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Twin Drexel Students Bring Home Goldwater Scholarships

Rishon and Alex Benjamin
Rishon (left) and Alex Benjamin.

April 14, 2014

Rishon Benjamin won the Goldwater Scholarship last year, and this year his twin brother, Alex, won the same prestigious honor. But don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s any competition between the two College of Engineering and Penonni Honors College students.

“I don't think we have ever been competitive when it comes to learning,” said Rishon, a junior chemical engineering student. “Ever since we were little, we have always worked together on ideas, be it academic or otherwise. The goal is to be the best we both can be and not compete to be better than the other.”

According to Alex, who is in his fourth year of the mechanical engineering BS/MS program, there wasn’t any pressure from their parents to apply for the scholarship, either.

“Our family is immensely proud of us and our efforts and achievements so far. We hope to be able to keep up the good work and continue to make them proud,” he said.

If anything, the brothers applied for the scholarship for personal satisfaction and to compete against more than 1,000 other students across the country in the science, mathematics and engineering fields who apply each year. Besides the academic distinction, the scholarship covers the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

“I applied for this scholarship for the sole reason that at some point in every student’s life, there comes a point where he wants to challenge himself on a new level,” said Alex. “Let’s face it: I was competing with gifted students from amazing institutions across the nation, and the thrill of the competition was motivation enough.”.

That competition will continue as the students work toward their respective PhDs, just like virtually all of the other Goldwater Scholars. Rishon hopes that the distinction will help him complete competitive applications for graduate school and graduate fellowships, since he says the Goldwater Scholarship helped solidify his plans to purse a research-oriented career.

Rishon is currently working at Inolex Chemical Company for his co-op to help with the production of “green” polymers for use in personal care products. Alex is also on co-op working at Imaging Sciences in Hatfield, Pa., as a mechanical engineer. Alex is analyzing and conducting simulations on a Next Generation Intraoral X-Ray System that subjects patients to minimal doses of X-rays and also allows medical professionals to image specific areas of the mouth with minimal effort.

Both twins have worked with Drexel professors before and after receiving the scholarships.

During the summer after his freshman year, Rishon worked as a STAR Scholar with his eventual Goldwater adviser, Yossef Elabd, PhD, a professor in the College of Engineering. Elabd's lab is focused on alternative energy sources and their development, and Rishon works on the development of novel polymers for use in fuel cells. For the past four years, he’s also been involved with research conducted by Pavel Grinfeld, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Math Department, to develop MATLAB routines to analyze the behavior of fluid films under the influence of forces like gravity and surface tension.

“Some of my most educational, insightful and developmental experiences at Drexel have come from working with these two brilliant professors,” Rishon said.

Alex has also spent the past four years working with Grinfeld and his brother on problems pertaining to the dynamic nature of fluid films. He also conducts extensive research with E. Caglan Kumbur, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering and an investigator of the Electrochemical Systems Laboratory. He is working to optimize the performance and viability of vanadium redox flow batteries for alternative energy storage to improve the capacity and performance of the storage, which can be negatively affected when ions are unnecessarily mixed.

After finding research mentors at Drexel and growing up with “someone whom I can discuss a wide variety of topics with and expect to learn new things from and further grow as an individual,” as Rishon explained, the brothers have also found support in the Drexel Fellowships Office.

 “Alex and Rishon are each a real pleasure to work with. They are both smart, dedicated and focused, but also articulate, mature, and charming. They’ve taken advantage of what Drexel has to offer in the best possible way, building their research, professional and leadership experiences alongside their academics,” said Rona Buchalter, PhD, director of the Drexel Fellowships Office. 

With one year left at Drexel, the Benjamins are beginning to formulate their post-graduate lives. One thing is for sure: They will always have each other to inspire and foster a love of learning and academic excellence.

“Our parents continue to joke that they consider us to pretty much be the same person and that what one of us gets, the other will eventually end up with too,” Rishon said.