Partnerships and Projects: Drexel's Recent Industry and Civic Engagement Connections

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Last term, Drexel University — through its colleges, schools, other units and programs — created a variety of new collaborations between industry, community or nonprofit partnerships as well as civic engagement. This update offers a snapshot of activity courtesy of the Office of the Provost and the Office of University and Community Partnerships.

Civic Engagement

In July, the College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) hosted 98 campers — composed of rising high school juniors, seniors and accepted CCI students — as part of its three-week, in-person Digital Development Camp. In its fourth year, the program engaged campers in in-person instruction, peer collaboration and self-paced project development in one of three focus areas of their choosing: full-stack Web development, data science or a new human-computer interaction track. Thanks to the generosity of Carol Auerbach, who is a member of CCI’s Dean’s Executive Advisory Council, the College sponsored attendance for 30 campers who expressed an interest in studying cybersecurity. 

The Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design once again welcomed the exhibition Artists for All Seasons to the URBN Center. The exhibition is composed of artworks by Project HOME community artists. Project HOME is an organization that provides transition housing and education for people who have experienced homelessness. Artists for All Seasons exhibited in the URBN Center with support from Drexel for years before it was disrupted by the pandemic.

Renee Turchi, MD, professor and academic chair of pediatrics in the College of Medicine, organized an end-of-summer carnival at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children that also provided 2,000 children in North Philadelphia with much-needed school supplies. College of Medicine students helped to organize and staff the event, which also included food, games and health screenings.

The Action for Early Learning (AFEL) successfully implemented the third year of the Summer Kindergarten Bridge (K-Bridge) Program to support rising kindergarteners’ transition to school with a focus on social emotional learning. All students received free breakfast and lunch provided by the School District of Philadelphia. The first two years took place in West Philadelphia at Powel Elementary School, in partnership with the West Philly Promise Neighborhood and Drexel’s School of Education (SoE), with support from PNC Grow Up Great, Vanguard Strong Start for Kids and in partnership with Temple University’s School of Education. This year, the Summer K-Bridge Program expanded to a second location at William Cramp School in North Philadelphia. Drexel SoE graduate students supervised the program and supported research/evaluation. More than 50 students participated in programming at the two sites over five weeks. AFEL received funding from several sources, including: 

  • William Penn Foundation funded $156,000 over two years to be used to partner with Out of School Time (OST) providers to extend the hours of the Summer K-Bridge Program from a half-day to full-day program.
  • School District of Philadelphia provided $15,000 to support the Transition Program for Kindergarten students and parents/caregivers for summer 2023. 

During orientation, incoming medical students at the College of Medicine at Tower Health participated in a mural-painting event, in collaboration with Albright College, Berks Community Murals and the Council on Chemical Abuse. Designed by local artist Marian Njai, the mural painted at 11th and Richmond streets in Reading is based on the addiction recovery story of community member Yvonne Stroman.

Lindy Scholars organized tours this summer for 110 middle school students to visit Drexel’s campus with three local camps led by Sunrise of Philadelphia, Urban League of Philadelphia and Heights Philadelphia. Drexel’s University Marketing & Communications team developed a tour script geared to the young audience, and teams at the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship and College of Engineering offered tours of their buildings and hands-on activities to some of the groups.

The Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships and Fab Youth Philly partnered with Drexel Athletics and the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Recreation to provide lifeguard certification training to Philadelphia teens through free access to Drexel’s pool. Thirteen teens graduated and were hired as lifeguards by the City, enabling three previously closed local community pools to open this summer.

Franco Montalto, PhD, professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, led an effort by Drexel’s Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Laboratory and Environmental Collaboratory, The Water Center of the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University’s College of Engineering’s Center for Resilient Water Systems to form the Academic Network to Support Urban Water Resilience (ANSUWR). Funded by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, the ANSUWR will work with community organizations to identify research proposals that leverage areas of need and turn them into projects that students and researchers at the partner universities will undertake.

