Page 1



PLUS: Climate, COVID-19 and Drexel Dining From Sequins to Sweatpants Pandemic Pivots

Student Spotlight Folding 1,000 origami cranes, as the Japanese legend goes, grants you one wish. Or perhaps it’s eternal luck or lifelong happiness. But for Emily Mah, animation & visual effects ’23, she embarked on the leisurely endeavor to combat boredom and anxiousness before heading to college. The Honors student, former Aspire Scholar and STAR Scholar shared her paper journey at January’s Nerd Night. She showcased how the project became a way to deal with change and uncertainty and while she started prior to the pandemic, it became a fitting quarantine hobby. In October 2020, after three years, Emily folded her thousandth crane. Made from the pulp of wood and crafted into a Japanese art, the project represents Emily’s ambition and perseverance. “What was most memorable was the journey,” Emily says. “The cranes gave me both incentive and inspiration to keep going and to keep moving forward. Even now, I’ll occasionally take out my box of cranes as a reminder to myself that I can accomplish huge undertakings.”

From the Dean

As I review the final copy for this issue, I can announce that I am now fully vaccinated and have begun, tentatively, to live again

in the world. I hope that readers are in a similar position — or will soon be. It’s been a long and grueling year, but not without positive experiences and lessons learned.

Helped by the generosity of you, we were able to offer more in the way of PHC programming this academic year. We still continue to seek

support from alumi, parents, and friends of Pennon to build particular initiatives or general programming, the latter by supporting the naming of the Annette Pennoni Living Room in Bentley Hall. Annette’s husband, Chuck Pennoni, was a two-time-interim president of Drexel and the benefactor of the Pennoni Honors College. Annette was the poised, observant presence by his side at so many College events. I will always cherish the times I spent talking with Annette when she shared her thoughts about the College and issues at large. We will be naming the large space in front of the fireplace in Bentley Hall in honor of Annette.

I am especially enthusiastic about our College as we move into the summer term. Pennoni has maintained a strong connection to

its students throughout this pandemic. We have some of our first-year students living in Bentley Hall and some staff members going into their offices on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, we are thriving online. Our Honors Program students continue to be engaged by our courses — both 3-credit colloquia

and 1-credit Great Works classes. We have also been creative with other kinds of offerings: our STAR Scholars were able to choose a virtual summer 2020 option or postpone and complete their research during fall/winter 2020 — some were able to do lab work in person. We had double the number of applicants to STAR this year than last. We also had increased interest in our Aspire Scholars program, which is underwritten by one of our advisory board members and which we plan to expand with programming available to all students next year. Our fellowships applications have also been robust, with record numbers of recipients, finalists, and honorable mentions for awards, some of which will admittedly be delayed or withheld, owing to travel restrictions. The custom-designed major continues to draw student interest; some sign on to an interdisciplinary major of their own making, some decide to add a minor or dual major. The advising in this program has been crucial to students across the University

Finally, our co-curricular programming for Drexel students as well as staff, faculty, and community has been rich and varied. Some highlights:

1) A panel discussion on the subject of When Great Artists Behave Badly, in partnership with the Barnes Foundation, featuring

among its panelists Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones, was underwritten by another advisory board member and generated buzz. The panel discussion is being edited as part of The Civil Discourse, our television interview series, and distributed to PBS stations across the country. You can watch in the Philadelphia market on WHYY as well as WNYE-TV in NYC. Visit our YouTube channel at or check your local listings.

2) Our monthly “Wednesdays at the Kline” series included a popular event on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Philadelphia. It

featured a variety of perspectives, all civilly expressed in keeping with its place within our Center for Civil Discourse. For more information on the Center, contact

3) In honor of Women’s History Month, we hosted a full Pennoni Womxn’s Week series of activities in partnership with several women’s

student organizations on campus. The roster included: watching and reflecting on Kimberle Crenshaw’s TED Talk about the urgency of the study of intersectionality; womxn in STEM lightning talks, a Pennoni Panel about COVID-19 and the “She”cession; a screening of Picture a Scientist followed by a moderated discussion; and a talk with Women’s Campaign International, a Philadelphia non-profit.

4) Our weekly Shakespeare Read-Aloud continues with a vibrant and welcoming intellectual community. This winter we read our

way through Merchant of Venice and are now reading Macbeth. We encourage you to join if you have an interest in or curiosity about Shakespeare. To be added to our Shakespeare reading group, email

5) We look forward to our annual Week of Undergraduate Excellence, being held the week of May 17, with its myriad of activities and

presentations. For information on the many events during this week, please contact Jaya Mohan at

6) Please check out the latest on our online journal,, and our podcast, Pop the Question at

Paula Marantz Cohen Dean, Pennoni Honors College Distinguished Professor of English 215.895.1266 • 1

CONTENTS Spring/Summer 2021


In Brief






Climate, COVID-19 and Drexel Dining

From Sequins to Sweatpants




PHC Magazine is published biannually by the

Dean: Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen

Marketing & Media team of Drexel University’s Pennoni Honors College.

Editorial Staff Editor: Erica Levi Zelinger

Comments? Contact us at

Copy Editor: Dr. Melinda Lewis Designer: Isabella Akhtarshenas

Administration Director, Administration & Finance: Ann Alexander Executive Assistant to the Dean: Karen Sams



Leveling the Playing Field



Pandemic Pivots

Giving Birth to Benjamin






Academic Programs Director: Dr. Kevin D. Egan

Undergraduate Research & Enrichment Programs

Associate Director: Dr. Katie Barak

Director: Jaya Mohan

Assistant Director, Honors Program:

Senior Associate Director: Leah Gates

Julia Wisniewski

Associate Director: Kelly Weissberger

Senior Academic Advisor: Joseph M. Santangelo

Assistant Director: Emily Kashka-Ginsburg

Program Manager: Lauren Davis

Program Manager: Martha Meiers Program Manager: Roxane Lovell

Marketing & Media Director: Erica Levi Zelinger Associate Director: Dr. Melinda Lewis

Program Coordinator: Cara Fantini

Alumni News


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

Assistant Director: Brian Kantorek


In Brief

Written by staff members Katie Sullivan Barak, Leah Gates, Cara Fantini, Roxane Lovell, Martha Meiers, Jaya Mohan and Erica Levi Zelinger

PENNONI PRESTIGE Leonardo Focil, finance,

submitting a strong application for the India Constituency,

economics, and legal studies ’17, was

Maanasa was long-listed as a semifinalist in September and

selected for the sixth class of

interviewed by a panel of academics, scholars, and diplomats.

Schwarzman Scholars, one of the world’s most prestigious graduate

More recently, Maanasa received the 2021 Drexel Alumni

fellowships, to pursue graduate

Award for Outstanding Student, demonstrating both

study at Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in

active involvement and leadership in University activities

Beijing. 154 Scholars were selected from more than 3,600

and community organizations.

applicants from around the world. This new class includes students from 39 different countries and 99 universities.

As a former Marayanoff Scholar, former STAR Scholar,

While at Drexel, Leonardo triple majored in finance,

sa, is drawing upon neuroscience, physics, mathematics,

economics, and legal studies, graduating magna cum laude. He was an Ecuadorian recipient of the first class of Drexel Global Scholars, a full tuition scholarship for international students who Drexel believes will be global leaders in the future. After graduating from Drexel, as an international student Leonardo was allowed to work in the United States for one year under his optional practice training (OPT), which he did at BlackRock. After his OPT ended, BlackRock paid to sponsor his work visa; however,

Aspire Scholar, and dedicated student researcher, Maanacomputation and chemistry, to understand how the brain processes information and represents the world around it, how thoughts are created, influenced by various factors and put into action. She is also leader in the Drexel community, mentoring students across the campus as a STEM Retention Peer Mentor and as an Honors Program Mentor and a Global Engagement Scholar. She has earned a 4.0 GPA every term at Drexel. Maanasa wants to pursue a career in research and is applying for graduate programs.

he was not selected in the H1-B visa lottery process. Upon his return to Ecuador he worked at Produbanco. Then, he was hired to work as an Ecuadorian diplomat for the Commercial office of ProEcuador in New York, where he is currently employed.

engineering ’21, also received the 2021 Drexel Alumni Award for Outstanding Student. He has also

Leonardo is looking forward to the next step in his life path as a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he will pursue a master’s degree in global affairs. He is eager to be part of this amazing program as a Drexel alum, where he will learn and exchange ideas with leaders and students from around the world.

