40 under 40: Our Future is the Place They Make
If you believe that more people should wear safety gear while biking, you invent a fashion-forward, collapsible helmet that’s really cool. If you’re frustrated with the lack of social opportunities for people on the autism spectrum, you start an Asperger’s-friendly music course at Philadelphia’s School of Rock. And if you think video games can do more than build thumb dexterity in teens, you launch a gaming company that creates entertainment that serves the social good. For six years, 40 Under 40 has documented Drexel’s essential philosophy that says: The future is ours to shape, ours to make better. And this year, we honor another remarkable group of young alumni who crisscross disciplines to solve problems, enrich the urban scene and enliven our world. In November, the University launched a $750 million fundraising campaign with the audacious theme: The Future Is a Place We Make. Could anyone have a stronger claim to the title “future-maker” than the people in this issue?
Calvin Bradley Jr. 29
MS global and international education ’14
Pediatric staff chaplain, James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital and the Women’s Center at Vidant Medical Center
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: As pediatric chaplain, I journey with patients and families through some of the most critical times of their lives, providing them with spiritual and emotional support. I serve a large patient population ranging from expectant mothers to young adults trying to navigate college or their first job while battling a chronic illness. Sometimes parents need a sounding board, a judgement-free place to vent, or a place to cry out of sight of their child, and I get to provide, and oftentimes be that space for them. Part of my responsibility is to also provide care and support to the staff, because caring for others can be overwhelming, especially in high-stress situations. Prior to becoming chaplain, I served as an after-school site coordinator for a middle-school program serving primarily African-American and Latino youth. Unlike many programs of its kind that are geared toward inner-city settings, this program was geared toward youth from low- economic rural communities, who were low- to average-performing students academically, and some who had disciplinary challenges. The key is to discover what each child is most passionate about or what things they did really well, and work with those things to help make them successful in other areas. Oftentimes, simply affirming and encouraging students in their gifts made a huge difference.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel propelled me to think more holistically and systemically about how I assess the situations being faced by the youth and families I serve. Drexel also helped to sharpen my skills for program development and project management.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I will soon complete my PhD in conflict analysis and resolution from Nova Southeastern University. While I look forward to further advancing my career in health care, personal and relational connections with patients and families will always be my passion.
Brandie Posey 33
BS film and video production ’06
Comedian, writer, producer
Breaking into the world of stand-up comedy is no joke — but Brandie Posey is making her own path as a stand-up act armed with an album, a nationally beloved live comedy show, television pilots and a podcast.
Picture this: Brandie Posey earned a degree from Drexel’s film school, not one of its engineering programs. Nonetheless, she has engineered quite a career for herself as a successful stand-up comedian, writer and producer. And now, “Picture This!” the national-comedy-show-turned-possible-TV-show that Posey co-created, is pushing the Dragon to new heights as a woman in comedy.
“She’s really, really made something of herself,” says fellow Dragon Cameron Wicks ’06, who graduated with Posey and nominated her. “She’s a comedian and I think that speaks well for her and I think it speaks well for Drexel.”
Posey has appeared at multiple comedy festivals around the country and released an album, “Opinion Cave,” that debuted at No. 1 on iTunes and No. 12 on Billboard.com in 2016. She, Barbara Gray and Tess Barker co-host the “Lady to Lady” podcast, which has been downloaded more than 4 million times and featured in Entertainment Weekly, Bust Magazine and on the comedy insider publication Splitsider. The trio have drawn sold-out crowds at the Hollywood Improv, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and on tour all across the country.
Posey’s biggest venture, however, could end up being “Picture This!,” a live performance show created by her and producer Sam Varela that pairs comedians with animators who draw their jokes behind them live like giant, hilarious Pictionary. Posey and Varela have “Picture This!” franchises in Los Angeles; New York; San Francisco; Philadelphia; and Portland, Oregon, as well as a signed television development deal with Push It Productions, a production company founded by comedian Wanda Sykes and writer Page Hurwitz. In partnership with Push It Productions, “Picture This!” has a shot at a pilot for TruTv, with Posey attached as co-creator and executive producer. A series pick up order could happen any day.
Posey was always a fan of comedy, but it wasn’t until she took a stand-up comedy workshop while in Los Angeles on her co-op that she fell in love with the medium.
“I started finding open mics and going to those and quickly became addicted to it,” she says. “Every night is completely different, even if you’re doing the same set.”
After graduating, she moved to Los Angeles and took movie and TV production jobs during the day to support herself while she went to open mics at night. She also visited open mic nights when her production jobs took her to other cities, until eventually she developed enough material and contacts to build her own national tours.
“Opinion Cave” has done well enough to pay Posey’s rent the past two years, but she is always working on her next project. Currently, she is honing comedy sets for late-night television, half-hour comedy special submissions, an animated “Lady to Lady” pilot with her co-hosts, and her own writing projects, all in addition to taking “Picture This!” to the next level.
“I don’t really believe in putting all my eggs in one basket,” she says. — Peter Key
Ajay Kohli 28
BS economics ’10, MD ’15
Radiology resident physician, Drexel College of Medicine/ Hahnemann University Hospital
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Working to combine technology and medicine to build innovations in health care delivery. I launched several projects within digital medicine, such as using wearable technology in surgical oncology and smartphones to manage heart failure and breast cancer treatments, which have gone on to win research competitions. Most recently, I brought together a team that built a breast cancer patient education mobile platform that was presented at Harvard Medical School and won an award from Philips Healthcare.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: The innovative curriculum, the ability to work in world-class hospitals like Kaiser Permanente, and perhaps most importantly, the teachers and mentors. Drexel and the College of Medicine are applying innovative curricula and helping students and professionals succeed in novel ways.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Within five years, I hope to be finishing up residency and continuing the entrepreneurial journey to really disrupt healthcare and technology for the better. Lots to follow.
Jordan L. Fischer 29
Co-founder and managing partner, XPAN Law Group
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Creating my own law firm focused on cybersecurity and international and domestic data privacy. We are a women-owned business operating in a high-tech, male-driven environment — and in an industry that is constantly evolving. Providing a unique global solution to the legal needs of a wide variety of companies has been an invigorating journey and one that continues to grow and change.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel provided me with a great networking foundation, exposure to a wide variety of industries, and an opportunity to give back by becoming an adjunct professor in the Kline School of Law.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: My firm’s goal is to create a culture of security and data privacy: We want to create a global dialogue around data. On a personal level, my hope is to have created a sustainable company that meets the growing needs of businesses in the cyber and data privacy realm while also balancing the needs of its clients with the goals and development of its employees. And I hope to also use my own experiences, both in the law and in creating my own business, to provide the community with another strong female voice, encouraging others on their own unique paths.
Julio Nuñez 35
MS science of instruction and second-language acquisition ’11
Founding principal and CEO, Independence Charter School West
As a boy, Julio Nuñez snuck illegally into the United States. Fortunately for Philadelphia’s public schoolchildren, his journey didn’t end there.
At 15, Julio Nuñez huddled with his mother in the parking lot of a McDonald’s, just over the border from Nogales, Mexico — two Mexican nationals “without papers” waiting for a van to take them to a safe house in the United States.