Vera Lee, EdD, clinical professor in the School of Education, was invited to become a member of the Belmont Charter Network Advisory Board. Belmont Charter School is an important partner of the School of Education’s work in the West Philly Promise Neighborhood.

The Dornsife Center partnered with a number of organizations to provide summer program experiences, including: Urban League of Philadelphia’s Empowering Scholars Summer Camp, serving middle school youth; MET WorkReady Youth Development Work Experience, serving high school youth; Fab Youth Philly Play Captains, workforce development for ages 15–19; Philadelphia Academies Inc., WorkReady Summer Professional Development Fridays; FamFrequency, youth music production and entrepreneurship; Lil Filmmakers, youth filmmaking and multimedia skills development; and Beyond Literacy, adult GED and career skills building.

Drexel received a new grant from the City of Philadelphia to expand support for adult learners at the Dornsife Center, including funding for 50 additional laptops for learners who complete digital literacy certifications.

The Urban League continues to offer its evening digital skills classes and Beyond Literacy launched adult basic education and high school equivalency preparation classes at the Beachell Family Learning Center

The ExCITe Center has been actively promoting the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), PHLConnectEd and other free internet options through its Digital Navigators program. To date, the Digital Navigators program has distributed more than 500 new and refurbished computers to community members.

The B Smart small business training program, an entrepreneurship program offered by Drexel and Vested In, launched a cohort of 16 entrepreneurs and small business owners in August. The 10-week program consists of a weekly workshop that supports local business owners building their existing capacity and budding entrepreneurs planning their business ideas.

The Lindy Scholars Program offered after-school club opportunities with two local schools this past spring. The eSports Program at the Dornsife Center, in partnership with faculty from the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business, offered sessions for students at Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLA-MS) (with Sunrise of Philadelphia) and Morton McMichael (with Heights Philadelphia). Drexel Graduate Women in Science and Engineering led a club at SLA-MS (with Sunrise) to build miniature solar cars.

The West Philly Promise Neighborhood reimagined the Promise Village, an outreach program that coordinates partners’ participation in local community days and other festivals organized by community organizations. This can include providing tables, chairs and canopies for each participating partner, as well as honoring the work Drexel’s neighbors do daily to improve the lives of neighborhood youth and families. Participating partners in Promise Village events included: College of Medicine, Drexel Medicine/Smoking Cessation, Beachell Family Learning Center, Public Safety, College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUB, Dornsife Center and Drexel Digital Navigators. They were visible at HopePhl Men’s Community Day, 16th District/Mount Vernon Manor Community Day, Drexel Public Safety National Night Out, Mill Creek Community Day, West Belmont Community Day and Philadelphia Zoo Community Night.

The West Philly Promise Neighborhood assisted several Drexel partners in building engagement with local communities, including: Drexel Athletics in collecting over 200 swimsuits to donate to the Tiffany Fletcher public swimming pool in Millcreek; the Thomas R. Kline School of Law in hosting a neighborhood luncheon and tour, where the students met with six community leaders from Mantua, East Parkside and The New Africa Center in Belmont; Drexel Public Safety in hosting National Night Out; and Drexel’s Environmental Collaboratory in refining an environmental justice presentation for the community.

The Drexel University AmeriCorps Program concluded its inaugural year, growing from two to 18 Drexel student co-ops. In the latest cohort, 18 students from various majors engaged in co-op experiences centered around digital literacy and workforce development for adult learners at different host sites, including the Beachell Family Learning Center at the Dornsife Center and Transition Pathways at A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.   

Academic Partnerships

The School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems was awarded nearly $1 million from New Jersey biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb to support the creation of a new cell and gene therapy academic program, which offers more workforce training for the growing cell and gene therapy industry.

Video game software company Dynasty 11 Studios partnered with the College of Computing & Informatics as part of the College’s Senior Project to leverage student innovation to design a player matching system. Thanks to this collaboration, a social networking and team building super app for gamers (named “Player 2”) launched on Aug. 20. Since beginning to work with Drexel in 2021, the company has advised four successful Player 2 senior project teams (a total of 24 students) and hired five of those students to join their team post-graduation (including one as Chief Technology Officer). 

