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Meet Undergraduate Student Commencement Speaker Tim Hanlon

By Gina Myers

Tim Hanlon


June 7, 2021

The 2021 College of Arts and Sciences Virtual Commencement Ceremony will be held on Tuesday, June 8, at 10 a.m. ET. The ceremony will feature two student speakers: Angel Hogan will represent graduate students, and Tim Hanlon will represent undergraduate students.

Hanlon is an honors biology major with a concentration in organismal biology and physiology, a minor in neuroscience, certificates in creative writing and in publishing, and is also the outgoing Student Body President. During his time at Drexel, he was the chair of the Undergraduate Student Government Association’s Sustainability Committee during his junior year, won the Drexel Publishing Group’s Writing Contest for humor the past three years, and ran in the Philadelphia Marathon. In addition to this, Hanlon has volunteered as an academic tutor for SquashSmarts since January 2018 and as a student volunteer at Penn Presbyterian Hospital during his junior year.

Hanlon recently took the time to reflect on his time at Drexel and share what’s in store for him after graduation.

Why did you decide to attend school at Drexel?

I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to go to school while I was applying, but after visiting campus I just felt like I couldn’t go anywhere else. Drexel is close enough to my home in Pittsburgh that I could get there if I needed to, but far enough to have some independence. There are also endless resources around campus. I think the overall selling point was co-op. I felt I wanted to be a doctor, but I knew co-op could give me the chance to determine if that was really what I wanted to do.

How would you describe the Drexel community to someone who is unfamiliar with the University?

Drexel is a place with endless opportunity and some of the hardest-working students you will ever meet. The upbeat academic pace forces you to be on top of your work and create strong bonds with peers in your major to study.

You’re graduating with a degree in Biology with an Organismal Biology and Physiology concentration, a Neuroscience minor and Creative Writing and Publishing Certificate. How did you arrive at this unique set of intellectual pursuits?

Coming into Drexel I knew I wanted to go to medical school, so the natural first step was to major in biology. After taking psychology spring of freshman year, I was enamored at how the brain and behavior worked and did a lot of independent reading over the pursuing summer, which led me to major in neuroscience.

I decided to do a certificate in creative writing and publishing after placing in the Drexel Writing Contest freshman year—I also ended up winning the humor category my sophomore – senior years. The group had asked me to consider taking the certificate and I happily agreed, as writing is both something I enjoy and it would give me a different cohort of classes aside from the science-based classes in my major and minor.

It seems like you really made your most of your time at Drexel. Can you tell me about the various groups, co-ops and other activities you have been a part of here?

Some highlights from my time here include:

Co-op: I completed a co-op at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where I led my own project looking at the synergy between immunotherapy and radiation treatment in bladder cancer. I actually got this job because I emailed a random researcher at HMS asking if I could do research with him. His lab was full, but he connected me with his colleague who I ended up working under.

Internship: During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I interned with world renowned vascular surgeon Paul Collier. Part of this time was spent shadowing him, the nurses and techs. The other time was spent as his research assistant for retrospective case studies. Through this work, we presented at the national vascular surgery conference and the northeast regional conference.

Student government: During my junior year, I served as the Chair of the Sustainability Committee where I did a number of things including:

  • Wrote and presented a formal proposal for an Office of Sustainability at Drexel
  • Led a committee of 10 students
  • Implemented reusable takeout container and water bottle programs
  • Created and run the annual Residential Hall Recycling Competition
  • Educated students on techniques to be more sustainable
  • Removed all Styrofoam from campus (including the Chick-fil-a location)

Currently, I hold the position of Student Body President, and we have worked on things like:

  • Making Election Day a University holiday (which we got national recognition for by CNN, NPR and a number of other universities, and we were awarded the Student Organization Award for Promoting Public Service and Social Responsibility from the Lindy Center for this as well)
  • International student employment to increase work opportunities for our international peers who cannot hold work study or off-campus positions
  • Wrote a proposal for a tuition freeze and the creation of a student stimulus fund
  • Wrote a proposal for the continuation of test-optional admissions applications
  • Created a document that nearly all faculty and senior admin received highlighting the benefits and detriments of online learning
  • Acted as a student representative on the Board of Trustees (BoT) and the BoT Student Life Committee

Volunteer work: Since January 2018, I have volunteered weekly with SquashSmarts as an academic tutor for elementary and middle school students and will continue to tutor remotely after graduation. I also volunteered at the Penn Presbyterian Hospital for a little over a year. For the last few months there I would often act more or less as the control center for the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)—telling people where to put incoming beds, bringing family in and out, answering/directing calls and letting surgeons know when their patients were ready.

Employment: During my junior year of high school a few friends and I started an odd jobs company to help people in our community. By sophomore year at Drexel, I was the Vice President of Operations, and we grew the company to over 250 clients and I had nearly 60 people working under me. While I mostly stepped away to focus more on academics, I still maintain some client accounts.

What do you think your biggest accomplishment was during your time at Drexel?

I think my biggest accomplishment is my work around sustainability. Starting in the spring of my freshman year, I began meeting with President Fry to talk about ways we could increase sustainability on campus. Through this work, I was connected with two other students who, at the time, were working on creating an Office of Sustainability at Drexel. Our initial proposal throughout this work failed, but we were successful in the implementation of a number of initiatives like replacing disposable takeout containers in the Hans with reusable ones, increasing Drexel’s engaging in Recyclemania, getting a biodigester in the Hans and a whole lot more. By my junior year, I was the Chair of the Sustainability Committee for the Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA), where we put together an even more robust proposal for an Office of Sustainability. This one garnered over 2,000 signatures in support from students, faculty, staff, community members and other universities. In alignment with work happening at the Academy of Natural Sciences and some faculty at Drexel, our work was able to create what I now call a primitive Office of Sustainability.

Along the way, I have done some other little things like won the Drexel Publishing Group’s Essay Contest humor category the past three years, was published seven times (including in the Journal of Vascular Surgery), presented at a number of conferences and sat on countless panels.

Do you have a favorite memory of your time here?

In November 2019 I ran the Philadelphia full marathon sporadically after not running for the previous 2.5 months. My dad was initially planning to run it but hurt his knee. I thought I would run from the start to the 8-mile mark on Drexel’s campus, but ended up gutting it out for the full thing. It’s been about 2.5 years and I think I am still recovering from it.

More specific to Drexel, I really enjoyed going to PISB on weekend mornings to study. I remember when I was taking organic chemistry, I used to completely cover the white boards with mechanisms and formulas. The building was also nearly always quiet so it was a nice little sanctuary in the middle of the city.

What do you think you’ll miss most about Drexel?

In my time here I have built really great relationships with a lot of fantastic people—students, faculty, staff and community members—who I will miss dearly. I’ve had some of my best memories with these people and have learned a lot from them along the way.

What’s next for you?

After Drexel, I will be returning to Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to continue my work on bladder cancer treatments. After a year or so there, the hope is to get into an MD/PhD program.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the incoming class of CoAS students?

Be bold, take chances and don’t forget to have fun. I spent a large portion of my first two years here doing almost nothing else but studying and academics. It really wasn’t until my senior year that I realized all the fun things around campus and the city.

How will you be celebrating commencement?

My family and I are going to Maine the week after graduation to hike, kayak and do other fun outdoors things—I am really looking forward to this nice break from academics. Aside from that, we are planning to go to brunch the morning before the University-wide ceremony with some of my cousins in the area.