It was a journey no one in his family had ever expected to make. But the Nuñez’ were never able to regain their middle-class footing after the Mexican government unexpectedly devalued its currency against the U.S. dollar in 1994.
“My family lost nearly everything: Our home, cars, savings and more importantly, the working capital for my dad’s small business,” recalls Nuñez, now 35. “The situation pulled my family apart.” After struggling for a couple of years, his father crossed the border to join a relative in the Philadelphia area and spent two years sustaining his wife and children back home with a series of back-breaking jobs until they could join him.
Since then, Nuñez has put any number of barriers behind him. The family gained legal residency under sponsorship from his father’s employer. Nuñez graduated from high school, and cycled through various majors at Montgomery Country Community College before discovering a passion for writing and completing a degree in journalism with concentrations in economics and political science at Temple University. He earned a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C., and represented the United States on a Fulbright scholarship in Germany.
Finally, in 2011 he became a citizen — the moment he was eligible, he says. Soon after, he completed his master’s degree from Drexel. And he found what he hopes is a lifelong career path in education.
Nuñez began teaching in North Philadelphia public schools in 2009 on a bilingual teaching fellowship. Lisa Walsh, a teacher who worked with him at the time, says Nuñez was driven to help kids overcome socioeconomic obstacles.
Eventually, Nuñez decided to commit himself to administrative work, and pestered his bosses until he was appointed vice principal at Julia De Burgos Elementary School in the Fairhill section of the city.
“He’s extremely well-versed on politics and the current climate,” Walsh says. “[He understands] how systems work, and how to get things done in a bureaucratic system.”
“Administration, I think, is the most challenging work in the city,” Nuñez says. “There are a lot of moving parts you’re responsible for, but you don’t have a lot of leverage.”
In 2016, Nuñez was hired as the founding principal for Independence Charter School West, a school that, like the highly regarded Independence Charter School already established in Center City, emphasizes second-language acquisition with weekly courses in both Spanish and English. Tom Scheid, CEO of Independence Charter Schools, says the schools’ board chose Nuñez to direct the new branch because of his facility with Spanish, his personal experience learning a second language and his passion for urban education.
Now in its second year, the school has grown from 300 to 400 students, most of whom are African American or biracial. Founded as a K-3 school, ICSW plans to add a grade every year until it serves students K-8. Nuñez says he was drawn to the school’s philosophy that students are more than a test score — that they enjoy and are enriched by art, sports, language and music the same way that adults are.
“The successes I have had cannot solely be attributed to hard work,” Nuñez reflects. “My family, education and the people in this country, whom I truly believe are inherently empathetic to the immigrant story, have been the primary enablers. Now, I aim to be one for others.” — Jared Brey
Nina Crum 31
PhD materials science and engineering ’13
Software engineering technology development manager, Intel Corp.
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Transitioning from materials engineering into software development for computer-aided design engines, eventually becoming the project lead of my team. I was fortunate to be mentored by talented people at my company who helped me grow. It has also been an honor to help and inspire women in tech through a project that I started to address gender-biased behaviors in meetings, which included creating a video in which I interviewed the most inspirational and powerful women in tech.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: My four years at Drexel was an amazing period of growth. I built up a great work ethic through all of the constant challenges of a PhD and it taught me to stay determined, even when the work gets more challenging. Drexel’s focus on outreach to the community and involvement in additional work outside of one’s core field of study has also inspired me to stay involved in projects outside of my main technical work and to remain active in my community and workplace.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I would like to continue on the path that I’m on, keep enabling Moore’s law and leading my team, and do a great job at whatever other challenges come up!
D.J. Dodd 30
BS business administration ’10
Director of development, Glass Entertainment Group
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Two things made me feel like I had “made it.” One was earning my first aired producer credit on a TV show for “Amish Mafia” on Discovery Channel. I’ve created, developed and/or produced content for Discovery Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Animal Planet, History Channel, Food Network, HGTV and Oxygen, among other networks. The second big moment for me was seeing my name on the big screen as the co-executive producer of “Ten Thousand Saints,” a film starring Ethan Hawke, Emile Hirsch and Hailee Steinfeld that premiered at Sundance in 2015. Since then, I’ve also been fortunate enough to produce a handful of other feature films in different capacities.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel helped me build a foundation of knowledge for my career. Through the co-op program, I was able to gain essential firsthand business experience. Even though I was a business student, I was able to take film and television classes, which empowered me to pursue film school after graduation. Working on the Drexel student-produced TV series “Off Campus” provided me with the experience I needed to pursue my passion for producing.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: In five years, I hope to still be doing what I’m doing now — creating entertaining content for film and television.
Anastasia Bottos 36
BS business administration ’05
COO and chief strategy officer, My Alarm Center
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Being a key contributor to the growth of our company from a startup to the sixth-largest residential security/home automation company in the United States. Since 2005, I have led over 700 acquisitions, built our customer integration platform, helped to expand our company from 20 to more than 650 employees, and worked with an amazing team to grow annual revenues from $6 million to over $100 million.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: The co-op program played a significant role in helping to get my résumé noticed. However, the biggest impact from the overall Drexel experience came in the form of personal insight on what I could bring to a team and an organization. This not only helped me convey confidence during interviews but gave me the aptitude and drive to advance in my career quickly
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: So many innovative companies are entering the security and home automation space today. It’s an exciting time to witness the explosive growth of our industry and all of the great minds joining us to grow it. My hope for the future is we continue to draw in a more and more diverse group of thinkers to join us.
Jin Han 39
BS information systems ’02
Cybersecurity partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Professionally, making partner at the age of 35 (at PwC’s predecessor Accenture), a foolish goal I set on the very first day of work (at PwC) that remarkably came true with only 14 days before my 36th birthday. The age plus minority factor made achieving this goal extra satisfying. Personally, my greatest accomplishment was realizing that achievement does not result in happiness and the greatest investment I can ever make is in myself. An example of a personal investment I make is in my morning routine to get into a peak state and ready for the day. “Win the morning, win the day” is my morning motto. Wake up, 20 minutes of transcendental meditation to reboot my mind, 15 minutes of “priming” meditation to get into a state of gratitude, cold shower to energize and get dressed to empowering music. I also prioritize my wife, children, extended family and friends in life. Without them, nothing else matters.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: I have many things to be grateful for in how Drexel prepared me but two things stand out. One, I had a highly influential freshman year accounting teacher by the name of Jennifer Wright, in the LeBow College of Business, who believed in me and gave me the most precious piece of advice. She simply said, “They need you more than you need them,” in reference to my fears of finding an internship. I’ve never had anxiety about interviewing ever since. Two, co-op experience is a tremendous differentiator. By no stretch of the imagination, I was academically a mediocre student. The co-op program fueled my strengths around grit, work ethic and hustle.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I hope I’ll be exactly where I am now.
