Graduating Senior Harnesses the Power of Research and Innovation to Make an Impact

Ethan Yen

Ethan Yen has always had a deep fascination for architecture. Accompanying his father, a contractor, to his construction sites exposed Yen, who has "always liked buildings," to a vast variety of them from a young age.

Wanting more exposure to the world of architecture early on, Yen worked part-time in construction during high school, gaining invaluable hands-on experience while witnessing firsthand the challenges of traditional building processes.

"I was disheartened upon realizing the time-consuming and resource-intensive nature of the construction process," Yen expressed. This realization, alongside his observations of widespread inequity near his hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area, fueled his ultimate aspiration. "Ever since I was a child, my dream was to develop buildings,” Yen said. “I’ve always wanted to make something not just for myself, but for others, to empower them to lead productive and fulfilling lives.”

As Yen began exploring his options for studying architectural engineering, Drexel quickly stood out to him for its accelerated 5-year BS/MS program and its integrated 3-co-op program. He further noted that Drexel being one of the few - and one of the top – schools offering architectural engineering helped solidify his decision.

"While the curriculum made me realize that I wanted to come to Drexel, I was also compelled by the city's rich history," Yen recalled. "Having grown up in California, I always learned about American history through Philadelphia, so seeing such a historic area with my own eyes seemed like an amazing opportunity."

All these factors pushed Yen to take the leap and travel from California to Pennsylvania for his college journey. While entering a new environment presented its challenges, he ultimately found his experience at Drexel and in Philadelphia transformative. Not only did he create lasting connections, but he also grew as an engineer thanks to his coursework and co-op opportunities.

Yen explained that "through classes, [he] was able to hone [his] technical skills and gain a deeper understanding of the built environment," while each of his co-ops introduced him to different aspects of building, from crafting indoor environments to assessing enclosure performance to delving into structural design and analysis.

Despite gaining extensive insights into the industry through these experiences, Yen felt a pull towards innovation and creation. Seeing how the companies he worked with integrated innovative materials, cutting-edge software, and modern technologies into the building process, he became increasingly aware of the valuable role of research in his field. This realization led him to join the Advanced Infrastructure Materials (AIM) Lab under the guidance of Amir Farnam, PhD, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering.

At the AIM Lab, Yen contributed to a groundbreaking, DARPA-funded project focused on a self-healing concrete system inspired by human vascular networks, which holds the promise of creating permanent, affordable, and more sustainable building materials. His exposure to such profound research and the support of his colleagues ultimately inspired Yen to pursue a doctoral degree, a path he had never previously considered.

Following this newfound path, Yen is set to begin his doctoral studies in civil engineering at the University of Southern California. At USC, Yen will conduct innovative research on 3D printing techniques for large-scale applications of reinforced concrete structures. Being chosen to work on this project was "truly exciting" for Yen, whose enthusiasm for the potential of 3D printing applications in the construction industry "perfectly aligns with [his] overarching goal" of helping underserved communities thrive through his work.

As Yen anticipates his return to California and the next chapter in his life, he expresses immense gratitude for the enriching experiences he gained at Drexel over the past five years. "My advisors and professors, especially Dr. Amir Farnam, Dr. Simi Hoque, and Dr. Ivan Bartoli, as well as the comprehensive curriculum provided by the College of Engineering, have helped me grow far beyond my expectations, both academically and personally," Yen remarked. He cherishes the meaningful mentorship, friendships, and professional connections Drexel has provided him with.

"I eagerly anticipate what the future holds and am optimistic that my research endeavors will bring meaningful contributions to the architecture, engineering, and construction industries," Yen further stated. "Through these endeavors, I hope to pave the way for a more equitable future."