict everything that’s going to happen, the way professors

I had just finished my PhD. Feeling proud of myself and pretty

teaching their courses would do. But in research we are doing

smart, I came into it confidently ready to take on the improv

something new that no one has ever done before. We are

world. But that’s the thing about improv — you’re never ready

seeking out new knowledge about something that no one

and never confident. Improv helped me realize how much my

understands yet. I can train you in certain skills and teach you

accomplishments were based on preparation and practice.

about the scientific method, but overall we’re in unchartered territory. This is one of many things I love about research,

Once you step out of the classroom and into the real world,

and once students get used to it they enjoy it too. But it can be

you don’t always have that luxury. You have to think on your

scary and intimidating at first.

feet, be resourceful, and do what you can with what you have.

I kept finding myself describing the

I was a well-rehearsed, well-read expert

research process as making things

who was exceptional at following rules

up as we go along, so I started doing improv exercises in meetings with my research group. It’s been a great way to help get a variety of ideas across as I am mentoring students who are new to research. It’s ok to not know what you’re doing. I may be the only person in this room with a PhD, but I don’t have all the answers and I’m looking

Improv teaches you to not crumble, panic, blame, or run when things don’t go as planned.

and directions. None of these things helped me survive in improv. After years of being a hard-working, organized, and detail-oriented student, I realized there was an entire other set of skills that would be very useful for my success (not to mention my overall sanity and wellbeing). Improv teaches you to not crumble, panic, blame, or run when

to all of you to help me figure things

things don’t go as planned — or when

out as we go. We need creativity and a

there was never a plan or script in the first place! You learn how to have grace

diversity of perspectives, so even if it’s your first day I want to hear what you have to say about the

under pressure, and work better with others to get to where you

problem we’re working on.

need to go.

Improv has helped me overcome some of my own fears,

DK: What can students work on long-term as far as

self-doubt, perfectionism, and rigidity. I try to mentor

incorporating improv into their lives?

students when I see some of these qualities in them and I can relate to their experiences. I nudge and encourage them, and

GM: Noticing when you feel uncomfortable, nervous, scared,

then get to watch them stop standing in their own way as they

or stupid. Understanding that these feelings are normal, but

blossom and mature. Improv has become a part of this process

do not have to hold you back. You are never the only person

because it helps you learn about yourself, especially how you

in the room afraid of saying something stupid. More often

react under uncertainty and pressure. In my research group,

than not, if you take that risk it’s not going to go as poorly

I strive to create a safe space where we can all work on these

as you imagine, and you will empower yourself to overcome

things together and support one another.

these fears. It takes practice to keep telling yourself it’s ok to not always know what you’re doing, and to step out of

DK: How do you think improv complements the goals

your comfort zone in order to grow. You are probably your

of the Pennoni Aspire Program (personal, professional,

own harshest critic, so the more you gain control over those

and academic development to prepare students for

internal messages, the better you will be at challenging

post-graduate success)?

yourself while handling criticism from others.



Student Stories

From the app store to the newsstand, and from D.C. to Mount Kilimanjaro, Honors College students are accomplishing great things. Here are four of their stories.

Overcoming the Fear of the Microphone Honors student Danish Dhamani earns thousands in entrepreneurial funding for his public speaking innovations BY ERICA LEVI ZELINGER


t his latest meeting of Drexel Toastmasters, the educational organi-

way to practice presentations and receive personalized

zation that helps members improve their

feedback on delivery.

public speaking skills, Danish Dhamani took on the role of Table Topics speaker.

Gone are the days of practicing in front of the mirror

Toastmaster rules dictate he speak for one to two

or asking a friend to provide feedback: enter Orai,

minutes in response to an impromptu question or topic.

which debuted in the App Store in February.

Danish was assigned “moon” and “spaceship.” “Orai allows anyone to improve their content and The senior Honors mechanical engineering student

delivery with a tap of a button,” Danish says. “Whether

crafted the story as he spoke. He exuded confidence.

you are practicing for a presentation or interested in

He enunciated. He used purposeful gestures. He

improving your everyday communication, our mobile app

eliminated filler words.

tracks your ‘Umms’ and ‘Uhs,’ pace, clarity, and more.”

“Public speaking is always a little bit terrifying,” Danish

“There always lies a solution to any problem,” Danish

says. “But one of the best ways to get over it is to

says. “If it is a difficult problem, the more exciting it

prepare as much as possible.” So when he learned of

is to find the solution. You have to persevere. In fact,

Toastmasters, he joined immediately. He even started a

struggle is the meaning of life.”

Toastmaster chapter at Drexel so other students could hone their public speaking skills. But that was not

The core of Danish’s engineering curriculum is

enough. Public speaking requires continuous practice

devoted to topics such as mechanical behavior of

and students would come some weeks and then get

materials, thermodynamics, and differential equations,

bogged down with midterms and stop coming.

but the Pakistani-born and East African-bred student

The burgeoning entrepreneur wondered: “How can

About One’s Self,” “Shakespeare as a Philosopher,” and

public speaking be learnt on-demand so that people

“Music Lyric Analysis” that offer him wider exposure

says it is his Honors Program courses like “Writing


can practice according to their own schedule?”

and challenge his approach to problem-solving.