Kristy Jost 29
BS fashion design ’11;
PhD materials science and engineering ’15
Senior product development engineer, 3M
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Actually completing a PhD in materials science as a fashion designer, and doing so alongside a fantastic group of mentors and colleagues who made the experience all worthwhile. I always loved making clothes, and I was always interested in science, and they helped me explore ways to make clothing that included technological components, such as garment designs embedded with audio and video that could display messages for people with communication difficulties. That led me to investigate new kinds of fabrics and manufacturing methods in Drexel’s Shima Seiki Haute Tech Lab. I also became the first Westphal College of Media Arts and Design student to conduct a research co-op studying supercapacitors and energy-storing materials in the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute in the College of Engineering. I was awarded top engineering fellowships, including one with the Department of Defense, and selected to attend the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany alongside Nobel Laureates in chemistry-related fields.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel and its faculty provided the opportunity and support to pursue degrees in both art and science and complete research on smart textiles and functional fabrics. It was a unique and exciting atmosphere collaborating across fields between the Shima Seiki Haute Tech Lab and the Nanomaterials Institute.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I hope that the field of smart textiles continues to grow and evolve, to better the quality of people’s lives. I hope that I can continue to be a part of this exciting field of research and development!
Lee M.J. Elias 34
MS sport management ’13
Business owner, author and coach
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I have been able to create opportunities to professionally surround myself with my passions as an entrepreneur and a leader, while also being able to give back. I’ve created three companies: Game Seven Group, a sports coaching strategy consultancy; Hockey Achievements, an interactive sporting community with an audience of 350,000+ followers; and Hockey Wrap Around, a hockey equipment company. I’ve also been fortunate to be on the coaching staff of the 2015 Peterborough Phantoms Championship ice hockey team in the English Premier League, to be part of the Sports Coaching Leadership team at Drexel, and to have previously worked for the National Hockey League, NBC Sports and Madison Square Garden. In addition, I’m a two-time award-winning author of the books “Win” and “Think Like a Fan.” Personally, I’m most proud of creating a wonderful family with my wife, Dr. Janet Cruz (who also works at Drexel), and my two children, Logan and Alina.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Both my education and mentors at Drexel set me on a course that ultimately let me accomplish my professional goals in the sporting world as a coach and business person. My master’s thesis eventually morphed into my first book which also launched my career as an author.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Through my work I have helped several sports teams embrace the concept of team building to become championship-caliber organizations and I hope to help a collegiate and/ or professional team win a title. I also want to publish a book that explores the common strategic elements found among teams that win championships consistently over time.
Joshua Prasad 30
MPH health management and policy ’13
Co-founder, Seva Insights
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: As a public health adviser in the federal government, I was able to help how people rethink their engagement with health through policy and programs. For example, I helped develop and run the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative. Through integrated activism, local and national partnerships, social media, and targeted engagement campaigns the initiative has reduced the number of smoke- and tobacco-free campuses by over 1,000 since 2012.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: As a natural introvert and homebody, I wouldn’t have been equipped for all the hands-on work and collaboration I’ve experienced without Drexel’s training. Since graduating, I went on to complete a fellowship at Harvard Center for Primary Care while working full-time for the Department of Health and Human Services. I launched a health innovation startup that was lauded for its approach to transforming preventive health. I went to Houston to help Hurricane Harvey victims rebuild, and I’ve worked on campaigns in local political races. I’ve recently co-founded a think tank and advising group to redefine what modern health, innovation and medicine can be.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Now that I’ve left the federal government, I want to continue to engage with the world and help solve pressing issues. Modern public health happens at the confluence of health care, education, housing, transportation, the environment and more. This requires me to keep learning to bring these sectors together to cultivate change. In the future, be it tomorrow or 20 years from now, I hope to not only be part of this type of transformative conversation, but helping lead it.
Tanishka Cruz 35
Founding attorney, Cruz Law, and UVA immigration law clinic supervisor, Legal Aid Justice Center
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Thousands of children are currently in deportation proceedings without the right to an attorney. Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of managing the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Special Immigrant Juvenile Project, which has provided life-altering legal representation to more than 150 immigrant children. Fighting on the frontlines every day to keep families together and providing legal representation to some of the most vulnerable immigrant populations has been my greatest accomplishment.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel’s unique emphasis on experiential learning, collegial energy and entrepreneurial spirit set the stage for a transformative law school experience. That experience coupled with the meaningful relationships I established with my professors and co-op mentors — who encouraged me to fearlessly challenge the status quo — helped make me the lawyer I am today.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: To build a thriving law practice where I’m working on the forefront of immigrant rights issues and leading the charge in improving immigrant access to legal representation and justice.
Zachary Rubino 30
BS film and video production ’09
Cinematographer, Expressway Cinema Rentals and Expressway Productions
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Building Expressway Cinema Rentals and Expressway Productions into Philadelphia’s premier equipment rental and services facility. My two partners and I started our shop in 2010 with the mission to bring top-notch equipment with full-service production and technical support to the filmmaking community. We’ve been able to grow from a small garage in Kensington to a 10,000-square-foot facility offering camera, lighting, grip, studio rentals and creative production services.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Beginning with the staff and a curriculum that encouraged a deep understanding of the tools of the trade, to the collaborative process learned while working with fellow students, the entirety of my Drexel experience helped to start me on the path I am on today. The intricacies of cinematography and the technical art of working with light revealed themselves to me through a combination of film studies and production-oriented classes. My coop spent working on feature films led to important connections within the industry. Many of the people I met at Drexel remain inspirations and collaborators to this day.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I hope to have increased Expressway’s capacity to support our filmmaking and photography communities both regionally and beyond. Personally, I look forward to my work as a cinematographer to continue being both challenging and rewarding.
Melanie Kasper Rodbart 38
MS civil and environmental engineering ’04
Co-founder, J&M Preservation Studio
Melanie Kasper Rodbart’s historic building preservation firm makes sure the city’s cherished past survives well into its future.
As glassy new towers have shot up across Philadelphia’s booming skyline in recent years, one Drexel grad has been hard at work making sure the city’s older, historic structures don’t fall down.
Melanie Kasper Rodbart is principal and co-founder of J&M Preservation Studio, the region’s only woman-owned firm providing in-house architectural and structural engineering services for historic preservation. She has managed dozens of projects involving the structural analysis and stabilization of many buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places.
A highlight of her work was the restoration several years ago of the catastrophically weakened, 260-year-old roof framing over St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Society Hill. The church was once the place of worship used by our Founding Fathers, making it one of the treasures of the city’s colonial history. The entire award-winning project was completed in just 10 months without disrupting the building’s original framing or pristine sanctuary.
Currently, at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, which now houses the Please Touch Museum, Rodbart is repairing and stabilizing two monumental bronze Pegasus sculptures that date back to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. And at Eastern State Penitentiary, she’s part of ongoing renovations to keep the 189-year-old former prison safe for the thousands of tourists who pass through it each year.
She arrived in the field of historic preservation after a stint working in bridge design and construction inspection at the Philadelphia-based firm Urban Engineers, where she landed after graduating from Bucknell University. Some fateful jaunts among the Old World cities of Europe persuaded her that she needed a new career direction.
“I was traveling to Europe a lot for personal vacations, and one thing led to another, and I was hooked,” says the Bucks County native. “I was working in the wrong field; totally working in the wrong field.”
In 2005, after completing her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at Drexel, she contacted Philadelphia-based preservation firm S. Harris Ltd. looking for a job. Its founder, Sam Harris, was a long-time professor of history preservation at the University of Pennsylvania. To signal how serious she was about her interest in preservation, Rodbart told him she would go back to school again, despite recently obtaining a master’s degree.