Maanasa Natrajan, BS custom-designed major ’21, Honors, was selected as a finalist for the 2021 Rhodes Scholarship, providing full financial support to complete a graduat degree at Oxford University. After


Mark Petrovic, materials science &

contributed to Pennoni Honors College as a 2017 STAR Scholar, SuperNova Undergraduate Research Fellow and presenter during the Week of Undergraduate Excellence. Mark was also the recipient of a UREP Research Mini-grant for both Winter and Spring terms (see page 7).

#INSTANATURE When Jakub Zegar, environmental science ’20, told a Fulbright priority review committee about the newt he wanted to study in Australia, Pennoni’s Dr. Melinda Lewis instructed him with her wry humor and pop culture knowledge: treat your project like an action movie trailer. These days Zegar is working as a scientist for the United States Geological Survey’s Northeastern Amphibian Research & Monitoring Initiative conducting amphibian surveys, but he’s taken to using Instagram to incorporate TikTok, clips from Adele, Bill Withers and Natasha Bedingfield, wildlife wisecracks, preachy PSAs and fun tidbits of STEM education to showcase his fieldwork. @jakub.zegar

AN EASIER WAY TO FIND RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES Undergraduate Research & Enrichment Programs recently launched ForagerOne at Drexel, a new online platform to connect Drexel undergraduate students and faculty in research, scholarship and creative work. This platform was designed by Johns Hopkins alumni who had difficulty identifying potential mentors and research opportunities when they themselves were undergraduates; like many of their Gen Z peers, they decided not to just get frustrated with the problem but to find a way to solve it. ForagerOne helps increase access to research opportunities to interested undergraduate students and helps faculty recruit the best and most motivated students for their projects.

and Pax discuss @GenderfunkPhilly, an Instagram handle


they co-founded, showcasing trans and non-binary theater

From “Texas Republican Leadership Failed Disabled People

SETTING THE SCENE Margaux Cattelona, entertainment and arts management ’21, Honors, created a podcast for her senior project to incorporating the voices of marginalized artists in the industry. Each episode of “Pull Back the Curtain: A Philly Theatre Podcast,” features a different Philadelphia theater artist chatting about their work. The first episode introduces listeners to Pax Ressler, a local creator, composer, performer, designer, educator and music director. Margaux

talent in Philly; misconceptions about non-binary artists; and the intersection of arts and advocacy. Stay tuned for 12 additional episodes.

During Winter Storm Disaster,” an op-ed in Teen Vogue by Katie Reilly, music industry ’11, and campaign director at UltraViolet, an organization mobilized to fight sexism and expand women’s rights. See the full text at 5

In Brief

FREE OUR MAMAS Lara Bros has always had an interest in how art communi-

“I hope there is an increased understanding that people

cates a shared humanity and peoples’ lived experiences. But

are larger than the labels we place on them,” Lara says.

when she chose to do her senior thesis project on People’s

With a relative currently incarcerated, she has always been

Paper Co-op (PPC), a local arts group comprised of formerly

aware of the inner workings of the criminal justice system.

incarcerated women that annually sells their posters to fund-

“It’s really easy to pigeonhole someone as a “criminal,” but

raise bail money for Black mothers and caregivers, the senior

it doesn’t explain the person, the layers of oppression, the

Honors Program student became fervently enthusiastic by

generational trauma. Art without action isn’t enough. And

the intersections of art, art history and social justice.

I love the concept of art physically freeing people.”

Part of what the art history major loved about her time in

The poster — a large printed image often used for

the Honors College was exploring topics in interdisciplinary

decoration or advertisement — gets left out of the larger

ways and seeing matters from other peoples’ perspectives.

narrative of art history, Lara says, but by creating a virtual

This is why Lara plans to share the details of her project with

exhibition of PPC’s posters, Lara hopes to help the organi-

a group of students during this May’s Nerd Night, part of

zation preserve their work, highlighting the ambitions of

Pennoni’s annual Week of Undergraduate Excellence, May 19

Black women who overcome the trauma of incarceration,

from 5-7 pm (

and the future of a medium that often goes unrecognized in the art world.

Lara, who has minors in criminal justice and business administration, will discuss the issues faced by women in

When she graduates in June, Lara hopes to continue her

America’s carceral system, seen through PPC’s posters. The

work with assisting incarcerated people at the Pennsylvania

organization partners with the Philadelphia Community Bail

Prison Society.

Fund to sell their posters to free Black mothers and caregivers in time for Mother’s Day. PPC shreds criminal record paperwork and transforms it into individually screen-printed posters with messages about liberating mothers, amplifying

For more information about the posters, go to:

personhood over dehumanizing criminals, and celebrating Black femininity and freedom.

M O E W N E ! BUY E R A RT ! F


UREP INTRODUCES UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH MINI-GRANTS During Winter Term 2021, student and faculty pairs were invited to apply to Pennoni’s Undergraduate Research & Enrichment Programs (UREP) for mini-grants to support research, scholarly, or creative projects. UREP anticipated awarding $1,500 to 15 student-faculty pairs, and then the department received 70 applications from students studying economics, biology, engineering, nursing and more. UREP, with the help of donor gifts made to Pennoni Honors College, was able to fund 21 projects, including one to Matt Bauman, virtual reality and immersive media ’23, and Dr. Arun Ramakrishnan of Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions who are working on developing immersive educational modules for nursing students. Emily Hostetter, psychology ’21, is working with Dr. Nancy Raitano Lee (College of Arts and Sciences, Psychology) exploring the relationship between parenting behavior and reading skills of children with Down Syndrome. Laura Klouda, biological sciences ’24, and her mentor Dr. Michael J. Bouchard (Drexel University College of Medicine, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), are using bioinformatics to investigate ways to detect a form of liver cancer earlier. With the overwhelming response to this grant program, UREP is offering minigrants again this Spring Term. All students who have been awarded funding will present their work at the annual Week of Undergraduate Excellence held virtually the week of May 17.

PENNONI CELEBRATES BLACK EXCELLENCE Pennoni’s Undergraduate Research & Enrichment Programs hosted a Black Excellence in Research Panel in February in honor of Black History Month. This event featured four Black Drexel faculty and staff members and spotlighted their achievements in research, as well as the challenges they’ve faced while navigating the realm of academic research as Black scholars. The goal of this event was to create space for an honest conversation about the benefits and barriers to completing academic research. Attendees had the opportunity to submit questions and chat informally with panelists. The highlight of the night was when the panelists gave words of wisdom to aspiring Black researchers; their main message emphasized the importance of building a support network of peers and mentors to get you through the tough times, to recognize that failure is a natural part of the research process, and above all else, be true to yourself and your research.