Designed to ease the process of public speaking

Now when he’s preparing to present Orai or one of the

practice, Danish and Paritosh Gupta (computer

other products he’s been involved in creating, Danish

science ’18) created a free mobile app offering an easy

depends on his own technology.


Interested in trying out Orai? Download it at

The app – whose slogan is “Be the best speaker you can be,” has empowered Danish himself in front of a crowd. At 5'8", Danish, who speaks six languages, is confident without sounding smug. Orai took first place in Drexel’s Startup Day competition in November. It also placed first at OH-Penn for Business and PittJohnstown LIVE pitch competitions. From Orai, Danish’s public speaking app

“Leadership is analogous with public speaking. If you

Following an IBM SmartCamp competition, where Orai was a finalist, the company was also selected to be a part of the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program.

are an executive or a CEO you have to have excellent

Danish has participated in 20-plus contests, competi-

public speaking skills in order to sell your product, in

tions, and scholarships during his college career, and

order to market your brand, and in order to empower

most recently auditioned for the ABC show “Shark

your employees.”

Tank”– garnering him nearly $50,000 in winnings.

TOTALLY TUBULAR Danish Dhamani is one of 25 Honors students working on SpaceX’s Hyperloop pod design competition The 19th Century brought about the construction of roads,

talking about developing a SpaceX student team. He’d read

rails, and canals that contributed to the nation’s economic

about the Hyperloop competition and wanted in.

growth. The early 20th Century saw the invention of the airplane. And now, in the 21st Century, Danish Dhamani and

“This is a problem worth solving,” he says. “We can improve

89 other Drexel students are active participants in the most

peoples’ lifestyle and significantly reduce transportation times

recent transportation revolution: the Hyperloop.

for a low cost — I wanted to be part of this challenge.”

In 2013 engineer and inventor Elon Musk and his SpaceX team

Along with 25 other Honors students, Danish is helping design

open-sourced preliminary design plans for the high-speed trans-

Drexel’s own pneumatic tube transportation system. He has

portation of passengers using low-pressure tubes. A compe-

taken several roles including logistics manager, fundraising,

tition was conceived to develop a preliminary pod design for

member of controls and software team, and most recently a

Musk’s visionary transit system.

member of the structures team where he sourced their foam mold and helped with the carbon laying of the structure.

“The Hyperloop is a pod that is accelerated through a closed, low-pressure tube,” said Danish. “This allows the system

In January 2017, the Drexel team made a once-in-a-

to minimize friction and thus achieve high speeds very,

lifetime journey to the SpaceX headquarters outside of Los

very efficiently.”

Angeles to exhibit their pod at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition and hear Elon Musk speak about the innovative

In summer 2015, Danish was hanging out in the mechanical

technology contributions students are making to the

engineering department when he overheard a few students

transportation industry. DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI


Mouse Cells, Molecules, and Metastases Why biomedical engineering student John Quinlan is the model ambassador for Undergraduate Research BY ERICA LEVI ZELINGER


ohn Quinlan stood patiently in line to go through a security check at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. The line was 15 people deep — mostly students eager to present their work at

“Posters on the Hill,” an annual event sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).

At other conferences he’s attended, John found seeing other student presentations and interacting with the semi-professional network of undergraduate researchers broadened his understanding of his own research. So he struck up a conversation with Elizabeth, the girl ahead of him, practicing his spiel about bitter taste receptors on mouse immune cells. “She said she was studying English, and I said I was studying pharmacology,” the pre-junior BS/MS biomedical engineering student says. “We both braced for a rather rough conversation. What could the two fields have in common?” The Pennoni Honors student started explaining the research he’d done on new drugs and some of the challenges the scientists he’s worked with face explaining to non-scientific communities how these drugs work. The Hope College student told him her research was on the rhetoric around vaccines and how the discussions around those vaccines related to general acceptance of them.



“I realized that we were dealing with the same problem, but from two totally different views, and that a solution would likely sit somewhere in between the two. To me, interdisciplinary communications like this are what make presenting research so vital.” And to think: John first got involved with presenting research on a whim. The summer after his freshman year, John was a Pennoni STAR Scholar researching the effect of small molecule antagonists on breast cancer proliferation. During his down time — and just for fun — the curious and energetic student submitted an abstract to the Biomedical Engineering Society Conference in Tampa for a poster he’d created in his freshman design lab. And it was accepted. From there, John rode the research high from Tampa to a circuit of undergraduate conferences: National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard; National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Asheville, N.C.; and CUR Posters on the Hill, where he was one of 60 students out of 600 applicants. “It was gratifying to be able to send a student again from Drexel and for that student to be a sophomore,” says Jaya Mohan, associate director of the Pennoni Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR). “This speaks really well to the preparedness of our students as researchers and to the depth of research they are

