Since the first day of her first co-op at the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, Coleen Clancy Cellini ’80 knew she had found her life’s work.
“I immediately loved it,” says the civil engineer, 58, who lives in Cinnaminson, N.J. Wearing a hardhat and steel-tipped boots, she worked on repairs and alterations to facilities that supported the Navy, its ships and its sailors and their families who lived at the base. “I love being outside. I’m a very visual person. I like seeing things being built.”
Cellini returned to the base’s construction office for three more co-ops and was hired upon graduation. For the next 17 years, she worked at the Naval Base. Her projects included a $16 million contract for the historic preservation and restoration of the 1875 Engineering Management Building. She also was a senior facilities planner involved with the base closure and realignment of the Philadelphia Naval Base in the early 1990s.
Cellini, who now does similar work for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), says she owes her career to Drexel’s co-op system, one of the main reasons she chose to attend the university. “I’m an engineer because of that co-op,” she says.
Her youngest son, Stephen, also recognized the wisdom in an education that included practical experience. He graduated from Drexel in June 2016 and put his computer engineering degree to use at Dell in Berwyn, where he did a co-op and now works on software programming.
“One of Drexel’s priorities is to prepare you for getting hired after graduation.” Cellini says. “It provides opportunities in the real world. You get experience with practical as well as soft skills in addition to working with professionals.”
Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, this child of a nurse and plumber commuted on the El to Drexel’s campus. She picked this particular university, she says, because the co-ops afforded a way to pay for her education. Once there, she found the curriculum rigorous. “I was of the era where they said, `Look right. Look left. One of you won’t be here next semester,’” she says. “It was brutal.”
In 1993, the mother of three resigned from the Federal Government to raise her young sons. Five years later, when Stephen entered kindergarten, she became a substitute teacher before rejoining NAVFAC’s Lester, Pa., office as a project manager in 2003. When the site closed two years later, Cellini was hired by GSA in Philadelphia.
“It was the same type of work,” she says, “just our customers were different.” She managed customer relations and renovation projects, including a $10 million lease renovation for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 70,000 square feet of office space in King of Prussia.
Currently, Coleen is a supervisory general engineer for leases and federal buildings in the Pittsburgh and West Virginia section of GSA, focusing on alterations, renovations, repairs and upgrades. She also manages a “small” projects program ($10 million to $12 million) for federal buildings located in Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.
On recent visits to campus, she has been “wowed by how far Drexel has advanced,” she says. “I’m proud to be a Drexel alumni. It helped me find what I love in life, and I’m working it today.”
By Lini S. Kadaba