In Brief

BRINGING WOMXN TOGETHER To kick off Women’s History Month, Pennoni Honors College hosted a week of collaborative events that featured staff, students and guest speakers discussing issues that impact those who identify as womxn. This series was created by the College because this past year has been especially challenging for womxn whose issues range from racial disparities to economic hardship, and the impact of these issues can be devastating. In addition to addressing some of the challenges womxn face, Pennoni aimed to uplift womxn making strides in their fields and differences in their communities. On Monday, March 1, the Honors Program kicked off the week with a TED Talk by Kimberle Crenshaw on The Urgency of Intersectionality. Following a viewing of the TED Talk, Drexel’s Womxn’s Empowerment Group led a group discussion on intersectional identities and how to communicate the significance of recognizing the intersectionality within others. The following day Undergraduate Research & Enrichment Programs hosted “Womxn in STEM Lightning Talks.” This student-centered event featured Drexel womxn in STEM; students gave short presentations on topics that covered personal experiences, advice for other womxn in STEM, and highlighting womxn who’ve inspired them. Following these presentations there was a Q&A with the audience. Our Wednesday evening Pennoni Panel was themed “COVID-19 & the ‘She’cession”; during this discussion panelists and attendees unpacked the economic impact of COVID-19 on the womxn’s job market, with deliberate focus on healthcare, policy and racial issues. On Thursday evening Pennoni hosted a movie night featuring Picture a Scientist, a documentary that follows a biologist, chemist, and geologist and both the subtle slights and brutal harassment experienced in their STEM fields. Following the screening, Jui Hanamshet, computer engineering ’21, moderated a discussion with respondent Dean Sharon Walker of the College of Engineering. Closing out Pennoni Womxn’s Week, the Honors Program hosted Feel Good Friday featuring Women’s Campaign International. Leaders from this non-profit organization spoke with Drexel students about ways that they could get involved. The weeklong event provided an opportunity to facilitate conversation among students, staff, faculty and members of the community around issues that are impacting womxn today.


ACTION-ORIENTED YOUNG LEADERS The Harry S. Truman Scholarship recognizes exceptional rising leaders committed to careers in public service. Each year, Drexel nominates a small number of juniors are considered for this national award. Because the number of campus nominations is very limited, students are selected as nominees by an internal committee of faculty and staff, before working with an advisor at Undergraduate Research and Enrichment Programs to develop their full application. The Truman application requires students to reflect deeply about their goals and significant experiences in a series of brief essays. Though each statement is shorter than 2,000 characters, Drexel’s four nominees spent more than three months carefully crafting their insightful responses. The resulting essays were too good not to share; featured here are our favorite excerpts: Illustration from Jasper Goes to the Ballet

Melissa Hoxha, biological sciences ’22

Alisia Lipsey, dance ’22

Nishka Seth, psychology ’22

Reflecting on the issues she wants to

Reflecting on a satisfying service

Reflecting on a significant leadership

address through her career:



“Few forms of healthcare have as

“Many participants [in a workshop I

immediate an impact on quality of

facilitated for the Intergalactic Pride

life as addressing a vision impair-

Center] shared an experience I rec-

ment. However, the current health

ognized from my own life: the books

system is not structured to treat

we could access as a child, both at

vision care as an essential need. In

home and at school, only depicted

insurance plans, vision care is often

heterosexual relationships and char-

excluded from basic policy coverage and treated as a luxury service. As an ophthalmic surgeon committed to healthcare reform, I want to use my career to advocate for policy that makes vision care, as well as other forms of essential and preventative care, accessible to more people.”

Image courtesy of Alisia Lipsey

“Some other Drexel students and I collaborated to lead a program for children with disabilities, most of whom were nonverbal and all of whom used wheelchairs; the goal was to create a supportive environment for participants to express themselves, increase their capacity for movement, and interact with others. Each week, we collaborated and danced with one another as a form of therapy and means of building a community. After volunteering at the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy, I was able to value the human body in its entirety. I was able to see how every aspect of the mind,

Image courtesy of Melissa Hoxha

acters, and the vast majority of characters were white. As queer youth, particularly of color, we couldn’t use books as a way to process and identify our own experiences with gender and attraction. I decided to collaborate with our participants to produce a children’s book that would include characters of color sharing what it meant to them to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other identities. Based on their input, I published Jasper Goes to the Ballet last year. My role at the Center allowed me to work with public school teachers across Pennsylvania to educate them on LGBTQ identities and offer my book for free.”

body and spirit of each student influenced their dance experience.”



Consider This



I couldn’t find a general class on sustainability as an undergraduate, so I came back to the Honors Program to teach it BY CHELSEA AMANATIDES (NEÉ KNITTEL), SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS AND DESIGN ’14, TEXTILE FABRICATION ENGINEER, PENNSYLVANIA FABRIC DISCOVERY 10



class on sustainability

In the fall of 2020, I returned to

Ten years ago, it already felt like we

was an idea that had

Pennoni Honors College, this time

were moving too slowly on addressing

been floating around

as a professor, to teach “Survey

the problems of climate change and

in my head for a while.

of Sustainability” for the Honors

related sustainable design challenges.

It was exactly the kind of course

Program. I had reached out to

Now, more and more scientists are

that I was searching for as a Drexel

Dr. Kevin Egan, director of Academic

noting how little time we may have

sophomore back in 2011. Driven by a

Programs and my former advisor

left to make an impact. My biggest

passion for minimizing my footprint

with the course idea. From there,

hope from teaching the course is that

on the natural environment, I had

I began writing lectures, planning

students found themselves excited to

just switched out of fashion design

discussions, and inviting guest

be part of the solution as well, incor-

into the newly created custom-de-

speakers. My goal with this course

porating sustainability into their work

signed major (CSDN) program. After

was to engage in conversations about

going forward and inspiring others to

pouring through and parsing out the

all the areas of our lives that could

do so as well.

entire catalogue of courses offered

use sustainable changes, including

at Drexel, I created my own major,

our eating and purchasing habits,

sustainable materials and design.

travel, work, health, living and more.

It focused on understanding how

I wanted to encourage students to

design decisions and material choices

identify the impacts in their own

affected the natural environment

fields of study and consider changes

and, therefore, the people living in

that can minimize waste and

it. This major merged knowledge

pollution. Sitting on the other side of

primarily from product design,

the “desk” as a teacher now, I thought

fashion design and environmental

about how as a student one often

sciences. My plan of study also

assumes their teacher knows every-

included every course I could fit

thing about a subject. With the topic

from the sustainability in the built

of sustainability — an ever-changing

environment minor. While all of

field, that certainly is not the

these classes enriched my knowledge

case; I know I don’t have all of the

and built a cohesive degree, there

answers. Climate change, sustainable

was one type of class that I always

practices, social sustainability

wanted and never found. I sought

… these are all big, open-ended

a class that introduced all students,

questions and there is still so much

regardless of their major, to sustain-

work to do to figure out practical and

ability concepts and problem areas

effective solutions.

that are becoming more and more


critical for addressing the prevention of further large-scale climate change.

Using the interdisciplinary skills I learned in the CSDN program, as well during my PhD research, I was


energized by engaging in meaningful


about sustainability. I’m excited to


the University towards solutions,


Academy of Natural Sciences’ efforts


catalog ongoing climate work through


research and civic engagement.

conversations with Honors students continue to find ways to work with through Climate Year, Drexel and the in 2021 to celebrate, support, and institutional practices, curriculum,


CLIMATE, COVID-19 AND DREXEL DINING 2021 kicked off with an interdisciplinary problem-solving bang as Drexel students competed to answer the following prompt: As the climate emergency accelerates, we now find ourselves


competition provided an avenue for students living apart to connect meaningfully. Custom-designed major, Honors Program student, and 2018 STAR Scholar, Aditi Bawa

grappling with Covid-19 safety measures that have suddenly

originally pitched the idea of a case competition as the first

increased our reliance on single-use plastics — a major driver

big event for “Climate Year,” a joint 2021 initiative between

of fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Drexel and the Academy of Natural Sciences. For her, some

In Drexel’s dining services, how can we support the need for

of the best personal and professional relationships are built

student safety while minimizing the use of plastics?

upon a shared goal. “During this time when we’re all staring

This is the issue Drexel Business Services and Aramark found themselves facing when planning for students to return to campus. The campus café Urban Eatery, with its food

into a never-ending void of ‘what-ifs,’ what if we were brought together by something more like ‘how can we?’” Winning team members were overwhelmingly affiliated

court-style stations, provided the perfect setting to reimagine

with the Pennoni Honors College. Tommy Bui Nguyen, an

a dining experience that maximized student and staff safety

Honors Program student majoring in computer science,

while minimizing food waste and single-use plastics.

shared how his team created such a comprehensive model:

After one week of collaborating, four interdisciplinary

“After coming up with the core idea of ‘let’s just try and

teams of Drexel undergraduates (made up of students

remove single-use cutlery from the equation,’ we all tried

from at least three different disciplines) pitched their

to think of ways to leverage our individual skillsets.”

practical solutions to a panel of judges. Teams could tackle

Interdisciplinary thinking is something that custom-designed

sustainability at any point in the dining process — from

major Katy Redmond is very familiar with but working

procurement to composting waste. Regardless of the angle,

on an interdisciplinary team was something new. For

solutions needed to demonstrate an interdisciplinary

her, seeing how each team member worked through the

approach. Proposals also had to operate within budget,

problem was illuminating. “A lot of people in my group are

work within the preexisting space, include cost-benefit

numbers-oriented but I’m driven by art and design, so I was

analyses, and build out a campus engagement plan to

worried about how we’d work together. But we needed all

encourage student buy-in.

those different ideas at the table.”