able to engage in so early in their academic careers. John is one of the most earnest, polite, enthusiastic students I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting, so I was excited at the opportunity CUR presented to him.” John’s ability to clearly explain his work and the impact of his research beyond a scientific setting also makes him a model ambassador for undergraduate research. At “Posters on the Hill,” he met with state representatives to promote federal funding of undergraduate research. The reps, aids, and staffers, John says, are not well versed in these initiatives, and he learned how simple but impactful sharing his research can be. And he has a knack for cutting through the jargon to explain what it is he has researched: At Monell Chemical Senses Center, he studied those bitter taste receptors he told the English major in D.C. about. Some people question why mouse immune cells even matter,

“I realized that we were dealing with the same problem, but from two totally different views.” Above: John meets his home district’s representative, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman from New Jersey’s 12th.

John says, but his research is helping to better describe the human immune system and how to respond to the system when it attacks. At Drexel College of Medicine, John’s research helped explain why a novel small molecule antagonist or unique drug can be used to block the CX3CR1 receptor, which allows circulating tumor cells to exit the blood and enter new tissues where they can form metastases. At his oncology translational research co-op at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, he is looking for novel fusion genes in prostate cancer — a hybrid formed from two separate genes — for possible diagnostic and therapeutic use. His project was selected for a poster presentation he gave in February at the Yale Undergraduate Research Conference. “Imagine a writer took the front half of a novel and the back half of a magazine and glued them together somewhere in the middle of a sentence,” John says. “You would have something that you could read, but it would be pretty unclear. An editor would flag the fusion text pretty quickly, but in cancer the editor is usually absent, so we see these genes pop up with greater prevalence than in normal cells. As a result, if we can find a few that are highly expressed in prostate cancer, we can begin to use them to diagnose patients, and, in the long run, target the proteins that are created as a result.” John’s next co-op will take him to Boston to work for Merck in Neuroscience Early Discovery, where he’ll

experience the phase III clinical trials for a drug that could change how early Alzheimer’s is treated. “I am extremely excited to not only see how a company reacts to major clinical trial results, but also to get to work with a group of scientists who have successfully translated a drug from the bench side to human use,” John says. His demeanor combined with his commitment to research make John the perfect ambassador for the OUR office; John served as a programming chair this past fall and winter for the OUR’s Undergraduate Research Leaders, encouraging undergrads to participate in knowledge creation in their fields. He’s also been nominated for the Goldwater Scholarship, which supports students with promising futures in science and engineering research. “I am struck by how mature John’s thinking is about his research experiences,” Mohan says. “He’s doing the meta-cognitive work that we want all our students to do – to not only have these experiences but to think about them, compare them, understand their advantages and disadvantages and how those experiences speak to and spark his own interests … and he’s encouraging his peers to do the same thing.



Upward Bound What climbing Mount Kilimanjaro taught Mansoor Siddiqui about school, business, and himself BY ERICA LEVI ZELINGER


n the night of his ascent to the summit of

Mansoor started out as an engineering major, but

Mount Kilimanjaro, Mansoor Siddiqui

wanted to explore his creative and entrepreneurial

had to continually stop and catch his

potential outside of the realm of engineering. He

breath. But the 22-year-old Custom-

switched to biology and considered medical school.

Designed Major from Ridley Park wasn’t

It was at an internship at the Drexel College of

focused on the physical task of climbing to the highest

Medicine, building educational games and software

point on the continent of Africa. It was the grueling

for med students, that he kindled his love for educa-

mental challenge that most excited—and exhausted--

tional technology. But he also realized he didn’t have

him. It was an exercise in willpower and persistence.

the same passion for pursuing medicine as those

The guides told Mansoor later that they didn’t think a

around him.

non-outdoorsy type who’d only hiked easy local trails would make it to the summit.

“I didn’t really fit into any of the other pre-ordained career paths,” Mansoor says.” I wanted the freedom to

“But every time you stopped and sat down,” one guide told Mansoor, “you just got back up again and kept going. So

study subjects that would give me more than what will you need to know for a career.

we realized you were going to make it after all.” He found himself applying to the Pennoni Honors Starting a company, the economics, physics and

College’s Custom-Designed Major as a way to pursue

philosophy major posits, is basically like climbing a

subjects that challenged him and made him think

mountain with no experience.

about the world around him.

Now, when he reflects on the Spring/Summer 2016

“Since I didn’t know what career I was going to end

co-op that brought him to Africa, and the treacherous

up with, I wanted to be a better thinker, a better

journey up “Mt. Kill,” Mansoor’s reflections about the

problem-solver, a better researcher, so that I could

stages of his expedition morph into tenets that will

take on any challenge.”

serve him in business and in life. At times, figuring out just how to translate economics, physics and philosophy into a business put Mansoor

“I thought I would give it a shot to get a feel for what I was getting myself into.”

back on unsteady ground; it was like traversing rocky ledges with vertigo-induced sweat included.

