Electrical Engineering Senior Fuels Passion for Transportation in Philadelphia

Julia McCree outside

When Julie McCree was applying to colleges, she knew she wanted to go to school in a major city. Being from Limerick, Pennsylvania, located an hour outside of Philadelphia, McCree felt connected to the City of Brotherly Love in a special way. "I grew up nearby, and I knew the sports and the rivers," she said. "I had visited Philly with my family every so often, usually trips to Reading Terminal Market around Christmas and the Italian Market on 9th Street on the 4th of July."

While the decision to go to college in the closest city to her hometown may have seemed simple, McCree was drawn to more than the proximity alone. "I truly love this place because it's unique and has its own character, which is a product of the people that live here," McCree stated. "There's a real sense of community here, and that was probably the biggest draw to me."

McCree's love for Philly has only grown over her past 5 years at Drexel, a growth particularly nurtured by her involvement with student organizations on campus. McCree's community-based activities, such as working in gardens throughout West Philly, volunteering for Drexel's Sharing Excess (SE) chapter, and assisting other SE chapters, has "given [her] connections to communities outside of Drexel and academia, which has been really amazing."

An electrical engineering major with an interest in transportation infrastructure, McCree also appreciated her proximity to the train yard, which she walked to frequently during her first co-op with Amtrak. This proximity, alongside additional hands-on opportunities at train yards in New York City and Washington, D.C., gave McCree valuable exposure to her desired industry. "I was like, 'Wow, these are the trains I see all the time,' and I got to learn how they work and help maintain them," McCree said.

McCree built on this experience with two co-ops at STV, a contractor that works with Amtrak, SEPTA, and other major transportation agencies. Her first co-op with STV focused on simulation work in an office environment, while her second focused on inspection work, which gave her more opportunities to travel.

McCree got to see what she learned in class in real world applications, specifically citing her Electric Motor Control Principles course that she took with Karen Miu, PhD, professor of electrical and computer engineering. McCree "could see [herself] in the field" and "felt so much more confident" while taking Miu's class. "She's a very smart woman, and I really respect her," McCree concluded.

Julia McCree with Friend

Miu has gone on to serve as McCree's senior design advisor. The project addresses islanding, or the phenomenon of a power distribution system continuing to supply power to a section of the main grid that has been disconnected. McCree explained that, "in a power outage scenario, renewable energy sources, like solar or wind, could be used to continue generating power when the grid is blacked out." However, these resources aren't currently being utilized in such a way due to the risk of power line workers being exposed to unmapped sources of electricity.

The goal of the project was to design an algorithm that could maintain power in a predetermined area of land, or 'island.' The algorithm is intended to minimize the length of blackouts, which would minimize the risks associated with using renewable energy to power blacked out islands. This technology could be crucial for supplying areas with extreme weather conditions, whose vulnerability to blackouts threatens to halt hospital services and other critical operations and is therefore, according to McCree, "life or death."

After graduation, McCree will return to STV as an electrical engineering specialist in the vehicle department, where she'll continue building on the growth she's experienced at Drexel.

"When I think back to who I was freshman year, I was so different then," McCree explained. "I feel so much more comfortable interviewing for a job, and stress in general is more manageable. I've experienced a lot from being in college and in the workforce, and those things have had a profound impact on me."