“During my interview, he said, ‘You don’t need to go back to school. If you come here, I will teach you everything about historic preservation.’ And that was just music to my ears,” she says. For the next eight years, she learned the teachings of “Building Pathology,” the book Harris authored.
When Harris passed away in 2013, Rodbart teamed up with Jessica Senker, an architect and colleague from S. Harris Ltd., and they launched J&M Preservation. Collectively, she and her business partner have worked on seven National Historic Landmarks and more than 40 historically significant sites.
She constantly finds inspiration among Philadelphia’s historic sites, like the grand ruin of Eastern State Penitentiary.
“It’s never going to be a prison again, so it tells a story, and I think it’s fascinating as a museum to tell the social aspects of that,” Rodbart says. “But also from a material pathology standpoint, that you can actually see deterioration and decay. It’s always going to be in a state of deterioration and decay. How do you manage that, and show that to the public, and keep a safe site?” — Jared Brey
Vasileios Nasis 39
BS electrical engineering ’02,
MS electrical engineering ’05,
PhD electrical and computer engineering ’08
CEO and founder, Netronix
Before “internet of things” was a household phrase, Netronix was building its own tools and a network of companies to make our world smarter, faster and better connected.
When Dr. Vasileios Nasis left his native Greece to attend Drexel in 2000, his plans were simple: earn an undergraduate degree and get a job. Instead, he went on to earn his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical and computer engineering, teach at Drexel and start a company that employs some of his former Drexel students.
“I’m a Drexel product, 100 percent,” he says. “An engineer, but a practical engineer: the guy who rolls up his sleeves, the guy who spends time in the lab, the guy who goes and meets with clients.” Most of those meetings are with current and potential customers of Netronix, the company he launched in 2008 to help bring the “internet of things” technology revolution to the masses.
The internet of things, often shorthanded as IoT, refers to the trend toward networking an ever-expanding universe of household objects and everyday equipment capable of collecting, transmitting and receiving data. The “things” include buses that transmit their locations to transit systems to provide real-time route information; home thermostats remotely controlled by electric utilities to conserve power; and manufacturing equipment that alerts factory operators when it needs maintenance.
Information technology consulting firm Gartner Inc. estimates there are 8.4 billion “connected things” in use this year and predicts there will be 12.9 billion by 2020.
Netronix makes it easier for other companies to use or offer IoT products and services. Its IoT platform includes hardware that can be connected to existing devices or built inside new devices to make them part of the IoT; a cloud platform for controlling data flow to and from
IoT devices; and software for developing IoT applications. Current customers include SAP, 3M, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force, as well as numerous companies that provide remote monitoring services in the environmental and health sectors.
One of the latter, Airthinx, provides continuous air-quality monitoring in indoor spaces such as buildings and aircraft. Dr. Nasis helped it get off the ground with funding from Netronix Ventures, which he created to back companies that use Netronix’s technology. He believes those companies, which along with Netronix now comprise the Netronix Group, will show how easily Netronix’s technology can enable entrepreneurs to turn their ideas for using the IoT into profitable businesses.
“He definitely has the charisma to be a successful entrepreneur and it’s clear that his team is just really passionate about the product and where Netronix is going,” says Shintaro Kaido, director of startup services for Drexel Ventures, the University’s tech-commercialization business accelerator.
Dr. Nasis thinks the Netronix Group can spawn 100 companies over the next decade. Most, he believes, will be based in Philadelphia, laying the groundwork for a local business hub centered around the IoT technology.
“I have the support of Drexel and the support of John Fry and I think that we’ll make history,” he says. — Peter Key
Michelle Cann 33
BS history and political science ’07
Strategic planner, National Nuclear Security Administration (as a Mele Associates contractor)
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Influencing the outcomes of the Nuclear Security Summit process through recommendations, analysis and engagement in collaboration with other civil society experts. My role as a strategic planner in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Safety, Infrastructure and Operations is to develop a long-term strategic plan for investing in infrastructure improvements at eight national laboratories and production facilities that support the nuclear weapons stockpile, global nonproliferation efforts and naval propulsion. Prior to this, I worked for 10 years with the Partnership for Global Security, a nuclear security policy shop in Washington, D.C., on nuclear security, nuclear energy and transnational policy challenges, including researching the linkages among climate change, nuclear energy and global security issues. I have authored more than 30 reports and articles on nuclear security policy opportunities, political influences and budget trends. I have spoken at more than 20 international conference workshops and press briefings around the world.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: My senior thesis professor at Drexel encouraged me to interview a nuclear security expert for my paper. A few months later, that same expert hired me to work at his policy shop in Washington and mentored me to become the professional I am today. Without that encouragement and connection, my career may have taken a very different course.
WHERE I’LL BE IN FIVE YEARS: Enhancing national security and serving the public good as a policy professional in the U.S. government.
Rachel Benyola 29
MBA entrepreneurship and innovation management ’17
Founder and CEO, AnneeLondon
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Inventing the first and only modern helmet that is 70 percent foldable, stylishly customizable and twice as safe. Despite having no engineering background, I built the product and company by using my expertise in psychology and leadership development to understand my customer and attract the best talent for my team.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: The MBA course “New Venture Planning” taught me how to test out the viability of a new business idea quickly and affordably. This model helped me determine that the concept of a folding helmet was a scalable business. Less than two years later, I have a patent-pending innovation that is revolutionizing safety standards in several industries. In addition, winning second place in the Close School of Entrepreneurship’s Baiada Institute business plan and pitch competition provided good visibility as a new venture, as well as funding to help with prototyping and office space inside the Baiada incubator. These opportunities helped me to launch AnneeLondon on a bootstrapped budget, for which I am grateful.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Recent studies have shown that Americans spend 95 percent of their time indoors. We need to invest in preventive health to improve the health of the masses. I want to see more people outside because everyone deserves to look and feel good, while conveniently and safely enjoying outdoor life.
Rafael Ilishayev 24
BS international law and legal studies ’15
Co-founder and CEO, goPuff
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Making the first delivery for goPuff [an on-demand delivery service co-founded with fellow Drexel student Yakir Gola in 2013]. On the way there I got into a car accident and ran the rest of the way to our first customer’s house. He lived next door to a 7-Eleven. At that point we knew that we had something special. Note: GoPuff delivers convenience store items ranging from snacks to contraceptives to anyone’s home in under 30 minutes and since its launch it has expanded beyond Philadelphia to more than 20 cities coast to coast.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel taught me the fundamentals of business, how to be a leader and most importantly — how to be a better listener. These are definitely things that you acquire with experience, but Drexel helped lay that foundation for me.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: We are disrupting the convenience store industry and recreating consumable impulse use in a digital world. Personally, I hope my story inspires the students of the Drexel community to never be afraid to chase their dreams and to always be resilient when faced with opposition. If you want to solve a problem, you have to put your head down and be laser-focused on getting it done.
Christopher Bennett (left) | 27 | BS business administration ’12
Aradhya Malhotra (middle) | 27 | BS computer science ’13
Oleks Levtchenko (right) | 27 | BS business administration ’12
The trio behind Skyless Game Studios are building video games that fight corruption, encourage child welfare, improve multinational cultural relationships, and more — all “for a better tomorrow.”