“…at one point I fell over from dizziness…”

“I think that the Custom-Designed Major has empowered Mansoor to experiment with his education in meaningful ways,” says Dr. Kevin Egan, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry, which houses the Custom-Designed Major. “During one of our advising sessions, he made the offhand comment

In late 2015, Mansoor and Drexel student Zafar

that he appreciated the major because it ‘validates your

Saifi, both Baiada Institute incubatees, founded

right to experiment within the system.’ I thought that

Project One with the long-term vision of creating

was exceptionally insightful, and it really characterizes

better, free, online education for a global audience.

Mansoor’s approach to synthesizing his academic and

He and Zafar set off for Africa on their Close School

entrepreneurial endeavors.”

Entrepreneurship Co-ops to meet with African business owners and entrepreneurs and see if there was a market for their idea. His foundation in physics, Mansoor says, helps him wrap his head around cutting-edge technological research. His knowledge of economics helps him understand how his solutions can fit into trends in the market. And his interest in programming – cultivated in childhood – make a fitting stepping stone to developing online learning platforms to

“I can confidently say that climbing the mountain helped me understand that the next few years of my life are going to be exactly like the night of the summit: on repeat.”

alleviate problematic issues in education like access, quality, and personalization.

continued on page 23



Pennoni Honors College. My boss, Richard Abowitz, was a former Rolling Stone freelancer and college friend of one of the (now-former) editors. This


connection got me in for an interview, and, much to

Custom-Designed Major student Maren Larsen

my amazement, I got the job.

reflects on her dream co-op experience: working at Rolling Stone

On the morning of my first day, I was so nervous my hands shook. For the duration of the two-and-a-


half-hour commute from Philadelphia to midtown


Manhattan, I thought I might throw up. It turns out that the feeling of a dream being realized is one of sheer terror.


first started reading Rolling Stone in high school by commandeering my then-boyfriend’s issues. I pored over pages of interviews with classic rockers and movie stars, nodded along to liberal political pieces, and took note of the films and records with

the best reviews. New York City and Rolling Stone

were a world away from my hometown in rural Utah, but they gave me something to dream about.

Before my first co-op, I called Rolling Stone to ask about their internship program and what it would take to be considered. Their answer basically amounted to a hard “no.” For my second co-op, I worked at the Center for Cultural Media in the



The nerves soon subsided; most of my internship at Rolling Stone was completely unglamorous. The other interns and I transcribed (often poorly recorded) interviews and assembled research packets for writers. We got the editors coffee and passed out “rounds” – page proofs for soon-to-be-published pieces. But work that would have been mind-numbing anywhere else was thrilling at Rolling Stone. We transcribed interviews with Pete Townshend, Emma Stone, James Taylor, Alicia Keys, and more. The day after the election, Editor-in-Chief Jann Wenner sat down with President Barack Obama for a tough interview, and I later helped transcribe it. While Jann and Barack conducted their final interview, I

sat in on an editorial meeting as the editors solemnly rearranged and rewrote sections of the magazine. Every day, I sat at the table where they founded the

“Work that would have been mind-numbing anywhere else was thrilling at Rolling Stone.”

magazine 49 years ago. I met my favorite writers and asked as many questions as I could: How did you get here? What was your strangest interview? What’s so-and-so really like? I waited on pins and needles with the rest of the staff to hear the result of a lawsuit against the magazine. I missed seeing Dave Grohl, frontman of the Foo Fighters and friend of the late, great Kurt Cobain, by about three minutes (but at some point, we were in the same building). I eavesdropped on the Rolling Stones’ Blue & Lonesome blasting out of an editor’s office weeks before it was released. I catalogued 50-year-old photographs of long-dead icons. I read the draft of Leonard Cohen’s eulogy.

continued from page 21

Cue Mansoor’s version of Groundhog Day. His experience on Mt. Kill is a daily reminder that everything he does is predicated on persistence. Especially since he has a for-profit startup to operate, assumptions to validate, and a lot of R&D to complete before he can expand his business.

I saw the complex machinery of the editorial process up close, and it only made me want more. My last day at Rolling Stone was bittersweet. I was desperate to keep some souvenir to prove that this hadn’t all been a dream. I had as many writers and editors as I could sign a copy of the latest issue. One of the editors half-jokingly called me a nerd for doing so (would I have been there if I wasn’t?). But I left the New York office with my signed copy tucked safely in my bag – a permanent reminder of my time spent living the rock ’n’ roll dream.

Economics + physics + philosophy may seem like a challenging equation, but Mansoor has solved it for himself successfully. “What I have been excited to see is that Mansoor has taken the methods of learning from those fields – the critical thinking and analytical skills, along with systematized approaches to problem-solving – and put them to work in building his business,” Egan says.