The winning team pitched a multi-tiered solution they

Judge Anthony Klaumenzer, associate director of Drexel

called Drexel Grab & Go. In their plan, Urban Eatery would

Business Services and sustainability liaison, said he was

shift to a takeaway dining experience where students could

impressed by the range of solutions teams created. What

order ahead with a mobile-ordering app and simply pick up

ultimately set Drexel Grab & Go apart was the way it

their food. This would streamline the experience and cut

addressed the immediate needs regarding COVID-19, while

down on contact and time in the dining space. Additionally,

also offering a long-term solution to lowering Drexel’s carbon

students enrolled in Drexel’s meal plan would be given

footprint. It also built onto current sustainability initiatives

reusable cutlery and tote bags, eliminating the need for

already taken at the University, while modernizing with the

single-use plastic cutlery or plastic bags.

mobile-ordering app. The Drexel Grab & Go team is already

In addition to real-world problem-solving, the case


An interdisciplinary case competition prompts student teams to solve real-world problems

working with leadership to roll out the plan for Fall 2021.

CASE COMPETITION FAST FACTS ‣ Students from all years participated ‣ Some students were in classes while others participated while on co-op ‣ The $2,000 prize pool was split among the top 3 proposals ‣ 11 out of 20 students competing were members of the Honors Program ‣ 8 out of 20 students competing were STAR Scholars ‣ 2 out of 20 students competing applied for fellowships ‣ Disciplines represented: › biology › business analytics and finance › chemical engineering › computer engineering › computer science* › data science* › economics

*~900 students on meal plan now (Bulk) 1000 sets of Bamboo cutlery - $3160 (Bulk) 1000 reusable Tote bags - $2030 Total - $5190 *~3000 transactions per day, min 70 days per term Cost per single-use utensil - $0.02 Containers - $0.02 Assuming 3 utensils, 1 container each transaction: 3000*70*(0.02*3)*(0.02) = $168000

› environmental science › environmental studies & sustainability › global studies › health sciences › management information systems

*Prices found online, meal plan and transaction data provided during case competitors office hours

› mathematics

(16800 - 5190)/16800 * 100 =

› mechanical engineering › nutrition* › sustainable design management (CSDN)* * majors represented on winning team




‣ Allen Cai, data science ’24, Honors

‣ Anthony Klaumenzer, associate

‣ Aramark at Drexel

‣ Christina Gian, nutrition and foods ’22,

Honors Program, STAR Scholar

‣ Natasha Karnoto, computer science ’24,

Honors Program

director of Drexel Business Services

and sustainability liaison

‣ Nicholas Mendez, Resident District

Manager with Aramark for Drexel

Campus Dining

‣ Tommy Bui Nguyen, computer

‣ Center for Interdisciplinary

Inquiry/Pennoni Honors College

‣ Drexel Business Services ‣

Drexel Climate & Sustainability

and Climate Year The Office of Research and

science ’23, Honors Program, STAR,

‣ Professor Dee Nicholas, coordinator

2019-20 Aspire Scholar

sustainability in the built enviroment


minor and director of the MS design

research program, Westphal College of

Media Arts & Design

‣ Katy Redmond, custom-designed

major: sustainable design

management ’22

‣ Undergraduate Student

Government Association



A current STAR Scholar analyzes the psychological elements of public speaking using an app created by two former STAR Scholars


t wasn’t so much his in-depth explanation of a promising new class of protein-based therapeutics that Anthony Lisi was particularly hung up on when listening to an audio playback of his practice presen-

tation for the Fall/Winter 2021 STAR Scholars Showcase. It was about eliminating filler words, improving his pace, and sounding confident. Using the app Orai, an artificial intelligence speech coach, the second-year chemistry major is working to bring his public speaking skills to the next level. And he’s doing so using a comprehensive coaching app created by three Drexel graduates: Danish Dhamani, mechanical engineering, ’17, Honors, Paritosh Gupta, computer science ’18, and Aasim Sani, entrepreneurship & innovation ’20, the first a consummate Honors Program student and two are 2014 STAR Scholars. (See right for more about the Orai creators.)



t’s weird to hear yourself talk,” Anthony says, “but hearing yourself in playback is fundamental to learning. You are your harshest critic. During presentations, when the nerves take over and you get caught up in the

Speaking from Experience When Danish Dhamani, mechanical engineering, ’17, Honors, Paritosh Gupta, computer science ’18, and Aasim

moment, you are not present. When you take the time to

Sani, entrepreneurship & innovation ’20, were undergrad-

review your speech after the nerves have subsided, that’s

uates, the burgeoning businessmen created Orai to ease the

when you pick up on the mistakes you’ve made and can

process of public speaking and offer personalized feedback.

make the proper corrections. Having Orai as a resource to

“When we started Orai, it was a side-hustle; something

gain confidence during practice runs can make your final

to make our resumes shine and get our dream jobs,”

presentation that much better.”

Danish jokes. “I didn’t imagine Orai would actually end up

Already involved in a variety of public speaking roles including STAR, open houses for prospective students,

becoming that dream job!” When users tell the Orai developers they’ve improved

undergraduate research conferences and Pennoni’s 2020-21

their presentation skills or overcome their fear of public

Aspire Scholars cohort, Anthony took quickly to Orai’s

speaking, or even managed to get a job because of what

speech analysis algorithm, legendary motivational speech

they’ve built, Danish says, “that is the most rewarding

videos, and tips from experienced professionals. He used

experience of the start-up journey.”

the daily lessons to track his progress and raise the bar for

In 2019, Orai raised $2.3 million in seed funding and has

himself. The app, he says, is not only useful to prepare to

grown to more than 5,000 active users. Corporate clients

present research, but for reaching out to his Aspire mentors

include Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Comcast and IBM. This

and removing filler words when he speaks, allowing him to

year, the trio were among those featured on the competitive

have more structured, professional conversations.

Forbes 30 Under 30 2021 top young entrepreneurs list.

“I compare it to the Rosetta Stone of public speaking,” Anthony says. “It is the difference between having a good presentation and being a great public speaker.” Having a video playback feature that analyzes eye contact and hand motions, Anthony suggests, would be an interesting feature to add to the app.

Receiving this honor is like going on a roller coaster ride, admits Danish. “You feel the thrill of it for a moment and then life goes back to normal — you put your head down and start building again.” Seven years after Paritosh completed his STAR research on functional near-infrared spectroscopy and Danish on textilebased energy systems, Danish acknowledges that being “nudged” to take classes beyond his mechanical engineering course work played a huge role in the development of his multidisciplinary skills and created a desire to look beyond a traditional engineering career after college. “Research is about creating new knowledge and applying that knowledge to solve problems,” says Jaya Mohan, director of undergraduate research and enrichment programs. “Danish and Paritosh, having participated in the STAR Scholars Program and other venues in which public speaking has been of paramount importance, have been able to develop a tool to help others succeed in the same experiences.” Any Drexel student can double their chances of getting a co-op or finding a job by using Orai, Danish says. “How? By simply practicing their elevator pitch, and the top 10 questions asked by interviewers. You might do this once in a mock interview with your co-op advisor, but if you do this five or more times on Orai, you’re guaranteed to shine and stand out in the interview.”