Five years ago, Chris Bennett ’12, Arad Malhotra ’13 and Oleks Levtchenko ’12 hunkered down in a conference room in Drexel’s Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, part of the Close School of Entrepreneurship.
“We basically made a brainstorming word cloud on a white board,” says Bennett, 27, who has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and entrepreneurship.
Even though no one remembers the exact words anymore, the cloud likely included technology, games and philanthropy. The result was Skyless Game Studios, an intriguing tech startup that creates customized video games to support a client’s cause.
“We work with organizations, nonprofits and social enterprises that are trying to make some positive difference in the world and trying to change the way people think about problems,” says Bennett, now CEO of the Philadelphia-based company.
The co-founders say they have had an interest in philanthropy since college.
Bennett and Levtchenko belonged to Pi Kappa Phi social fraternity and supported its work with disabled schoolchildren.
“We wanted to give as we grow,” Malhotra, also 27 and chief technology officer, says of the mission. He studied computer science with a focus on video game development and human computer interaction.
Video games (and virtual and augmented reality down the road) were an obvious route for the team. “I’ve done programming since I was 13,” Malhotra says. “Video games were a perfect outlet for me.”
Levtchencko, 27 as well with a bachelor’s in entrepreneurship and finance, points out that people often learn better by doing than by simply reading a bunch of facts.
“That’s what these games are — digital apprenticeships,” says Levtchencko, who formerly served as director of finance for Skyless. He now lives in Atlanta and serves on the company’s board.
Take their project “Follow the Money.” It was designed for the Repatriation Group, a nonprofit that helps developing countries fight corruption and financial crimes. Users investigate a virtual crime and learn evidence gathering, asset forfeiture and more and are scored on the type of charges pursued and assets recovered.
Their LifeLeap project supports the mission of Aahana, a nonprofit that works in India with women and children. Players accumulate points by maneuvering a character around obstacles and collecting medical supplies. Facts about the welfare of women and children — 32.7 percent of the Indian population live on less than $1.25 a day, for example — appear on screen, along with prompts to donate. An in-game store allows players to purchase coins that power the character and proceeds help Aahana buy real-world medical supplies.
Other games address topics such as the political divide in the United States via satire, as well as issues like cultural relationships, city management and autism.
Around the world, Malhotra says, people spend three billion hours a week playing video games. That’s a lot of opportunity.
“Games should not just be an end product, something for entertainment,” he says. “Games should be leveraged as a platform, as real, quantifiable social impact.” — Lini S. Kadaba
Gregory Dunn 32
BS civil engineering ’09;
MS civil engineering ’16
Structural engineer, Louis Berger
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I have performed a variety of bridge-related structural engineering services. My most prominent local project is the Vine Street Expressway overhead bridge rehab project. On that project, the Louis Berger design team prepared final plans for the superstructure replacement and substructure rehabilitation of four two-span noncomposite pre-stressed adjacent box beam bridges with single-span steel plate girder bridges on four bridges between 22nd and Broad streets. The $65 million project is expected to finish one year ahead of schedule in November 2018.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel laid the foundation for seamless transition to a successful career in structural engineering. Educators challenged students and encouraged critical thinking analogous to the challenges young professionals encounter in the real world. Drexel’s extensive professional network coupled with the co-op program provided invaluable experiences. Most important, I used Drexel’s professional network to land my dream job at Louis Berger.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I hope to continue working on increasingly complex and higher-profile bridge design projects nationwide. In my community, I look forward to becoming a leader by participating in charitable initiatives and mentoring high school students interested in civil engineering.
Alper Bozkurt 39
MS biomedical engineering ’04
Associate professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, North Carolina State University
Alper Bozkurt is bioengineering swarms of creepy crawlies to hunt for victims of natural disasters in rubble inaccessible to traditional rescuers.
In the wreckage of a building collapse, victims may become trapped under mounds of concrete, beams and drywall in spots with openings too small for a rescue team to enter. In a lab in North Carolina, Alper Bozkurt is designing a hero that’s up for the task. His solution, however, may leave some people skeeved out.
“The cockroaches you hate may one day save your life,” he says.
Bozkurt, associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University, oversees a research team that has assembled a swarm of Madagascar hissing cockroaches programmed to crawl through wreckage looking for survivors. The large, 2- to 3-inch-long insects wear “backpacks” equipped with a microphone to listen for survivors and a radio transmitter to send information about their location back to Bozkurt’s team.
Bozkurt calls the insects a team of “biobots.” By triangulating the biobots’ locations, the team can map out a disaster area, a trick that traditional rescue animals can’t accomplish.
“We had dogs, for example, working for us in search-and-rescue scenarios,” Bozkurt says. “They’ve been more efficient when scanning the surface of the rubble, not inside the the rubble.”
Each cockroach can be controlled remotely by stimulating either the left or right antenna, imitating the feeling of an attack, which causes the bug to veer in whatever direction the controller pleases. And it isn’t only their size that’s useful.
“Cockroaches reproduce like cockroaches,” Bozkurt says.
That is to say: Feed a male and a female, leave them alone, and in a few weeks you’ll have a colony. Bozkurt’s Integrated Bionic Microsystems Lab at North Carolina State is also designing electrical instruments that interface with sphinx moths, plants, birds, canines, lemurs and humans. His work on the “internet-of-bionics-things” has been covered by the BBC, CNN, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Science Channel, Newsweek and Reuters, and he was included in Popular Science’s The Brilliant 10 list in 2015.
His interest in marrying technology and medicine began at Drexel while he was completing his master’s of science in biomedical engineering. He remembers one moment that he says has stuck with him through his entire career.
It was an argument between Drexel doctors and Drexel engineers, and neither side could agree on whether it would be possible to model the human brain using the engineers’ imaging technique. The argument became intense, but Bozkurt sat quietly and listened.
His adviser, Banu Onaral, stepped in and said, “Folks, I am excited with both sides’ momentum and we have a great opportunity to turn this into a synergy. You just need to learn each other’s language so you can educate each other.”
After that, Bozkurt says he started learning more about physiology alongside engineering in an attempt to better understand his materials in an interdisciplinary way, an attitude change that has followed him to where he is today, designing medical devices along with insect-machine interfaces.
“Making something useful means you need to bring it to real life and real life is not only one field,” Bozkurt says. — Evan Bowen-Gaddy
Richard M. Stubbs 31
MA music therapy and counseling ’16
Owner/manager and therapist, Care and Counseling Center of Southern Oregon and president/founder of Banyan Refuge Center
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Co-founding a successful psychotherapy agency which employs eight therapists and serves over 300 clients, where I treat adolescents and adults with a history of trauma and suicidal ideation. I created the agency after the Jackson County Mental Health agency in Medford, Oregon, was devastated by funding cuts and 300 workers (myself included) were laid off, creating a mental health crisis for hundreds of families in the county. This was also just four months into the job, my first after graduation, and I opted to shape my own practice rather than seek a position with a new agency. I have also started a nonprofit named Banyan Refuge Center in Medford which provides free mental health care to refugees, immigrants, survivors of sex trafficking and other marginalized or disadvantaged persons. I am also doing my own clinical research, and am currently writing two case studies about songwriting and lyric analysis combined with cognitive behavioral therapy to treat adolescents with a history of trauma and suicidality.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel provided me with great therapeutic training, and incredible advisers who inspired me to push for more than mediocre.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I hope in five years both of my companies will have grown to help more clients, and that Banyan Refuge Center will have started its first overseas charity missions to provide creative arts therapy and psychoeducation to countries with high need.