Project One is currently developing two products: Synapse and EdinLabs. Synapse is a software that provides students with step-by-step calculus work, all the while collecting data to explore their mistakes and create an adaptive and personalized learning environment. EdinLabs came about through a partnership with University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education after they realized a lot of the reason that good EdTech tools don’t succeed is because there is no good way to pilot or test them in classrooms, especially at the K-12 level.

“The funny part to me is that I didn’t save any energy for the trip down to base camp after we got to the top. My body simply had nothing left to give. I’m not the first person to almost not make it up the mountain, but I might be the first person to almost not make it down.” DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI


a program to

aspire & reflect BY ERICA LEVI ZELINGER

It’s easy for pre-meds to be consumed by Drexel’s 10-week terms where they follow a strict path of class after class to

fulfill graduation requirements and prepare for the MCAT. In fact, Wiktoria Gocal, a hard-working biological sciences student, had never really stepped away from her studies long enough to seriously consider her professional goals. And her interests? Well, when posed in an interview with the question: “What are your passions?” the 20-year-old said jokingly that she suffered a two-day existential crisis when she began the grueling process of critically analyzing her career-related decisions.

“The program will make you consider career goals and decisions in a new and more critical perspective,” says Gocal, a sophomore who also happens to be a first-generation immigrant from Poland. “While initially difficult, this will, in the long run, prove to be a great benefit. It will expose you to new resources and encourage you to pursue those that best align with your goals.” Not only does Aspire require that you develop career goals, but Ayush Parikh, Biological Sciences ’19, says, the program helps you digest them. “Longterm goals inherently seem distant and overwhelming,” he says, “but Aspire is a way to clarify these big dreams into

Wiktoria’s calamity came on the heels of an interview

smaller, achievable steps.”

for a spot in the first cohort of the Center for Scholar Development’s Aspire Scholars mentoring program. Aspire

“The idea for the Aspire Scholars

Scholars is part of the Pennoni Aspire initiative designed to

program grew out of conversations we

empower high-achieving students to make informed choices

were having with students applying for

about their academic, professional, and personal paths. As

fellowships and other post-graduate

part of a small, interdisciplinary community of fellow students

opportunities,” says Dr. Meredith

and faculty mentors, Aspire Scholars engage in intentional

Wooten, director of the Center for

decision-making and receive guidance about designing a

Scholar Development. “First, for many

college experience that better aligns with who they are and

students, the application process was

what they hope to achieve.

the first time they had been asked to really reflect on their motivations or

In addition to the Scholars Program, Pennoni Aspire partners with other departments across the University to offer workshops, networking opportunities, resources, and a chance for students to reflect on previous decisions and map out what lies ahead.



how the pieces of their Drexel education – courses, co-op, and activities – fit together to prepare them for the next continued on page 26


continued from page 24

step. Second, even our most highly-accomplished students often shared a sense of regret that they hadn’t found out about opportunities or received important advice earlier in their education that would have better-prepared them for post-graduate success.” One of Ayush’s biggest struggles navigating through Drexel, he says, was picking the right opportunity. “Drexel has so much to offer but I found it difficult to know which opportunity would be best for me. Thus, when I learned that Aspire offers a strong, one-on-one mentoring component, I saw it as a way for me to get guidance and feedback on the decisions I make.”

At a fast-paced school like Drexel,

it’s essential to set aside the time to reflect.

“Ultimately, we hope to facilitate the sort of reflection and connections that will enable these students not only to achieve more here at Drexel, but to build relationships and self-understanding that will persist long into the future,” Wooten says. A bonus of working in a small cohort of your peers, is the collaboration that comes out of being surrounded by likeminded students, says Joseph. For many students, the fast pace and focus on gaining professional experience leaves little time for reflection on the “big” questions so many students encounter in their college years – “Who am I?”, “What do I value most?”, “What do I want to achieve?” One of the things that Marina D’Souza,

Scholars are expected to submit regular reflections,

Environmental Engineering and Materials Science

says Materials Science and Engineering student Riki

and Engineering ’20, realized after attending

McDaniel, one of 11 students in the program this year.

Aspire workshops is the kind of mentor she wants.

“At a fast-paced school like Drexel,” Riki says, “it’s

“While I’m looking for academic advice, I want

essential to set aside the time to reflect. I now take

a mentor who’s interested in me as a person,

the time over the weekend to write about what I did

someone who is interested in my overall growth,

the previous week to bring me closer to my goals.”

someone who can help me navigate my academic career but also be nurturing,” D’Souza says.

Goal-setting for international business and economics major Joseph Snyder includes applying

Aspire has afforded D’Souza the ability to make

to the Honors Program. Most of the other partici-

conscious decisions about her college career and

pants are already in Honors; some have also partic-

think about her time at Drexel in a deliberate manner.

ipated in the STAR Scholars Program. But Aspire workshops with other Honors College advisors have clued participants into other opportunities

“If I was to encourage someone to participate in Aspire, she says, “I’d tell them ‘If you want to

worth pursuing: research conferences, fellowships

graduate feeling like you’ve achieved more than

abroad, and seminars about writing CVs and

a degree, Aspire is a good way to do that. It will

getting recommendation letters.

make you think about the things you want out of your college experience and you will have someone who can guide you through it.’”




t 11 a.m. on the

them next to nothing for

first Wednesday

dangerous work!” Denise

of fall term I

shared that she’d had

found myself

similarly bad experiences

grasping a metallic doorknob leading to a classroom in

a very unlikely building — the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships at 35th and Spring Garden.

with previous employers.



