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Scholarship Winner Colby Mills-King, Both a Mentee and a Mentor

January 11, 2018

Earlier this winter, Colby Mills-King ’19 attended a dinner reception on campus surrounded by strangers whose last names were strikingly similar to the scholarships being awarded that night. Amid the “fancy food and nice dishes and laughing and stuff,” it didn’t occur to Mills-King that those strangers were seated with him for a reason. After he won two scholarships, including the prestigious Anthony and Antoinette T. Caneris Award, Mills-King realized that had been part of the plan all along.

“These people at the table with me and my parents, I didn’t even know who they were. I didn’t know at that point what I had won,” he said, laughing. “I thought we were just getting to know each other and connecting. Little did I realize that they were the ones who gave me the scholarships.”

Mills-King took home the Caneris Award and the Steve Irby DUBAC Scholarship at the Student Life Awards Reception, a double win amounting to nearly $16,000 that he described as “one of the happiest moments of my life.”

The awards were a fitting honor for the electrical engineering major who has spent much of his young life mentoring grade-school students, teaching classes about engineering as a way forward for a demographic unaccustomed to them. He has worked with the Rhodes Elementary School in South Philly through Drexel’s Civic Engagement office, and with the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids through the local chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). There, he was given a “curriculum and a classroom of 30.” He managed that particular challenge by staging weekly robot-building competitions against other classes. They became so popular that parents started showing up for class.

Mills-King has a knack for mentoring partly because he has been so well mentored himself. The gold standard for him is the NSBE, which he calls “my second family.” Now president of the Drexel chapter, Mills-King said members and advisors to the group showed him how to survive his hardest classes, where he could fit in, and how others facing obstacles similar to his own surmounted them. Through NSBE, he founded the Our Children’s Program with a friend from Temple University. Held on summer Saturdays, the program combined practical lessons in engineering with career mentoring for middle and high school students. He also leads a bridge program between NSBE members at Drexel and students at West Catholic Preparatory High School in University City.

Mills-King grew up in Sickerville, New Jersey. He presently lives in Clementon, New Jersey.

Two former co-ops have enriched his credentials and his understanding of what works best in the real world. During his first co-op at Lockheed Martin, Mills-King served as a systems engineer on a ballistic missile defense system. He chose a different path for his second co-op, working with chemical engineers at a biotechnology company called Braskem USA. He will start his third and final co-op in March as a technology analyst with Accenture here in Philadelphia.

For Mills-King, the take-away message from each co-op is simple: acknowledge what you don’t know and set about learning it.

“The first step is showing a willingness to learn. You just have to ask questions and be present,” he said. “A lot of students get in the habit of sitting in their office and observing. There is a lot of the stuff you’re not going to understand, and the people you work with know that. They want you to be engaged. They want you to sit at the table.

“At Lockheed, we had our busy days. But on one of the slow days, I just went up to an engineer and said, ‘Can I shadow you today and see what you do?’ And he was honored by that. I followed him and I learned so much. I definitely encourage students to show that willingness to learn. They’ll see that and they’ll reward you. Just be present and active.”

Following graduation next year, Mills-King hopes to start a renewable energy engineering company. In fact, he has visited several area universities in search of like-minded students, laying the groundwork and motivating prospective partners.

“I’m enjoying every moment at Drexel,” Mills-King said. “The main thing for me is learning as much as possible and making connections. And inspiring people. That’s the most important thing. As long as I’m having that kind of impact, I’m happy at the end of the day.”

- By Wendy Plump, Staff Writer, CoE