Graphics courtesy of Orai

As for Anthony’s suggestions, Danish adds, eye contact and hand gestures are on Orai’s future road map!


Fr om to S we S at

s n i u s q t e n a p





here’s a good chance you’re tired of hearing about how COVID-19 has rocked the world. It seems like every day there’s another article preaching to the choir about a pandemic

that you’re experiencing firsthand. But I want to show you a brief glimpse into what COVID-19 has done to the fashion industry which no longer exists in the way that we knew it, and what my “pandemic pivot” has looked like. March 2020. The whole country went into lockdown. Social calendars dissolved into nothing, everyone fought over toilet paper and online purchases for fuzzy slippers, pajamas, candles and sweatpants shot up like never before. Previously unstable retailers that had been inching towards a slow death started filing for bankruptcy (JCPenney,


J.Crew, True Religion and Neiman Marcus, to name a few.) Fashion shows were cancelled as seasons became irrelevant and past seasons’ clothing remained unpurchased at brick-and-mortar off-price stores as customers flocked to the much safer alternative of online shopping, and yet we all continued to shop online as reports of Amazon workers in unsafe conditions continued to emerge. On top of all


ut I wouldn’t say that fashion died during lockdown even though we had nowhere to go, no one to see and nobody to impress. What I witnessed unfold online was a blossoming

that, the financial instability of the COVID-19 recession led

trend of people truly starting to dress the way that they

companies to try to force their already-underpaid overseas

wanted to. Unencumbered by weather, utility, function-

laborers to absorb the costs by paying lower rates and not

ality or the prying eyes of strangers on the street, my

fulfilling payments for shipments that went unsold due to

social media feeds were filled with photos of whimsical

pandemic closures. Needless to say, COVID-19 magnified

strawberry sequin dresses, corseted gowns based on the

the fashion industry’s pre-existing issues tenfold. The

deeply nostalgic hit Barbie animated movies from my

pandemic has also reiterated what industry professionals

childhood, and cardigans with novelty scenes (thank

have preached for years — ecommerce is the future, social

you, Harry Styles). What I saw was people who no longer

media is the next marketing frontier and if you don’t know

had set occasions to wear their best clothing deciding to

how to adapt, you’ll sink (or go naked!).

declare every day as an occasion for themselves. I found myself experiencing several personal pandemic pivots as well, including the realization that I wanted to work in editorial fashion. As this is Honor Bound magazine, I can’t not mention that the Pennoni Honors College and my advisor Dr. Kevin Egan stepped in and allowed me to create a fall term independent study on fashion journalism as a result of my editorially-inclined realization. I worked with the venerable Dean Paula Marantz Cohen to explore personal and fashion-based writing, and that experience was timed perfectly to match the 2020 cultural zeitgeist of clinging to the arts, media and the internet to keep us entertained, connected and sane. The fashion industry has always had deep flaws, but my hope is that this year will be a pivotal moment to strip down the excess and fall back onto why we all loved fashion to begin with — because it’s wearable, wordless, deeply complex, statement-making, everyday art. That’s why we stick around.

Photography courtesy of Hannah Oh




i, my name is Hannah Oh and I’m a junior at Drexel University studying a major I designed myself called digital fashion media and marketing.”

Typing up this particular sentence is practically muscle memory for me at this point. Every LinkedIn introduction, cold email and icebreaker activity begins with this sentence. The fashion major I’ve designed is one of my greatest accomplishments, but I never really planned on pursuing anything remotely fashion-related. I didn’t always know how to dress; I didn’t always know where to shop, but I did always (secretly, and then not-so secretly) love fashion. I told myself that I was academically-inclined, and not cool enough for fashion anyways. I read books during recess, after all. However, I have spent my entire life flirting with and reckoning with what other people have defined personal style to be, and it’s shaped me into the person that I dress every morning. My earliest, most distinctive style memory involved Disney princesses and scratchy costumes, sized for a wide-eyed little girl to wear. The songs were catchy, the eyes were sparkly, the princes were color-coordinated with their respective princesses, and I loved it all. Even two decades later those things don’t sound unappealing to me. I still sometimes indulge that little girl when it comes to my dressing habits as I’m undeniably drawn to pretty dresses and skirts that flow out when I spin. My parents dressed me up as an anesthesiologist for Halloween when I was two years old, though, so although I’m currently studying to obtain a fashion degree, I like to think that they encouraged me to become whomever I wanted to be.


ventually I developed a keen awareness of the “cool kid” dress code in everything from the swimsuits my classmates wore at pool parties to the Abercrombie & Fitch logo tees I saw my

friends show off, and style became both a place of joy and conflict in my life. I experimented with everything from a wannabe punk-rock style to emulating the outfits worn by the distinctly mid-2010s YouTube beauty gurus, all while convincing myself that I needed to let go of my love of fashion and eventually choose a path that was more orthodox and academically-focused. I dabbled with fashion-adjacent work when I discovered that I could make money in high school by selling clothing on Poshmark, the social marketplace for secondhand style, but still found myself applying to business, marketing and communications programs during my senior year of high school. After playing college-major roulette each time, I submitted another college application, I discovered that Drexel had a design-your-own major program and began to let myself dream a little. I poured time into mapping out what it would look like to theoretically pursue a major that combined design & merchandising, marketing and communications, while also exploring my love for performing arts, and upon acceptance, committed to Pennoni’s custom-designed major program (much to the confusion of my high school friends who had never heard of interdisciplinary studies.) There were few things more identity-shaping during my freshman year than being the only person studying what I’m studying at Drexel, but I found commonality and community within the Honors Program which I will always be grateful for. I’ll admit that I played a little bit of style chameleon in trying to figure out how my newly emerged collegiate self would dress but came to


the conclusion that I’d wear whatever I wanted to wear,


ultimately it would be distinctly me. Our identities are


inspired by whomever I wanted to be inspired by and formed from our interactions with others, sure, but it is up to us to pinpoint them and decide how much control they are allowed to have over our lives. My major has allowed me to pursue an academic study of a creative medium that the world clings to as a common language of expression. It’s not a traditional path, that’s for sure, but it brings me great joy to know that the clothing I love is, and will continue to be, deeply imbued with meaning.

Photography courtesy of Hannah Oh




Two Goldwater nominees describe overcoming adversity and encouraging diversity in their STEM disciplines


kilah Chatman is confident with a voice that is

While their career goals and professional aspirations center

even-keeled but assertive. The Black non-binary

around environmental science and ecology, Akilah’s research

student is among only a handful of people of

now pursues the field with an eye toward facilitating environ-

color in their courses. They (Akilah uses the

mental justice for disenfranchised groups.

pronouns they, their, and them) speak passionately about

Akilah, environmental science ’22, parlayed their frustration

the field of environmental science and the home they have

of underrepresentation of Black and Brown students in STEM

found in Drexel’s Department of Biodiversity, Earth &

into an application for a Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent

Environmental Science (BEES). But, they acknowledge

undergraduate award for students pursuing research careers

disappointedly, the general field of study is still “very rich

in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Akilah

and very white.”

is one of five Drexel Goldwater nominees, including: Sumaiya

“I’m one of the few people in class that can look past the

Begum, BS biological sciences ’22, Honors; Julia Dengler, BS/

lesson and ask questions like, ‘How does this affect Black

MS biomedical engineering ’23, Honors; Cyra Gallano, BS/

people? Poor people?’ It’s not a lack on the other students,

MS materials science and engineering ’23, Honors; and Emma

but a lack on the education system.”