I twisted the knob, opened


the door, and walked inside


The class discussed what we would have liked to see Josiah Bounderby do: increase wages, make an effort to make the workplace safer, and generally treat his

to find a group of people

workers like human beings.

who looked the age of my

Despite the scary relevance of

professors sitting around a

Bounderby’s behavior, many in the class found inspiration

long, wooden conference table. I scanned their faces; only one, Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen,

in another character, Stephen Blackpool, who Dickens portrayed

who led the course and is the Dean of the Pennoni Honors

as a sort of hero among working class people.

College, looked familiar. The rest, I realized, were residents of the Powelton and Mantua neighborhoods, who were attending

Another community member, Tracy, admitted that he

the class, along with myself and three other Honors students,

identified with Stephen Blackpool because of his desire to

as part of a series of “side-by-side” courses. In these courses,

do the right thing, even when no one else understands, and

Honors students read and discuss a book or topic along with

even when it means losing everything. Stephen Blackpool was

members of the communities surrounding Drexel. I didn’t

ostracized by his fellow workers because he disagreed with

know it yet, but the 10 or so community members who sat

the strike they were staging against Bounderby. And because

among us students would end up teaching me as much or more

Bounderby had no sympathy for his position, Blackpool had

than any professor ever would.

no choice but to leave town and look for work elsewhere. He wound up dying after a fall into a coal mine, making him a

We were tasked with conquering Hard Times, one of Charles

kind of martyr for the exploited working class.

Dickens’s greatest social justice novels. Through its plot and characters, the novel raises issues relating to class discrimi-

While I find Dickens’s story interesting, I can’t really relate to

nation, unjust labor practices, sexism, and even environmental

it in the same ways that my community member classmates

pollution, all of which my classmates have experience with.

can simply because I don’t come from the same background

Joan, Denise, and Alena, three community members who

and don’t have the same experiences. Yet, as I left my last class

sat together and who were passionately vocal (Dean Cohen

with them, I came away feeling I’d accomplished something

dubbed them “The Triumvirate” for their immense influence

that’s increasingly rare in today’s world: hearing someone

on class discussion), decried one Hard Times character in

out whose perspective and experiences are vastly different

particular, factory owner Josiah Bounderby, whom they

from my own, and feeling that we all supported each other

likened to Donald Trump. The book does indeed describe

despite those differences. After a most hateful and violent

the character as having a field of hay for hair, which is often

2016, my time with these community members spent reading

whipped wildly about by his endless, vitriolic bluster. “Oh, he

and discussing Hard Times proved to be the most refreshing

needs to get a grip on reality!” Denise declared during one of

experience of my fall term, one that I hope other students and

her particularly passionate diatribes. “Bounderby thinks his

community members get to experience as well — we all need

employees are bad people, but Bounderby is the one paying

to hear each other’s voices! DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI



How diamonds can help treat cancer and arthritis — and how one Honors Program graduate and fellowship recipient combines interdisciplinary research with international engagement BY ERICA LEVI ZELINGER



ormed in the mantle of the Earth, diamonds – the alluring gem that had Marilyn Monroe belting out lyrics in the 1950s about square-cut or pear shape and Rihanna soaring on vocals about the crystalline form of pure carbon nearly 60 years later – may still be a girl’s best friend, but the detonation of the precious stone produces a soot of tiny diamonds desirable by all those in the biomedical field. Including Amanda Pentecost. Amanda’s fascination with nanodiamond particles began in 2008 as a Materials Science & Engineering major at Drexel, working in Dr. Yury Gogotsi’s lab breaking apart the aggregates nanodiamonds form to expose smaller particles. Nanodiamonds have the same extreme mechanical strength as those used in jewelry, but their super hardness and resistance to chemicals make them very useful in a number of applications, including a vehicle for drug delivery. As an Honors Program undergraduate, Amanda began participating in collaborative projects with biology researchers at Thomas Jefferson University, participated in the STAR Scholars Program with Dr. Gogotsi and the following year mentored a co-op in Dr. Gogotsi’s lab. She twice attended the National Council for Undergraduate Research Conference with funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research. Amanda spent her third co-op working at the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute testing the nanodiamond-based drug delivery system she’d designed in different clinical applications, including treating cancer and bacterial infections. When she returned, she was invited by the Office of International Programs to join a newly created Student Global Advisory Board. “Fueled by my excitement from recently being abroad, I have been working to survey international and cultural initiatives and programs at Drexel and provide feedback to faculty and staff on how to best promote these opportunities to the Drexel community, and, overall, promote a spirit of global citizenship,” she says. DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI


