College of Engineering Receives Four GAANN Grants

Drexel University’s College of Engineering proudly announces it is the recipient of four Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) grants from the US Department of Education, a remarkable success in this grant category.

The fellowships bring Drexel University’s accumulated GAANNs to 19 as of this year, putting it in the top three of all universities and colleges in the country and demonstrating Drexel’s commitment to graduate research. Roughly 100 Drexel students have been supported through this funding mechanism. Of that total, 40% are women and 11% are minority students.

Nearly 100 universities have received GAANN grants since 2004.

Grants are awarded to programs and institutions in order to sustain and enhance the capacity for teaching and research in areas of national need. The fellowships awarded to Drexel cover four areas of multidisciplinary research, and provide funding towards three years of tuition and stipends for superior graduate students with demonstrated financial need.

Among the GAANNs received this year is the Graduate Fellowships in Cybersecurity awarded to: Principal Investigator (PI) Adam Fontecchio, professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); and co-PIs Kapil Dandekar, professor, ECE; Steve Weber, professor, department head, ECE; Rachel Greenstadt, associate professor, College of Computing & Informatics (CCI); Jeremy Johnson, professor, ECE; Spiros Mancoridis, professor, CCI;  and Jennifer Stanford, associate professor, College of Arts and Sciences.

The GAANN Engineering for Pharmaceutical Problems Fellowships is awarded to: PI Steve Wrenn, professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE); and co-I Antonios Zavaliangos, professor, Materials Science and Engineering (MSE).

The GAANN Materials for Environmental Sustainability Fellowships is awarded to: PI Caroline Schauer, professor, MSE.

The GAANN Addressing Labor Shortages and Systems Understanding of Infrastructure Projects Fellowships is awarded to: PI Julie Drzymalski, clinical professor, Construction, Engineering and Project Management & Systems Engineering.

“Winning these awards demonstrates what visionary faculty we have – people who can identify what the technological needs for our country are and realize how we can support and educate graduate students to meet those needs here at Drexel,” said College Dean Sharon L. Walker, PhD. “I’m exceedingly proud of our faculty and know that this will have a transformative impact on our graduate programs here in the College of Engineering.”

According to Zavaliangos, the fellowships also focus the University’s recruitment of domestic students. “The influx of international students is really variable, especially now. Last year, for example, American universities had a real reduction in the applications of internationals. So, having a solid pool of domestic students makes sense in terms of maintaining the research enterprise here.

“These proposals are not just a matter of having a great idea; you have to prove that the area you are proposing is in an area of national need,” Zavaliangos added. “You have to prove that the organization has the right people in terms of research activity, and also a record of supporting and graduating the students that are funded.”

The Department of Education awards GAANN grants in the field of computer and information sciences and in professional engineering.

Graduate Fellowship in Cybersecurity

Adam Fontecchio
Adam Fontecchio

“It’s always a good moment when we can bring together a team and secure funding for students,” said Fontecchio, principal investigator for the grant. “It’s especially rewarding to be able to fund students in an emerging area like cybersecurity for multiple years of their studies.

“We only need to look around at the news these days to see the need for cybersecurity,” he added. “From the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica situation to the questions surrounding political elections, we encounter the needs for cybersecurity training throughout our lives.”

Under this grant, three fellows per year will step up to the significant challenge of securing cyberspace, said Fontecchio. Faculty mentors will assist by exposing graduate students with a background in engineering, computer science, and information science to a cybersecurity curriculum focused on the “security by design” principle, he added. Faculty members will also train graduates in pedagogy so graduates can directly apply their technical and scientific expertise in the context of an EEC classroom setting, for example as teaching assistants.

Graduate Fellowship in Engineering for Pharmaceutical Problems

Steve Wrenn
Steve Wrenn

“Antonios called me around 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29 to say he heard the award notices had gone out and wondered if I had heard anything,” said Wrenn. “I was driving when he called. I pulled over, logged in, and found out. We got it! I called him back immediately with the good news.”

“My expertise is particulate technology – when a powder is in a particulate form and we make it into the solid form,” said Zavaliangos. “Pharmaceuticals are one of the major users of this technology, and within 100 miles of Philadelphia, you get 15 to 20% of the pharma-related people. Philly is pretty much the center of this. We are truly addressing an important need.”

This is the team’s third GAANN grant. It also has the distinction of being housed at the College level as opposed to within a single department, and is defined as an inter-disciplinary grant, including students from any engineering discipline who work on pharmaceutical-related research. The grant will fund five graduate students.

According to Wrenn and Zavaliangos, the increasing complexity of pharmaceutical products, the pressing need for reduction of the time from design to market, and the urgency for new, innovative pharmaceutical products at reasonable cost necessitate a continuous supply of highly qualified doctorate engineers, thus underscoring the national need for this research.

Graduate Fellowship in Materials for Environmental Sustainability

Caroline Schauer
Caroline Schauer

Schauer’s fellowship involves 18 faculty members in total from throughout the College of Engineering. The additional 17 faculty members are mentors/senior investigators and range from chemical to civil to materials engineering departments.

The grant will fund five graduate students whose research will focus on sustainable materials within their own fields.

“The grant will improve our reputation at the forefront of this research,” said Schauer. “It will also help us hire more domestic students, and then because mine has a focus on increasing the number of diverse students, it will improve that. My goal in writing this grant was to look for a student who is transdisciplinary. Because they’re taking classes in chemical, materials, and civil engineering as part of their graduate studies, they’ll be better trained to address the needs of the future.”

Schauer will be forming a committee to review graduate student applications for the fellowships.

Graduate Fellowship Addressing Labor Shortages and Systems Understanding of Infrastructure

Julie Drzymalski
Julie Drzymalski

“We are very excited about this grant and look forward to training engineers in our professional Science Master’s program, which combines the systems engineering and engineering management techniques necessary to successfully manage today’s complex infrastructure projects,” said Drzymalski. “This grant will bolster the reputation of our program and further enable current research with industry partners.”

She added that need is amply demonstrated by the state of our national infrastructure. Drzymalski will also seek to use the fellowships to increase the presence of underrepresented students in the field.

As the principal investigator, Drzymalski asked for and received funding for nine students. Through academics and experiential learning, students will study, research, and disseminate information on ways to handle and manage the interacting physical, economic, social, cyber, and environmental systems of a complex infrastructure project. Their research in the evolution of these projects and discovery of emerging system level behaviors will enable better risk identification, evaluation and prioritization, said Drzymalski.