MacNeil, BS/MS biomedical engineering ‘22, Honors.



eceiving this award would help Akilah fund a research project to match Philadelphia schools with public green space to increase accessibility for low-income Black, Brown, and Indigenous children in Philadelphia, and assess how green space utilization impacts formation

of STEM identity. On a basic level, the financial stipend would also afford Akilah the opportunity to actually graduate. Raised by a single, Jamaican mother between the Caribbean island nation and Miami, Akilah has come full circle from their days in elementary school, being intrigued by the 3 R’s — the principles of reducing waste, reusing and recycling resources. They were initially lured to Wellesley College in Massachusetts to study Applied Mathematical Physics and eventually Environmental Engineering. During their upbringing in Jamaica, Akilah was very in tune to the differences in standard of living: they often found themselves in situations without running water or plumbing and became motivated to do research that improves the standards of living for the most disadvantaged. Prior to transferring to Drexel, winning a sustainability challenge competition at Wellesley led Akilah to help design and build a multifaceted, continuously submersible water sensor that graphs data to the web in real time. This experience showed them that they could create solutions to address real-world problems. When Akilah transferred to Drexel in 2018 to pursue a more diverse student body, they didn’t immediately find what they were looking for in the College of Engineering, but discovered a sense of community conducting research in the College of Arts & Science’s BEES department. Finding their own dedicated community in a department, a lab and engagement with the neighborhoods around Drexel yielded a list of credentials for Akilah that — especially as a junior transfer student — is exceptionally impressive: studying abroad at Reykjavik University’s Iceland School of Energy, working as a teaching assistant for Drexel’s Environmental Science Leadership Academy, completing a scientific computing certificate from Brookhaven National Lab, participating in the Department of Environmental Protection’s Local Climate Action Program (LCAP), andrunning social media for Dr. Dane Ward’s conservation biology lab. Their function in the Ward Lab, helped vary the lab’s science communication and social media to celebrate racially diverse and LGBT+ scientists, and highlight social justice issues in science. “This role,” Akilah says, “opened my eyes to the challenges of transforming

“Everything that I study is about environmental science and racial justice and how those two intersect.”

science and academia into more equitable, accessible spaces, from the jargon or paywalls that may make scientific findings inaccessible, to the systematic underrepresentation of minorities in science.” Akilah also took on the role of teaching assistant for Drexel’s Environmental Science Leadership Academy, helping high school students design capstone projects on environmental issues. “Everything that I study is about environmental science and racial justice and how those two intersect,” Akilah says. “The goal of my research is to make STEM more accessible to minorities and allow them to develop a STEM identity.” Because of COVID Akilah could not pursue their Freeman-ASIA Award and a planned co-op in Cambodia doing community-based environmental consulting, but before pursuing a master’s and eventually a PhD, they plan to take some time off and go abroad. “I just want to be somewhere in the wilderness — a hands-in-the-dirt kind-of-thing!” 21



s the daughter of an immigrant

into Pennoni Honors College offerings,

high school investigating geometric

family from Bangladesh,

and learn about the world around her.

frustration in colloids. She expanded

Sumaiya Begum, BS biological

She credits the Honors College in

sciences ’22, Honors, is acutely

helping her shape her plan of study

and Magnetics Laboratory at Drexel,

aware of the sacrifices her family made

and even discovering a bit of who

designing magnetically-actuated

for her to go to college.

she is, but her maturity and enthu-

ribbons for minimally invasive surgery.

“My success is my family’s success,”

siasm for her fields of research are

She also conducted bio research in

Sumaiya says humbly. So, receiving the

so pure and contagious, it’s hard to

her SEA-PHAGES course, analyzing

Goldwater to support her commitment

believe anybody but Sumaiya deserves

microbial drug interactions and

to a research career in science would


genome sequencing techniques.

provide not just Sumaiya, but all her

“I’m a bio major with a chem minor

relatives, a small financial and a large

and research experience in physics. At

realized, allowed her to see the full

emotional reparation for leaving a

first,” Sumaiya jests, “it might look like

extent of her research and give herself

country crippled by poverty, socioeco-

I’m confused. But the answer is there

the credit she rightly deserved for the

nomic corruption and chaos.

is a bridge between all of them.”

work she has done.

At only 20, the down-to-earth


her research interests at the Plasma

Sumaiya’s research started with

Applying for the Goldwater, Sumaiya

“My grandfather shared a piece of

and motivated student had to grow

soft condensed matter, looking at

advice with me: It doesn’t matter

up at a young age: Moments of her

antiferromagnetic nanoparticles

where you come from — it just matters

childhood were spent scheduling

and how they align in space. Her

what you do with your experience.”

doctors’ appointments and doling

interest in the multidisciplinary

Sumaiya’s experience includes

out medicines to her grandmother.

field was born at the University

fostering a diverse and inclusive

But when she arrived at Drexel in

of Pennsylvania’s Laboratory for

science and engineering learning

2018, she was eager to study biology,

Research on the Structure of Matter,

environment for other young women

chemistry and physics, propel herself

where she spent a few summers in

and first-generation college students.

“My success is my family’s “success” “I

n science departments across

the pandemic, living back at home

the United States, there remain

in the Philadelphia suburbs, and

significant discrepancies in

balancing a whole load of biology and

retention, performance and

chemistry courses, but trying to write

satisfaction among students of

her essays was overwhelming. “I was

underrepresented groups,” she says.

trying to convey my story but I was

“I never realized how much diversity

passive. UREP helped me find my

means to research until I started

active voice. “

doing it. But now that I’ve worked

Even if she doesn’t receive the

with many different groups of people,

Goldwater, the process has solidified

I realize more diversity in STEM will

her academic program, and taught

only help me grow as a researcher.”

her how to explain her plan of study

Sumaiya is a member of the Tri-Beta

better. “I’ve learned how to present

Biological Honors society, and

myself to the academic community

works to increase diversity in the

and find more lab and scholarship

STEM fields, and is an advocate for


Pennoni’s Undergraduate Research

Sumaiya plans to pursue a PhD in

& Enrichment Programs, helping

molecular cellular engineering and

other women in STEM find labs and

apply her experiences to conduct

fellowships for research.

multidisciplinary collaborative

The Goldwater application process

oncolytic virotherapy research to

was undoubtedly a huge undertaking.

improve treatment in combatting

Not only was Sumaiya dealing with

cancerous tissue.

“In science departments across the United States, there remain significant discrepancies in retention, performance and satisfaction among students of underrepresented groups”


UP AGAINST A BRICK WALL One Honors Program graduate advises other women in STEM how to knock down barriers BY SALLY EHLERS, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, ’25



hroughout her life, and especially as a woman of color in STEM, Sarah Malik, business and engineering ’20, has faced obstacles because of her gender. These obstacles, or “brick walls” as Sarah described them, range from being talked to differently to feeling

outnumbered in her technical classes. The Honor Program graduate mentioned that she is glad that Drexel is trying to uproot these issues through various diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. However, she recognizes that gender and racial equality in the field of STEM continues to be a work in progress. To anyone facing obstacles due to who they are, Sarah advises: be persistent. “Break those brick walls,” Sarah says. “Well, actually I’d say first, as an engineer, build your own demolition hammer. Then, break those brick walls. And then go back and teach other women in STEM how to build a demolition hammer and break any other brick walls in their way.” Last spring, Sarah was named a recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow Program. As part of the fellowship, she is pursuing a doctoral degree in mechanical and computational engineering and working with Dr. Antonios Kontsos, a mechanical engineering and mechanics faculty member, to develop a system that monitors structural health in real time. The goal is to monitor the wear and tear of structures, such as bridges and aircraft parts, to predict when they will fail. Her research is two-part: hardware and software. Within hardware, Sarah is designing a device that she can place on the structures closer to where the sensing is happening. Then, the data is sent through the cloud, which leads to the software aspect. Sarah is determining which machine learning algorithms can be used to detect damage before the structure puts people in danger. She is ultimately building an intelligent system that can detect damage in a structure before it occurs. As part of her Honors Program experience, Sarah completed the Honors with Distinction track, and in 2020 she earned the highly selective Honors College Dean’s Award. Sarah believes that her honors education promoted an interdisciplinary mindset. Through the Honors College, where she took classes ranging from literature to fashion to brand identity, Sarah discovered that she loves combining her interests instead of staying in one lane. “Now when I do research, I like that I’m doing a lot of interdisciplinary work,” Malik said. “Yes, I am doing a PhD in mechanical engineering, but the majority of my work is not just mechanical engineering. It’s hitting computer science, data analytics, business intelligence, computer engineering ... there are so many facets of my research.” Outside of her studies, Sarah is the president of the Drexel French Club. As an undergraduate, Sarah started the club with five members and the help of Pennoni Honors College. Now, it has more than 100 members, has been recognized by the French Embassy, and has strengthened the French community at Drexel.