An atomic-scale image of a cluster of as-received nanodiamond particles. After additionally modifying the surface, different therapeutic drugs can be adsorbed to its surface. Then, the drug-loaded nanodiamond particles can be injected into the body for the treatment of a variety of diseases, including cancer, bacterial infections, and immune diseases.

this profound discovery about myself, I was able to more easily address the essays in my recent Fulbright, Boren, and Whitaker fellowship applications.” That self-realization made her applications even stronger, says Dr. Meredith Wooten, director of the Fellowships Office. In a pool of highly-qualified applicants, the ability to provide a clear and compelling account of what motivates you and how this opportunity will fit with your larger goals or trajectory can help a candidate stand out and connect with reviewers. “Fellowships selection committees want to understand who they are supporting as much as what the applicant is proposing to do,” Wooten says. “So, Amanda’s willingness to really reflect on her experiences and goals and undertake multiple revisions enabled her to craft a much more powerful and authentic narrative that tied the technical aspects of her work, her passion Her research in undergrad was primarily materials-focused

for research and her commitment to international collaboration

but the dual MS student in Biomedical Engineering and PhD

together with the goals of each program.”

candidate in Materials Science & Engineering knew she wanted to learn more biological characterization techniques and asked

Receiving the Boren and Whitaker International Fellowship

Dr. Kara Spiller to co-advise her PhD dissertation working

allowed her to pursue her goal of combining interdisciplinary

on designing and testing another nanodiamond-based drug

research with international engagement. In 2016, Amanda

delivery system, but instead to be used to treat inflammatory

set off for Seoul, Korea to broaden her knowledge, not only of

diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis.

scientific techniques and analyses, but also of multiculturalism.

In working with the Fellowships Office to apply for the

Even though Korea’s booming technology industry was

National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship,

enough to entice any researcher, she says, her main reason for

she said she was challenged to seriously reflect on how best to

setting her sights on Korea was more personal: All three of

sell herself and her personal motivations.

her siblings are adopted from Korea and having been exposed to Korean culture her whole life, Amanda wanted to translate

“During the process, I spent a lot of time organizing my

her innate curiosity to opportunity.

thoughts and deciding how to present them in a clear and effective way, such that laypeople could also understand

“I think that my unique commitment to international collab-

the importance of my past and proposed research projects,”

orations will really help me as I embark on my career path,”

Amanda says. “It was then that I learned that what makes

Amanda says. “Whether it’s in academia or industry or

me unique and motivates me is my combined love of multi-

government, I know that my career path will always have

culturalism and interdisciplinary research. After making

some sort of international component.”



Alumni News


At Taste of Honors, love-centric themes raise the bar for parents and alumni BY RICH BLUMBERG, MARKETING ’84, ALUMNI BOARD OF GOVERNORS, AND PARENT TO TWO DREXEL STUDENTS


ow do you cram a 10-week quarter into a

current and prospective students, and alumni from years

75-minute session? A “Taste of Honors”

past who wished they had a Pennoni Honors College to

engages parents and alumni with more than

share interdisciplinary insights and complement their

a “taste” of topics, which inspire new

university experience.

perspectives, conversation, and networking. In the “Love on the Silver Screen” course, we looked at

The program represents a welcome change of pace to step

romantic themes from silent films, as well as “Snow White,”

away from our daily grind, and an opportunity to learn from

“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Casablanca,” “The Godfather,” and

the talented, dynamic faculty of the Pennoni Honors College.

several recent Oscar-nominated films. These movies, we learned, contained universal themes. Professor Kaufhold

The recent Taste of Honors installment focused on Valentine’s

pointed out that he could have swapped out and replaced his

Day affection-centric themes in film, literature, and

selections with other films (i.e., favorites identified by the class

philosophy which expanded all the participants’ knowledge

participants) and still made the same universal points.

around a universal interest: LOVE. Everyone walked away with an amazing new perspective on Sessions included:

the love-centric topics, which covered a historic, contemporary

Why We Love Jane Austen - Paula Marantz Cohen, PhD,

and multi-dimensional perspective.

Dean of the Pennoni Honors College Love on the Silver Screen - Matthew Kaufhold, associate teaching

Going forward what can we as alumni and parents expect?

professor and program director of Screenwriting & Playwriting What We Think About When We Think About Love - Fred

The upcoming calendars for the Honors College and the

J. Abbate, PhD, adjunct professor in the Honors College

Drexel Alumni Association have some very interesting

Modern Love, Romance & Marriage in Joyce’s Dubliners -

sessions planned and worth attending. Taste of Honors will be

William di Canzio, PhD, playwright, novelist and instructor in

going on the road, including an upcoming daylong program in

the Honors College

Washington D.C. May 6.