Julie Herman 35
BS media arts and design ’05
MS science of instruction ’06
Owner, designer, author, Jaybird Quilts
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Turning my passion and hobby into a successful career. I’m a best-selling author, speaker, quilt pattern and ruler designer. I am known for developing the Jaybird Quilts family of four quilting rulers. These rulers are used to make my quilt designs. I have written and produced 70-plus quilt pattern designs and self-published five books. I’m recognized in the quilting community for bringing clarity and simplified design to geometrically inspired patterns.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: The degrees that I earned are directly related to the work that I do. The skills that I obtained, like product design, graphics, photography and more, allow me to develop my products 100 percent in-house. My education degree gave me the skills and the confidence to develop classes and teach what I’m passionate about to others. My sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon, taught me how to work with others, plan and execute large events.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: My hope for the future is to continue to inspire creativity in people. My superpower is geometry and design. I am energized by the beauty of math and how it can modernize traditional quilt designs. I hope that I can continue to bring ease and joy to the quilting community with fresh, accessible and geometrically beautiful designs.
Joshua T. Lessard 29
BA architecture ’12
Exhibition and architectural designer, University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: During a gathering of elders debating the relocation of their village to survive a drought, I learned the humbling and sobering truth that surviving changing climates will not be isolated or easy. Five years later, I spend every day documenting and sharing customs, traditions and heritage as the exhibition designer for Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Regardless of the project, I have the opportunity to give a voice to people whose identities and livelihoods are challenged by the conditions they face every day.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: We only achieve great things by standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. My time at Drexel provided me with amazing mentors: Westphal College of Media Arts and Design professors Judith Bing, Mark Brack and John DeFazio. It was also the place where I met professional collaborators (in particular, fellow alumnus Tom Quigley), as well as my greatest source of support and inspiration, my partner Alex.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: First, that the architecture and engineering communities collectively respond to the rising threats brought by climate change through the rapid deployment of peace-keeping/stabilization measures, revisions to the building code and adopting innovative business models. Second, that academia and the nonprofit sector continue conversations about “decolonizing epistemology” and adopt methodologies for giving communities agency to enact their own visions. Third, that the rising millennial workforce helps society at-large grow beyond a dualist worldview.
Matthew Borowski 34
Founder, Borowski Immigration Law
Matthew Borowski’s intimate understanding of the immigration system helped him win a high-profile asylum case with national impact.
For Matthew Borowski, 34, the effort to secure legal rights for immigrants to this country is a very personal one.
“Both of my parents were immigrants. My father was actually a refugee from Poland during the Communist era — he was something of a political dissident,” says Borowski, JD ’12. “My mom was born in Iran and she immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. So immigration was always a topic that was near and dear to me.”
In his Buffalo, New York-based law practice, Borowski has applied himself to the complex needs of immigrants caught up in the legal system.
He gained some national recognition for successfully representing Noorullah Aminyar, an Afghan Army captain who had aided U.S. forces but was being denied asylum here. The case, which was the subject of a 6,300-word feature in Esquire last summer, was especially complex because of the challenging and often capricious environment that surrounds immigration statutes.
“The takeaway from that case is that, especially when it comes to asylum, it is all very amorphous, the application of the laws and precedents,” he says. “It is really tough to distill this stuff into a clear recitation of the law. Immigration judges have a lot of discretion in how they can interpret the factual circumstances. A lot of it is up to who you have as your judge.”
If you think that makes immigration law sound arbitrary, you’re right. “My singular issue on appeal was that this was arbitrary,” Borowski says. Faced with near-identical circumstances for two defendants, an immigration board reached two opposite conclusions. He argued that that is not how the law is supposed to work, and he won.
Borowski understood even before he came to Drexel that the law isn’t always applied correctly or fairly. He’d been wrongly accused in Virginia, and that helped to set him on his present course. “It taught me that if you are willing to stick to your guns and take your case to trial, and if you have the money to hire good counsel, you can prevail,” he says. “It also showed me that there is an immense amount of pressure on criminal defendants to plead guilty.”
His coursework at Drexel helped him to take his ideals and give them practical application. “Drexel had an excellent set of practical courses taught by adjunct faculty, including the immigration litigation course, which was a fantastic introduction to the things that I do on a daily basis now. Having a seasoned practitioner teach that course was an excellent choice,” he says.
While he’s fighting the battle today, Borowski is thinking about the future and how his work could impact immigration rights in the long term. “It is in the United States’ interest to attract the best and brightest to this country,” he says. — Adam Stone
Michael A. Lopez 39
BS chemical engineering ’01
Pediatric neuromuscular fellow, Stanford University
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I am most thankful for the skills I have learned that allow me to help take care of children with neuromuscular diseases. I’ve had the honor to work as a physician scientist answering questions that might make an impact on treating the most devastating of those diseases. In the course of my daily work, I learn the outstanding questions that patients and their families face and provide hope through the promise of research.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel taught me how to think critically and approach difficult problems, and how to use those skills in everyday work. As a physician scientist, I rely on analytical reasoning and technical skills that were acquired in my studies at Drexel. I received my first exposure to research through the co-op program where my interest in childhood- onset neuromuscular diseases began.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: The field of pediatric neuromuscular medicine is undergoing revolutionary advances in treatments that are improving and extending lives. New technologies, such as anti-sense oligonucleotides and gene therapies, are making their way through the pipeline. As a physician scientist, my goal is to be a part of the teams that are bringing these types of new treatments to fruition.
Julie Lipson 33
MA music therapy ’13
Owner, Inner Rhythms Music and Therapy Center
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I find my greatest accomplishments packaged as small moments during the music therapy sessions I lead in my private practice studio in West Philadelphia. Witnessing a client get in touch with a hidden part of their identity, watching a client’s face change as they listen to a song that perfectly expresses their emotions, accompanying a client as they try out original lyrics to explore their feelings — each of these moments feels like a huge accomplishment for me, the client, and music therapy as a field.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel’s Creative Arts Therapy professors were extremely encouraging when I started my private practice last winter. I was grateful that, even after I graduated, they showed the same attention and care for me that I had so appreciated as a student. Although working in private practice is rare in this field, they were enthusiastic, supportive and reminded me that my work would fill a need in our community.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Society is slowly beginning to better understand two of my passions: music therapy and gender equality. My hope is that both of these areas continue to gain support, and that my work contributes to a community where every individual can freely express all facets of who they are.
Jay D. Shah 33
BS biomedical engineering ’06
President and medical physicist, Dynamic Medical Physics Inc.