“Break those brick walls. Well, actually I’d say first, as an engineer, build your own demolition hammer. Then, break those brick walls. And then go back and teach other women in STEM how to build a demolition hammer and break any other brick walls in their way.” 25


Ad i t

i Bawa

From left to right: Aditi Bawa lobbying Congress; Marissa Olson in Lagroño Photos courtesy of Aditi Bawa and Marissa Olson



r i s s a Olson

Aditi Bawa, custom-designed major: science and technology policy ’22 currently lives in Philadelphia during the COVID-19 pandemic.


oon after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of change for me. I was just beginning my second co-op. COVID tested my adaptability. I was supposed to work for the

Philadelphia Water Department doing policy and planning, but that fell through and I had to seek out another opportunity with the Lindy Center Partnerships Office, working

Aditi at her co-op in Zambia

on sustainability initiatives. Meanwhile, so much social and cultural unrest shifted how I wanted to approach my study and work. It wasn’t just the pandemic, but also George Floyd’s

ended up choosing the focus on science and technology

murder, Lebanon climate change, and all of these things that

policy because I was stuck on this idea that ‘I'm a STEM

were going on in the world. The pandemic certainly helped

student’ (to make myself feel better, but not admitting that

bring these concerns to the forefront since so many of us were

what I really love is just pure public policy). I still took

at home and, in many cases, without as much to do.

materials engineering classes along with citizen advocacy

After some incredible experiences out on my own and interacting with so many people, the pandemic has altered my sense of independence. I did my first co-op in Zambia

classes, but I was slowly inching my way closer to what I really want to do. I found there are a lot of organizations doing so much

in sub-Saharan Africa through the Dornsife Global

to tackle these issues, either focusing on advocacy or on

Development Scholars program in spring and summer

mutual aid. However, I started to notice a disconnect among

2019. I worked with an international non-governmental

a lot of organizations (with CSDN, we're trained to think

organization (NGO), World Vision International, and its

interdisciplinarily, so that’s the first thing I noticed). There

subsidiary program, Citizen Voice and Action. I wanted

are think tanks doing the research, there are NGOs doing

to see what Zambians do to get their policy needs met,

the field work, and then there are advocacy groups doing the

because I fundamentally think that policy change can be so

lobbying. Then, there's Congress, and other elected officials,

impactful. I held training workshops and talked to village

who are enacting the policy. There are all of these different

chiefs, nurses, local doctors, and elders in the communities

institutions doing different things, but there's not one

about how to advocate for change.

centralized community addressing everything at once.

It was around this time that I also shifted my major


CSDN helped me strike an interdisciplinary balance. I

Following George Floyd’s death and the nation’s civil

from biomedical engineering to a custom-designed major

unrest, a friend of mine and I were able to organize a group

(CSDN) at the intersections of science, technology policy and

of young advocates and young professionals, especially

international development. I took more classes on research

with the help of social media. We connected them with

data, qualitative analysis and quantitative analysis to learn

BIPOC-led organizations. I saw a lot of people my age who

how to best make policy change. I had pursued the STAR

were scrambling and really wanted to help in some way,

Scholars program as a biomed major, but I kept thinking,

but didn't know how. And we didn’t want to build our own

‘What if we could use this scientific method to actually create

organization, but instead wanted to amplify what other

policy change?’ The way that science is done is so logical

organizations are already doing. In the future, I see myself

and so analytical; it could also be used to lobby Congress to

working in advocacy and direct action. I imagine starting

make lasting impacts. So, with my new major, I satisfied the

my own consulting firm to bring together all of these

logical, analytical part of my brain, but then I also scratched

institutions and to take nonprofits beyond protest and into

the itch of the humanities and, eventually, the policy field.

policy change as partners with the U.S. government.


Marissa Olson, global studies ’20, is a native Philadelphian ~ currently living in Logroño, Spain, and working as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA). Below is her account of living and working abroad during the pandemic.


iving through a pandemic — a time of such

in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes with

uncertainty — isn’t easy. The skills I’ve developed

Haitian students. My time with these students drew my

as a global studies major and as a globally engaged

attention to social inequalities I hadn’t considered before,

student (such as adaptability and critical thinking)

so I changed my major course of study from biological

have helped me cope during this time. Sometimes, we’re

sciences to global studies. I specifically wanted to learn

not sure why things happen the way they do, but there are

more about the world and how I could improve living

always aspects of our life to be grateful for. I've reminded

conditions and quality of life for others.

myself of this throughout the pandemic, and the fact that I

In 2017, I went to Eswatini, Africa as a Dornsife Global

have even been able to come to Spain at all. As of late winter

Development Scholar, where I worked with World Vision

2021, I’m the only Drexel Fulbright recipient currently

for three months. My main project focused on how limited

abroad. I was originally supposed to depart in fall 2020, but

access to water, sanitation and hygiene affects girls’ education.

Spain decided to defer the start of the program until January

While in Eswatini, I learned about adaptability, intercultural

2021. They determined that it would be safe enough and

communication, the challenges of development work, and

that they had the capacity to host.

the importance of partnering with communities to create

I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia with a single mother

sustainable change. I gained a deeper appreciation for cultural

and twin sister. Seeing the struggles that our mom faced

diversity and differences. Two years later, I studied abroad in

pushed me to work diligently in school and to eventually

Costa Rica, where I lived with a host family and sharpened my

become a Liberty Scholar at Drexel University. I never

Spanish language skills (a precursor to my Fulbright appli-

would have imagined how impactful my time at Drexel

cation). These sorts of international experiences and Drexel

would be. It has shaped my life in personal, academic, and

programs changed the trajectory of my life and eventually

professional ways. During my freshman year, I went on

led me to Pennoni’s Undergraduate Research & Enrichment

an alternative spring break trip to Haiti. This was the first

Programs for advice on fellowships and pursuing a Fulbright.

time that I had traveled outside the U.S. and I participated 28

Marissa Olson at Monte Cantabria

The Fulbright application process is a lengthy one; it includes working with an advisor, asking for recommendations, doing research about Fulbright programs in different countries and continuously editing drafts of the application. While I found out in April 2020 that I was selected as a Fulbright finalist for the 2020-2021 academic year, my application process was not really affected by the pandemic. (Drexel’s other two 2020-21 Fulbright grantees to Brazil and Indonesia have been deferred to this fall.) However, I do think that I felt very different from a typical Fulbright recipient. I was thrilled and honored, but I also couldn’t help but feel uncertain because of COVID-19. So many questions came to mind: How will the pandemic affect my program? Will I still have the opportunity to go to Spain? Will I teach in person or virtually? Will they change the dates of my program? Now that I’m finally here, it feels like a dream come true. Being a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in La Rioja’s capital city of Logroño, Spain has been a lot of fun so far. Every

"I never would have imagined how impactful my time at Drexel would be. It has shaped my life in personal, academic, and professional ways."

day, I walk about 20 minutes from my apartment to the school where I work. I have a different schedule each day, which allows me to see 12 classes each week and interact with kids ranging from four to 10 years old. My role as an ETA and cultural ambassador includes creating lessons with lead teachers for each class level. COVID-19 restrictions have definitely made my experience in La Rioja and Logroño a little more challenging, but they’ve pushed me to get outside and find the beauty in my time in Spain. In the beginning, La Rioja had strict regulations in place and I was only able to leave my apartment for work and food. Despite the limitations (which have decreased), I have still been able to explore. On weekends, I try to visit new parks and outside areas with my roommates. For example, some friends and I recently went on a walk to Logroño’s Monte Cantabria. From the top of the mountain, we were able to see breathtaking views of the city. Unlike in the U.S., schools here have fortunately been completely open through the pandemic. From what I’ve seen, with proper precautions in place, it is possible to go to school and remain safe. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been grateful for this since my most memorable moment has been meeting all of my students. Becoming acquainted with so many different students of different age groups has made each day unique and invigorating. I feel a huge sense of excitement introducing myself to each class and having them introduce themselves to me. The students have really played a significant role in my own appreciation of life in Spain and as a Fulbright ETA. They challenge themselves every day, are excited to learn new words and phrases, and continuously demonstrate a positive attitude during the pandemic. Looking toward Monte Cantabria