Attendees ranged from recent Drexel and Pennoni

For more information, including program schedule and

graduates with great and interesting jobs, parents of

registration, visit or call 888.DU.GRADS. DREXEL.EDU/PENNONI



Paul Avazier, Architecture ’07, was recently awarded the American Institute of Architects Philadelphia 2016 Young Architect Award. He was also elected to the American Institute of Architects Philadelphia Board of Directors. Avazier was selected for his exceptional involvement with the AIA chapter and its Board of Directors, as a chairperson of numerous committees, mentoring involvement, continued involvement with the Drexel Architecture program as a critic and mentor, and design excellence achievements as an associate at Atkin Olshin Schade Architects. He married Heather Strittmatter, Biology ’10, Honors, Physical Therapy ’10 DPT and they have two children. John Medaglia, Psychology ’04, was one of only 16 junior scientists across the country in fall 2015 to be awarded the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, providing funding to pursue “high-risk/ high-reward” research to change scientific paradigms and facilitate new avenues for discovery. Dr. Medaglia’s award supports research that links concepts from network science, engineering, and brain stimulation to find treatments for individuals suffering from stroke. In Fall 2016, Dr. Medaglia also became a co-investigator on a grant through the Perelman School of Medicine with Roy Hamilton, helping to extend these concepts to language functions in an effort to decrease the time to real-world clinical applications. In January 2016, Dr. Medaglia became a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. In July 2016, he married Drexel alumna Kathryn Rose Hall ’11. Matthew Parsons, Physics ’15, is now one of two U.S. graduate students to work at ITER. “We hope the enormous amount of work that we put into initiating these collaborations will make it easier for more graduate students from the U.S. to participate in this extraordinary research project,” Parson says.

Paul Avazier, Architecture ’07, accepting his American Institute of Architects Philadelphia 2016 Young Architect Award.

John Medagalia, Psychology ’04, married Drexel alumna Kathryn Rose Hall ’11 in July 2016.

Jen Siew, International Area Studies ’15, was recently named AmeriCorps SERVE Philadelphia Financial Empowerment Coordinator. She will work on the initiatives of the FINA project, which will increase financial security within immigrant and refugee communities. Mary Kate Williams (nee Dahlberg), Economics ’10, just published her second book, The Games You Cannot Win. The collection of short stories, several of which feature familiar Philadelphia sites, deal with the many ways modern society traps us in what appears to be an unwinnable game. The book can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. Williams juggles a thriving career as a marketing manager for IRONMAN while honing her passion for creative writing.



Chantee Steele, Accounting and Finance ’13, got engaged on New Year’s Eve in a hot air balloon. Congratulations!

As the national online organizer for Sierra Club, Katie Reilly is busy prepping now for the People’s Climate Movement, a march in Washington, D.C. on April 29. After she graduated, Reilly, Music Industry ’11, volunteered with an advocacy organization and discovered that asking someone to call their senator to talk about an issue they care about wasn’t that different from getting a music fan to call a radio station. So she translated her digital marketing concentration to developing digital strategies for the Sierra Club, meaning explaining complex environmental issues through email, social media, and websites to members and supporters. Her first task at the Sierra Club was planning New York City’s People’s Climate March in September 2014 after Hurricane Sandy. She created and implemented a plan to recruit thousands of attendees using email, social media, mobile, and other digital tools. It was the largest climate march in history with an estimated 300,000-400,000 attendees calling for climate action. “One of my favorite instances was a 2-minute moment of silence for people who had already lost their lives or home because of climate change,” Reilly says. “It was amazing to see hundreds of thousands of people across miles of New York City stand in silence together and at the end of the moment of silence local churches all came together to ring their bells in unison.”

Each year, 40 inspiring and entrepreneurial alumni are featured in Drexel Magazine’s Spring issue. This year’s list included Dawn McDougall, a 2015 custom-designed major in Meanings of Urban Sustainability.

Girish Balakrishnan credits the Pennoni Honors College for giving him the confidence to engage in collaboration. Balakrishnan, Digital Media ’13, spends his days working with filmmakers to transform traditional storyboards into 3D using high-end game engine quality visuals. As a virtual production technical director at Digital Domain, the visual effects company behind Titanic, Thor, and Transformers, Balakrishnan worked on Disney’s “The Jungle Book” with director Jon Favreau. He helped to visualize the jungle in a way never seen on film before. “We provide filmmakers with a creative playpen of tools like a virtual camera system to experiment with the blocking and framing of a shot, adjust virtual lighting, and modify the digital set all in real-time,” Balakrishnan said. “This journey gave me perspective on how to make the massive machine that is film production personal. I had to focus on the problem at hand and work with the right people to overcome each obstacle and bring magic to the screen. Technically challenging films like this are just puzzles.”

CALL FOR ANNOUNCEMENTS Please send your alumni announcements to and let us know what you’ve been up to. Include your name, major, graduation year, and share with us your career stories, promotions, marriages, births, etc.

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3250 Chestnut Street MacAlister Hall, Suite 5016 Philadelphia, PA 19104


PHC Magazine Spring/Summer 2017  

The official magazine of Drexel University's Pennoni Honors College

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