Michael Glaser, associate professor of product design in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, was awarded $18,500 by ConvaTec, a leading medical technologies company, for the project “From Stigma to Statement: A Stome Lifestyle Research and Concept Development.” Glaser led a course in the fall, sponsored by ConvaTec, which challenged interdisciplinary student teams to design more attractive ostomy pouching systems without compromising medical function.

Denise Wolf, associate clinical professor of creative arts therapies in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, started a partnership with the Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLA-MS). Wolf, along with art therapy and counseling graduate students, conducted a six-week mini-session in “Therapeutic Artmaking.”

Katie Barak, PhD, associate director of Pennoni Honors College’s Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry, partnered with the Philadelphia Zoo to develop an interdisciplinary and experiential course on the cultural history of zoos. The course is part of the Symposium series themed “Animals in the City,” and examines zoos’ intersecting roles in education, conservation, commerce, animal welfare, etc. The course content and execution has been developed in collaboration with the Philadelphia Zoo, incorporating multiple trips to the zoo and a discussion on Drexel’s campus. 

Michelle McHugh, assistant teaching professor of television & media management in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, led a team of student researchers (undergraduate and graduate) in collaboration with the Drexel Solutions Institute. The team's research explored the digital media presence of St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, with a focus on deliverables designed to enhance the hospital's reputational branding and to build increased rapport with community members, donors, corporate partners and the healthcare field as a whole.

The Westphal College of Media Arts & Design fashion design program partnered with Nuuly, a clothing rental and resale marketplace for sustainability-focused coursework. “Drexel X Nuuly” is a circular design project in which third-year undergraduate fashion design majors create new designs from damaged garments at the end of their useful life to reduce waste. In the future, selected designs will be available for rental on Nuuly. 

International Connections

The Office of Drexel Global has developed, named, negotiated and executed their first “Direct Pathway” cohort of students from an Indian institution. Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar (SSN) College of Engineering in Chennai is sending nine students into Drexel’s BioMed MS program. Negotiations are continuing with 17 other schools to implement (and expand, in the case of SSN College of Engineering) similar “Direct Pathway” and other academic programs and recruitment strategies. Several research and teaching collaborations are being explored by faculty members at Drexel and with several Indian partners.

Chuck Sacco, associate dean for strategy and innovation, and Kristen Hayes, director of Strategic Partnerships, both of the Close School of Entrepreneurship, hosted students in partnership with the French American Chamber of Commerce from the ICN Business School in Nancy, France, to the Baiada Institute on June 2. The presentation demonstrated the importance and value of the Philadelphia region for future economic development opportunities for international innovators.

In June, the Drexel Libraries became the newest member of HathiTrust, a global collaborative of more than 200 academic and research libraries that preserves, digitizes and increases online access to collections. Thanks to this new membership, the Drexel community now has access to HathiTrust’s entire collection of digital resources, as well as specialized features that allow users to gather subsets of the digital library into collections that can be searched and browsed and facilitate access by persons with print disabilities. This membership also offers Drexel an opportunity to help steward the cultural record through increasingly interdependent work that develops capacity and sparks innovation.

Industry Partnerships

A partnership between the College of Computing & Informatics and Comcast Corporation to help reskill and upskill Comcast employees launched its second and third cohorts of 51 students this fall. The program allows Comcast employees to earn CCI master’s degrees in areas such as software engineering and business information technology (a joint program with the LeBow College of Business). As companies across all industries struggle to quickly scale up their talent to meet tech demands, the Comcast-Drexel CCI program continues to facilitate building lasting and effective in-house tech teams.

The LeBow College of Business’ Center for Business Analytics partnered with Freya Systems, a data-analytics company, during the summer term for a graduate-level consulting course on the commercial aviation industry for MS in Business Analytics students.

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