CoE Executive Advisory Council: Getting By With a Little Help From Our Friends

A College of Engineering tradition that embraces input from alumni and industry leaders has found new expression in the Executive Advisory Council assembled by Dean Sharon Walker, PhD. Since Walker took the helm of the College in September, Council members have come together to offer robust advocacy and guidance on matters of strategy and planning.

The Council includes 12 alumni members from an assortment of fields. Some have served previously. All are “devoted” to Drexel.

“Our mission is to support Sharon and her initiatives. We try to provide advice to the dean that’s coming from outside of academic walls,” said Paul Richards, BS ’87, now the Council’s Chair and a member since its inception 15 years ago. “Through the Council, the dean gets a diverse set of opinions from an alumni perspective and from an industry perspective. Diversity of thought is very important, so we’ve reached out to a mix of prominent people.”

He added, “Over the years that I’ve been active on this Council, we seem to face similar challenges over and over again. I think one of the biggest is having control over your financial destiny. The second is being able to use that to build up an engineering infrastructure in the laboratories and investing in the students, and moving CoE up the rankings. We want it to be a sought-after place, where the best of the best want to go.”

Richards is the Program Executive and Technology Manager for the Optical/Advanced Communication and Navigation group at NASA. He gave the College of Engineering’s 2018 Commencement address.

Largely invisible to the majority of students and faculty members at the College, Council members meet two times each year and hold twice-yearly conference calls. Because most of them also have close relationships with Drexel University leadership, Council members play a vital role in keeping the College fresh in the minds of those who set University-wide policy.

Shaping Strategy

With a broad purview toward shaping the College’s direction in research, scholarship, teaching, and philanthropy, each Council member is encouraged to make their own impact reflective of priorities and areas of expertise.

Council member Monica Alston, for example, sets a high priority on the diversity of the undergraduate and graduate populations. As Director of Environment, Health and Safety for the Comcast Corporation, Alston, BS ’88, believes Drexel’s educators are well-placed to steward a more inclusive, supportive workforce.

“My career has taken me from the Philly suburbs to Canada, Belgium, Ohio and Michigan, so that as a family we were gone for about eight years. What struck me the most as I was reconnecting with Drexel was when I looked at the statistics and saw that we hadn’t made much progress in terms of diversity. So that’s my area on the Council,” Alston said. “I want to look at what is needed and what’s being done with women and underrepresented students.

“I’d love to see us become known as the college that has a great outcome for women and minorities who graduate out. Getting in is one thing, but finishing and then launching one’s career successfully and really managing that are important skills that we need to be teaching. Different colleges are known for different things. I’d like us to be known for that.”

Alston added that Comcast has a “great” relationship with Drexel. As a bellwether for other technology companies and developments, it is in a strong position to advise on changing technologies and ways to integrate that information into a course of study.

CoE ‘Ambassadors’

For her own part, Walker has a history of academic association with councils like this one and she draws on their support accordingly.

“The Council is a board of ambassadors,” Walker said. “They get to know the college exceedingly well and can therefore represent us in their daily dealings, professionally and personally. Discussing the challenges we are facing with a body of seasoned leaders is fantastic. They can offer such wonderful insight into best practices for organizational management, strategic planning, and what direction the field is going in.

“Just preparing for their visit provides a semi-annual/quarterly opportunity to reflect on progress and recalibrate our efforts.”

Here is the list of Executive Advisory Council members under Dean Walker:

  • Monica Alston, Director of Environment, Health and Safety for the Comcast Corporation
  • Michael F. Barry, Chairman, President and CEO at Quaker Chemical Corporation
  • Peggy C. Burns, Senior Director/Program Manager at Leidos
  • Joe Carleone, Founder/Managing Director at Carleone Partners
  • Chris D’Ascenzo, President at Ascendt Group
  • Dave DeCampli, Ret. Global Chief/Compliance Officer at PPL Corporation
  • Chris Ferguson, Director of Commercial Crew Interface at the Boeing Defense & Space Group
  • Joe Grimes, Ret. Executive Vice President/Chief Generation Officer at Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Gerry Melendez, CEO at Enterprise Technology Systems LLC
  • Andrew J. Pennoni, PE, Vice President and Principal-in-Charge of Construction Services Technology at Pennoni Associates, Inc.
  • Paul Richards, Program Executive and Technology Manager, Optical/Advanced Communication and Navigation group at NASA
  • Zikria Syed, Co-Founder/CEO at Patient Wing.

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