GIVING BIRTH TO BENJAMIN An Honors Program graduate shares intimate details about undergoing a pioneering medical procedure BY ERICA LEVI ZELINGER


ven as a freshman Honors student settling into her dorm room in East Hall and learning her way around campus, Jennifer Miller was fairly open about the condition she'd only recently

been diagnosed with: Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser


hirteen years later Jennifer underwent a 10-hour uterus transplant procedure and a year after that she gave birth to her son, Benjamin Gobrecht, the second baby born in the U.S. via a uterus trans-

plant from a deceased donor.

(MRKH) syndrome.

At a 2004 MRI appointment when she was 17,

road of infertility ahead of you,” says Jennifer, “makes you

Jennifer, a high school athlete who'd never gotten a

able to assess who you are as a person.”

period, received shocking news. The Delaware County

native had been born without a uterus.

was active on campus, working in LeBow’s advising office,

living in Honor housing, attending Honors’ workshops

It's a lot to process for any teenager just embarking

"Being so young and knowing you have this lifelong

Jennifer looks back at her time at Drexel fondly. She

on her academic journey at Drexel's LeBow College

and ad hoc lectures and loving her HNRS 200 course on

of Business and in the Pennoni Honors Program, but

Tupac, tattoos and storytelling.

Jennifer Gobrecht (neé Miller), business '10, did not let

"Being able to live in the Honors dorm with everyone

MRKH define her.

around you on the same wavelength and same idea of what

they wanted to get out of college was a great experience,”

It motivated her.

Jennifer says. “And anyone close to me knew my story.” 30


he Gobrechts had been told they had up to two births on her transplanted uterus, but stress on the kidneys and pre-eclampsia during her pregnancy with Benjamin led the couple to opt

for a C-section and a hysterectomy at the same time.

Considered immuno-compromised throughout

her pregnancy, Jennifer was eager to return to her pre-transplant self.



ust because she was 1 in 4,500 women to be


diagnosed with the congenital condition — or perhaps in spite of — the skillsets she learned in


college — multitasking, prioritizing — helped her


take on her health issues.


Her Type 1 MRKH diagnosis — the less severe of the

two types — luckily meant Jennifer had relatively few side


effects to her condition. Other than frequent trips to the Drexel Student Health Center for urinary tract infections, Jennifer moved through the university as a typical college

student. She co-oped at Thomas Jefferson University, and

in vogue,” she says. “We were already isolating.”

after graduating, got a position in the same department

where she is now the director of special events for

leave, the global pandemic hit. COVID-19 merely

Jefferson’s Office of Institutional Advancement.

elongated the careful lifestyle the couple had been living.

“I was wearing a mask on SEPTA long before it was Three weeks after she returned to work from maternity

“But I've been able to maintain a full-time job and


go through the experience of becoming a mother — this really helps put work-life balance in perspective for me.”


In 2016, Jennifer and her husband Drew started

researching the medical options they had to start a family: in vitro fertilization treatments, gestational carriers and surrogacy.

The Ridley Park couple opted for IVF, but continued

to learn about the uterus transplant field, which had really just begun two years earlier in Sweden, where surrogacy was then illegal. Coincidentally, just months after her IVF treatments began, Penn Medicine began a trial to expand transplant options for female infertility.

Jennifer applied in December 2017 and heard back just

three days later. She fit all the criteria. Less than a year later, and through the Gift of Life program, Jennifer got a call that she was a match for the uterus of a deceased donor. Six months after that, her OBGYN did an embryo transfer from the eggs extracted during IVF. It took on the first try.

Benjamin Thomas Gobrecht was born on

November 13, 2019. Right: Jennifer and her son Benjamin. Above: The Gobrecht family. Photos courtesy of Jennifer Gobrecht.


Alumni News

Sonali Biligiri, MD, biological sciences, ’12, an endocrinologist, joined the medical team at Beebe Medical Group in Delaware. Danish Dhamani, mechanical engineering, ’17, Honors and Paritosh Gupta, computer science ’18, both 2014 STAR Scholars, were listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 for 2021. Read more on page 14. Kimberly DiGiovanni, PhD, environmental engineering, ’08, assistant teaching professor of civil engineering at Quinnipiac University, has been named chair of an Urban Waters Initiative for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Dr. DiGiovanni joined Quinnipiac University six years ago.

Sarah Marron (neé Connelly), business administration ’14, has published her debut novel, Rough Edges, in April. The book is a slow burn romance with a twist and set in Philadelphia. Purchase Rough Edges on Amazon. x Cassandra Milani, fashion design ’12, just launched a new business called Fine Flavour Tastings. Based in Glasgow, UK, Cassandra offers virtual chocolate tastings to groups in both the U.S. and the UK. Each tasting delves into the finer side of chocolate: sustainably sourced, single origin, and uniquely flavored chocolates that help foster more sustainable food systems and taste amazing, too. Find out more about Fine Flavour Tastings on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @fftastings, book tickets to public tastings on Eventbrite, and book private group tastings on Calendly. w

Francesca Galarus, communications, ’09, and business partner, Nicholas Ducos, opened an urban winery, Mural City Cellars, in the Kensington section of Philadelphia in January. They are working with local growers to source grapes and Philadelphiabased artists for the labels.  Austin Groves, management information systems, ’14, became chief executive officer of Vision IoT, Inc., an "internet of things" company that specializes in cloud platform temperature management for freezers, fridges, and coolers. Mr. Groves is also founder of Gao Shan Enterprises, a financial and investment advisory firm. He is also the author of The Race for 5G Supremacy: Why China is Winning, Where Millennials Struggle & How America Can Prevail.


Raj Nangunoori, MD, biological sciences, ’10, a neurosurgeon, joined the medical team at Mercy Clinic Neurosurgery in Rogers, AR. Danielle Schroeder, BS/MS civil engineering ’17, was recently selected as one of American Society of Civil Engineers' 2021 New Faces of Civil Engineering. Danielle (pictured bottom row, second from right) works as an associated bridge engineer for Pennoni Associates in Philadelphia. v Wedge Wegman, film and video ’15 just started filming a limited-run season for the Showtime series Dexter and has been hired as the dailies operator.

Spread the News! 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.




David Kagonovsky, information systems ’95, among Pennoni Honors College’s newest advisory board members, recently received the Drexel Alumni Silver Dragon Society Award conferred to individuals for their distinguished service to the University, profession and/or community.

“Drexel gave me everything I value in my current place in life,” David says. “I have my friendships, career and (most importantly) my wife and family because of Drexel and because of the opportunities I got through Drexel.”

Drexel’s Office of Alumni Relations selected David, a global chief technology officer for the media agency Wavemaker, for building community among dragons, as well as his fundraising efforts, volunteer contributions, and chairing the University’s Alumni Board of Governors.

The ethos and spirit of the University represents to David, the best of the United States. He came here from the former USSR when he was 7.

David has, in fact, presented this honor at the Drexel Alumni Awards event over the past few years. “So, I am a bit humbled by getting it myself.”

“As an immigrant, I truly love this country and see Drexel as the embodiment of hard work, intelligence and a classic work ethic.”


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

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 Pennoni Honors College, contact: Susan Baren-Pearson 215.571.4907


Profile for PennoniHonorsCollege

Honor Bound Spring/Summer 2021  

Honor Bound Spring/Summer 2021  


Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded