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Beyond Material Things:
  Drexel MSE students and alums employ
  their expertise to lend a helping hand

Meeting challenges. Solving problems. These are tenets that define engineers. Although "helping others" may not immediately come to mind, Drexel MSE students are familiar with this important component of what it means to be an engineer. The program is fortunate to have a cadre of current students and alumni who have used their engineering skills to pursue careers and projects in service.

Drexel’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) has a tradition of leadership from MSE students. EWB is an international humanitarian organization striving to help people help themselves by providing clean water and durable shelters to developing communities using appropriate and sustainable technology. Current EWB president is B.S./Ph.D. student Prineha Narang (advisor: Yury Gogotsi) and B.S./M.S. student Valarie Pelletier (advisor: Yury Gogotsi) serves as PR Representative. B.S./M.S. student Mike Sexton (advisor: Antonios Zavaliangos) served as EWB president in 2007-08 and B.S./M.S. student Charles "CJ" Spencer (advisor: Michel Barsoum) was EWB’s first Community Outreach Chair.

Mike Sexton performs water quality testing in a stream north of a community in Miramar, El Salvador as part of his work with Drexel Engineers Without Borders
Mike Sexton performs water quality testing in a stream north of a community in Miramar, El Salvador as part of his work with Drexel Engineers Without Borders

Now Sexton is preparing to enter the Peace Corps in June. He will serve as a science teacher in Africa; his exact location is as of yet unknown. Sexton has several ideas for community development projects for Engineers Without Borders that would improve water supplies and distribution, health facilities, and transportation.

"I hope to reduce the daily hardships of the community I am placed in with my experiences and education," says Sexton. Driven by a desire to help others and an interest in volunteerism, Sexton was motivated to pursue EWB and ultimately the Peace Corps. He found the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to real world experiences that make a direct impact in a community to be profoundly meaningful. He has found inspiration in the people he has met and the values and experiences he has gained through his pursuit of the MSE degree.

"I always have and always will speak very highly of the MSE department at Drexel. Their passion for materials science has motivated me to pursue my passions and that is something for which I will be eternally grateful," says Sexton.

Currently employed with City Year, Spencer got involved with volunteering through work with EWB on the Miramar Project Team, traveling to El Salvador to complete an assessment of the community’s needs. As Community Outreach Chair for EWB, he helped to coordinate service projects for the organization within the Philadelphia community through Philly Cares and Drexel’s Center for Civic Engagement. Like Sexton, he was eager to apply his engineering education to give back to the community.

"I want to show people majoring in engineering that there are options beyond industry or academia after graduation," says Spencer. In relating his MSE degree to community outreach, he believes that fundamentally the development of materials, such as newer, more effective water filters and cheaper building materials, is directly relevant to the betterment of society. Spencer also advises that working with any type of service organization contributes to building leadership skills and hones the confidence to confront challenging situations.

Valarie Pelletier with school children on a Drexel Engineers Without Borders trip to Jamaica
Valarie Pelletier with school children on a Drexel Engineers Without Borders trip to Jamaica

Inspired by her involvement in volunteer opportunities, Pelletier has also decided to pursue the Peace Corps. She is currently in the midst of the application process and has been nominated to teach secondary math in Africa in the fall of 2010. The Peace Corps combines Pelletier’s love for travel with her interest in applying her skills and knowledge to help others.

In the Peace Corps, "not only will I be helping other people, but they will be teaching me about different cultures and giving me new insights and perspectives," says Pelletier. Her previous volunteer experiences include Alternative Spring Break trips and current work with EWB, as well as work as a volunteer math tutor and mentor at a local elementary school in West Philadelphia. Even if she is assigned to teach math, she hopes to initiate an engineering project while a Peace Corps volunteer, possibly in conjunction with EWB.

Pelletier hopes to make a difference in at least one person’s life and to apply the problem solving skills she has gained while an MSE student in the Peace Corps. "Peace Corps and life abroad can be very challenging, and I will need to be innovative, creative, flexible, collaborative, and know how to problem solve."

Are you an alum currently working in community service or a unique career? Please contact Dorilona Rose to share your story and to be featured on our website.

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Last updated Friday, May 28, 2010