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I implemented an extremely precise treatment option for brain surgery, known as stereotactic radiosurgery, at a community hospital in Tampa Bay. This procedure uses highly focused radiation beams to destroy tumors without cutting into the brain. It involves efficiently coordinating a multidisciplinary team of specialists, understanding the nuanced particle physics that govern radiation measurement and machine characterization, utilizing the time and financial resources of the staff and hospital and coping with a smaller acceptable margin of error. I spearheaded this program, pushing the limits of modern technology and bringing patients a treatment modality that was not available within the community hospital. This ultimately qualified more patients to be treated for different conditions within a shorter timeframe and to a higher degree of accuracy.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: The School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems’ curriculum created a well-rounded graduate in medicine, engineering and business. This helped me find ingenuity in addressing technical and managerial obstacles. Radiation-producing equipment is complex and traditionally reserved for large academic institutions with deep pockets. These institutions are often located in big cities, leaving patients in the suburbs without a convenient option for cancer treatment. I believed multimillion-dollar academic institutions should not be the only places that provide high-quality patient care. I streamlined clinical processes and expanded the treatment options that physicians could offer their patients by designing cancer centers around Florida; this helped doctors build their own practices and gave patients a treatment solution closer to home. Drexel provided a broad educational foundation and co-op experience that was crucial in developing realistic solutions.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I envision bringing affordable treatment options overseas to impoverished areas. I’ve also previously collaborated with writers from “Madam Secretary” on CBS and Phantom Four Films (responsible for the “Batman” and “Superman” film series) as a consultant, and wish to continue my relationship with the entertainment industry to create more realistic and engaging storylines in television and film.
Davic Stec 39
BS business administration ’02
Senior trader, Group One Trading
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Seizing the opportunity to move to Chicago and trade options for Group One Trading on the floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange. After almost 13 years of trading options, I have been named one of Group One’s top traders and earned ownership units in Group One Trading. While working full time, I attained the chartered financial analyst designation and have recently enrolled part time at The University of Chicago’s Master of Science in Analytics program. While in Chicago I met my wife, Stacy, and we have a son Benjamin.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Many of the beginning contacts for this opportunity were created through the Drexel cooperative education program and Drexel Athletics. Drexel’s emphasis on technology has given me an edge as technology transforms the options trading business.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Technology has created an explosion of information and data analytics represents an opportunity for companies worldwide, including Group One.
Mary Ellen Mcateer 29
BS fashion design ’11
President and designer, Siloett
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: My family’s second-generation swimwear business “Swim by Chuck Handy” was struggling in an industry full of big players. Knowing our finances were tight, I worked a full-time corporate technical design job during the day, and worked for the family business in the evening. While the family business successfully captured a niche position in the missy and plus contemporary swim market, we were battling crippling interest rates. Our luck finally changed when celebrity entrepreneur and TV host of “The Profit” Marcus Lemonis invested in our business. To test us under pressure, each of us were given a task. My 21-day challenge was to design, pattern and produce eight brand extensions that would be the focus of the company’s new launch. After countless long days, calling in every favor with domestic and overseas factories, I debuted a collection of products ranging from swimwear and cover-ups, to sundresses, beach bags, sun hats, boat shoes and more. The cornerstone of our new brand’s identity is body positivity and size inclusivity for sizes 2 to 26. My idea behind the collection was to design for someone like myself, who wants a vacation-ready wardrobe that looks like the perfect combination of both curated and effortless style. Impressed with my vision for the company, design aesthetic, organization and professionalism, Lemonis promoted me to full-time president and designer of the rebranded company, Siloett. Siloett now has healthy business-to-consumer and business-to-business sales; multiple articles in WWD and California Apparel News; and two showrooms, one in the New Mart Building in Los Angeles and one on Park Avenue in New York.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Thanks to my professors, I felt confident entering the fashion industry. Learning from these experienced design professionals, I knew what to expect in such a fast-paced industry and was well prepared to handle any task thrown my way.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I can’t wait to see more women in positions of power in the fashion industry. I want to do whatever I can to help create an encouraging environment for women who are poised to take on more dominant roles in the workplace.
Prerak Shah 31
BS biology ’07
Chief counsel, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: It would be an understatement to say that a lot is happening in Washington, D.C., right now. In that sense, this job has been the greatest accomplishment of my career (so far). Having the opportunity to work with Senator Ted Cruz on many of the most important issues facing our country today has been both exhilarating and humbling.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: My job touches on issues spanning innumerable subject areas. One of the ways in which Drexel helped give me a strong foundation for my current position was the freedom the university offered to pursue my own plan of study. Although I was a biology major, I also pursued multiple minors and filled my schedule with countless other classes in disparate subject matters. That diversity of education and experience has proven invaluable in dealing with all the issues that come before the U.S. Senate these days.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Whether it’s in government or out, I hope I will continue to have an opportunity to serve the public — and that I can look back on my time in the Senate and say that I was able to, in some tangible way, make things better.
Elan Vinokurov 31
BS sport management ’10
President and owner, EV Hoops & Scout U
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Creating EV Hoops, a basketball scouting and consulting service that works with National Basketball Association (NBA) teams on their draft. We’ve been in existence since 2013 and have rapidly grown to become the best draft consulting service in the world. The trust and relationship we have with the NBA takes time, hard work and guts to earn. And we never, ever take it for granted.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: The late Dave O’Brien, an associate professor and director of the Sport Management program, and professor Neal Orkin were two major influences on me in college. Dave pushed me to find my own voice and explore my own path. And Neal helped me sharpen the ability to use logic and critical thinking.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Obviously running an NBA team is an ideal goal and is something that will always be on my radar. But in the meantime, I want to create new jobs and continue teaching and developing. Every single day I think about how my business can grow and evolve not only one year from now, but five to 10 years from now. I want to revolutionize how the draft is covered, while developing the next generation of draft evaluators as well.
Tucker Collins 24
BS neurochemistry ’17 (Custom-Designed Major)
College of Medicine graduate student Tucker Collins’ interest in neuroscience isn’t merely academic…he is also on the autism spectrum.
Tucker Collins transferred to Drexel after one year at Georgetown University in search of a stronger science program; but he found something even more important: A growing awareness of himself as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s is a high-functioning variant of autism spectrum disorder, which includes a range of conditions around social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. The disorder “fundamentally alters individuals’ abilities to interact and communicate,” according to the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.
Despite the challenges, Tucker thrived in his Drexel years, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in neurochemistry from the Custom Design Major Program run by the Pennoni Honors College, while also taking on a role as an energetic advocate for the autism community.
Academic life was not without its hurdles. “My challenge is with writing. I take tests very well so I have never gotten disability accommodation, but it’s harder to put words together to make sense, to get the idea out of my head and onto a computer screen,” he says. “I will word something one way and then go back and rewrite many times over, which ends up making things take a lot more time.”
In meeting such challenges, Tucker found support outside of his biological family through a unique relationship. When he was 17, he met Amber Dorko Stopper and Benjamin Levin and their children through a babysitting job. Stopper’s father also had Asperger’s and when she realized that Tucker had never been diagnosed or treated, much less understood by his biological family, she and her husband began helping him to learn more about the condition.
When he transferred to Drexel, the couple was able to assist him with key decisions through the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which permits students to share information with designated support persons other than parents, and they invited him to move in with them while he attended college.
“I felt that Tucker might need some support rather than criticism,” Stopper recalled in an article she and Tucker co-wrote about their relationship for the Organization for Autism Research. “In 2013, he became a member of our household, though we had already long considered him family.”
