John J. Peirce, PE (BS 1973, MS 1978 civil engineering); Jennifer Peirce Brandt, PE (BS 1995 architectural engineering, BS 1995 civil engineering); John J. Peirce III (BS 2011 eivil engineering); and Caroline "Cari" Peirce (BS 2006 marketing)
Between them they have six Drexel degrees, but the Peirce family’s connections to the University go far beyond their diplomas.
Between 1973 and 2011, John Peirce and three of his four children graduated from Drexel. John ’73, ’78; his oldest daughter Jen ’95, ’95; and his son Johnny ’11 all graduated from the College of Engineering, while his youngest daughter Cari ’06 chose a slightly different path, graduating with a degree in marketing.
“Drexel grads are everywhere,” said John. “It used to be a secret. Nobody really knew about Drexel, but that has changed a lot.”
John grew up in Philadelphia, his father a police officer and his mother a waitress. As the first member of his immediate family to go to college, he said that he had little guidance and the only thing he was sure of was that he wanted to be involved in construction.
“Way back, maybe in the 50’s, Drexel won the GE College Bowl on TV so I thought it must be a good school,” said John. “I was accepted to Drexel and St. Joseph’s University and I got lucky and made the right decision to go to Drexel.”
Jen and Johnny decided to go to Drexel to study engineering like their father, and also to play sports and take advantage of Drexel’s Co-op program. Cari, who now works in pharmaceutical sales in New Jersey, said that, like her sister, she was also drawn to the field hockey program and liked that Drexel was close to home.
Today, John, his wife, and Jen own Peirce Engineering, Inc. in Phoenixville, Pa. which they started in 1992. Peirce Engineering provides construction engineering design services to support and protect existing structures, streets, and adjacent utilities, for the construction of roads, bridges, and buildings.
“I never intended to be an entrepreneur but through a series of circumstances I had to make the decision to either get a new job or go out on my own,” he said. “I tell people, to start your own business you need to have experience, a product or service that people want, and perseverance. I had all of those things; I just didn’t know it.”
After a few months as a sole proprietor, John approached his wife and Jen about incorporating and as Jen put it, “we all jumped in together.”
“We’ve been lucky enough that the network of people we work with keeps growing,” said John “Some days are slow and we think about looking for work but then the phone rings. We’re pretty well known in what we do.”
Jen added, “One of the nice things about working at Peirce is that I get a little bit of everything. We can work on a highway project, a bridge, a condo or a bulkhead out on the water.”
Peirce Engineering, Inc. designed the temporary excavation
support system for the construction of Gerri C. LeBow Hall.
Making it a true family affair, John III joined the team in 2006.
Over the years, Peirce Engineering has played an important role in major construction projects at Drexel including the Recreation Center, the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, Gerri C. LeBow Hall, and the Lancaster Avenue and 34th Street development which broke ground on Nov. 1, 2013.
“Basically, what we do is design temporary walls to hold up streets and other buildings so they can start a project without things collapsing,” said John. “It’s nice to be able to say you helped to build something at your own university.”
In addition to their work at Drexel, Peirce Engineering also supports Drexel’s Concrete Canoe team. As a senior, John was a member of the first Concrete Canoe team at Drexel from 1972 to 1973. Concrete Canoe is exactly as it sounds—students work together to build canoes out of concrete and then race them against other universities at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual Concrete Canoe Competition. John’s race in the spring of 1973 was on a much smaller scale than it is today, and took place among local schools on the Schuylkill River.
“Concrete Canoe is about working as a team, developing new types of materials and pushing the envelope of concrete construction,” said John. “Our team made one canoe out of concrete and crushed glass and we made another out of concrete and incinerator ash.”
John and his teammates construct Drexel's first-ever
concrete canoe in 1973.
Though both canoes placed second to last in their races, the entire experience was one that John recalls fondly. Today, Peirce Engineering supports Drexel’s Concrete Canoe team so that the 40+ year tradition can continue on.
“It was something that dad has such great memories of, why wouldn’t we support it?” said Jen. “We were on campus for a tour recently and we saw the area where the students work on the canoes and he was just amazed by how far they’ve come over the years.”
“Plus, we can see what the students get out of it,” said Johnny. “It’s a positive experience that enriches the lives of students and hopefully makes them more interested in engineering.”
Now all alumni, John and his children share memories and swap stories and experiences from their days on campus.
“There’s such a big chunk of time that at least one of us was at Drexel,” said Johnny. “It comes up almost inevitably when we’re talking about something from our past. If we hang out with friends it’s almost guaranteed to be a mini Drexel reunion.”
John, who over the last five decades has played the role of Drexel student, parent and graduate, summed things up well when he said, “Sometimes it feels like we never left!”