Tucker went on to win a scholarship from the Drexel Autism Support Program in 2016, and while an undergraduate he worked on a number of projects to engage the community on autism issues. In one instance, he worked with the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute to bring the autism-inspired comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us to campus.
Why a comedy show? “It brings attention to the fact that having a disability doesn’t mean that someone is incapable,” he says. “These guys tour all the time, they have toured Europe and they are doing really well for themselves. They are all on the autism spectrum, but it’s not about being disabled by it. That’s not how they feel — and it’s not how I feel.”
He’s currently working with music school School of Rock Philadelphia to create a one-week summer program for kids and adults on the autism spectrum, and he has an eye toward a future in which people with autism find readier acceptance in mainstream employment.
Employment is a big issue in the autism community: People on the spectrum often stumble in job interviews and they can struggle on the interpersonal front. Inspired by Tucker’s efforts, Levin and Stopper founded Ninja Goat Nutritionals, a local firm that hires heavily in the autistic community. The company recently launched Try It Aut, a subscription services that delivers tactile stimuli — soft brushes, putty, orange-scented pumice soap — as a way to encourage personal growth and stimulate discussion for those on the spectrum.
Tucker is now pursuing a master’s degree in Drexel’s College of Medicine, where he’s doing neuroscience research, looking at the chemical processes by which the brain interprets life experience.
“We have learned more about the brain in the last few decades than we learned in the 200 years before that,” he says. “But we still have a long way to go.” — Adam Stone
Chris Bee 38
Senior engineering manager, Uber
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Leading product and engineering teams at world-class tech companies including Uber, Amazon and Microsoft. I’ve owned the planning and execution of several high-profile product releases for Uber Central, Amazon Prime Music and MSN. I’ve been awarded a U.S. patent for an invention around streaming media content. At Uber, I’ve been able to grow my engineering team 5x while building a great team culture. Sharing my learnings is a priority, and I’m also a mentor to other technical managers through a formal mentor network as well as an adviser for two growing tech startups.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: The Drexel MBA taught me how to analyze market opportunities and create a product strategy. Alongside that, I also learned the hands-on skills to lead a team and execute against that vision efficiently.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Intelligence and machine learning are going to make our lives more convenient and connected than we ever thought possible. As technology continues to evolve, humans will find new ways to work and interact. I plan to be an integral part of that change by taking all I’ve learned from the amazing companies I’ve worked at along with my Drexel education and apply it to an area that will have a positive impact on our world’s future.
Corina Lam 29
BS business administration ’10
Head of HR Advisory, Global Strategic Alliances, SAP
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I have had amazing opportunities in the short seven years since my graduation. I have been able to work for the CEO of SAP, executing the strategy and vision for more than 85,000 employees, become the chief of staff of SAP’s global partner operations managing over 13,500 companies in our ecosystem, travel around the world, work with board members to make decisions, and manage demanding projects and intense situations. Throughout all the exciting opportunities that have required my full-time commitment, my greatest accomplishment up to this day is to live in the moment, prioritize what truly matters and keep family first.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Drexel gave me the opportunity to learn, experiment and understand different cultures, especially in the corporate world. I transferred in from another school, as I had originally wanted to be a pharmacist. I can confidently say that transferring to Drexel and going through the co-op program was one of the best decisions I ever made (next to marrying my husband, who also went to Drexel). To give back to Drexel, I am also now on the executive committee of the Drexel Alumni Board of Governors and just started my executive MBA.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I’d like to find time to volunteer with a nonprofit and create a program for children in the city to explore nature, or work on building up an organization for a meaningful cause. Many children are preoccupied with their devices and often miss the beauty around them, so I would like to create a program for them in the city to spend time outdoors, such as planting fruits and vegetables in a garden or going to the park.
Thomas Wall 31
MS nonprofit arts administration ’15
Juggler, Cirque du Soleil “Totem”
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I’ve performed in cabarets and theaters across North America, as well as in a women’s hospital in Ethiopia, smokey bars with the Hellzapoppin Sideshow Revue, alongside the Rockettes at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, in circus tents in Australia and New Zealand, and in crumbling venues in Latvia. In 2014, I caught the eye of Cirque du Soleil and was hired to fill in for an injured juggler on a temporary basis. Three years later, I was signed on as a permanent feature on the show “Totem.” This summer, I was invited by the Smithsonian Institution to perform at the 50th annual Folklife Festival, presenting my show about the history of juggling on the National Mall. It was a huge honor, representing my entire field on behalf of America’s museum.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: My decision to enroll at Drexel came after spending four years on the International Jugglers’ Association’s (IJA) board of directors. There, I realized how important it was for arts organizations to have strong administrators. My time at Drexel taught me all kinds of lessons — balancing the books, strategic planning and public relations. Learning to market in the arts is invaluable — beyond my work with the IJA, this education has helped me produce and promote my own shows and others’. Since graduating, I’ve also started work as a consultant to other performers and nonprofit arts groups.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: With the closing of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and the near-collapse of the Big Apple Circus, you might think the American tradition of circus is in trouble. However, the circus arts are experiencing an incredible rejuvenation. New schools and studios are opening all over the country, and appreciation for the art is slowly growing. I’m excited to play a role — however small it may be — in the development of young performers’ careers and in educating the public about the craft of juggling through my own work.
Marti Lieberman 28
BS communications ’11
Owner, Mac Mart Mac ’n Cheesery (two restaurant locations and a food truck in Philadelphia and Newark, Delaware)
MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: My Mac Mart food truck debuted on the streets of University City in winter 2013. Without much experience running my own business, let alone a food truck, I knew there were some kinks to work out, but I was determined to succeed. Shortly after opening, I brought on two people to complete my team: my sister Pamela and my boyfriend Garrett Jablonski. By combining my strong work ethic with my background in public relations, plus Pamela’s love of all things culinary and Garrett’s brawn for day-to-day operations, the bright pink truck became an instant hit at private affairs, night markets and food festivals. Catering for the likes of Forbes , Starr Events, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia 76ers and Wawa executives, to name a few, Mac Mart built up quite a following. With a large social media presence and constantly selling out the famous mac and cheese, I figured it was high time to open a flagship storefront. After months of planning, Mac Mart opened in Rittenhouse Square in spring 2016. In 2018, Mac Mart will be opening a second shop at the University of Delaware and a handful of other college campuses to follow. I also plan to enter into the gourmet foods e-commerce world selling trays of mac ’n cheese all around the country.
HOW DREXEL HELPED: Networking and professionalism. In a field where suits, handshakes and eye contact are not always recognized, Drexel taught me that no matter what situation or work environment I am in, those things matter and they make a difference. I have confidence when public speaking, I comfortably navigate a room to network and expand my work relationships, and I am always 10 minutes early! Professionalism is a huge part of what I took away from Drexel.
MY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: I would like us to continue to grow while keeping the same values, quality and customer-service standards we started with on our food truck — after all, that’s what got us here! We are also working on ways to get our mac ’n cheese creations shipped nationwide for others to be able to get their mac on even if they can’t make it to Philadelphia and Delaware, so stay tuned for that!