Graduating Senior is Inspired to Create Change Through Engineering and Mentorship

Kris Melag
Robert Swan, associate department head in civil, architectural and environmental engineering, poses with Melag at the Delaware Valley Geo Institute (DVGI) Student Night , where Melag received the 2024 DVGI Student Scholar Award

Kris Melag was ten years old when he travelled to India for the first time to visit his grandparents in Mumbai, India. During this trip, he recalled walking down a street when he saw a younger child living in a worn-down shack. The conditions of the child's home, along with his exposure to the impoverished community, sparked a fire in his heart to take action.

"That was the moment I decided I wanted to become an engineer," Kris said.

While Kris’ exposure to computer science in Boy Scouts initially led him to Drexel's computer engineering program, he soon realized he wanted his work to produce more tangible results. "I settled into civil engineering because a lot of what I deal with will impact the public community," Kris stated. "Building the future is my vision, and I felt like civil engineering and construction management was the best way to achieve that."

This interest in making an impact culminated into a wide range of activities, from working part time as a karate instructor to working with Arvin Ebrahimkhanlou, PhD, assistant professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering (CAEE), studying the potential of utilizing visual language models to describe infrastructure images.

Because he didn’t have exposure to civil engineering earlier in life, Kris made a special effort to find activities pertaining to those interests. Kris noted that he "wanted a club that could help [him] connect with the right people," and after discovering the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in October 2019, he found the connections he sought through ASCE's professional development events.

Throughout his time in ASCE, including his past year as president, Kris worked regularly with and found a mentor in Robert Swan, Jr., teaching professor and associate department head of undergraduate studies of CAEE. Kris explained that Swan "goes above and beyond in everything he does," and as a Drexel alum himself, Swan has helped Kris make the most out of his time at Drexel. "There were a lot of times where I struggled academically, professionally, and personally, and Dr. Swan has really pulled through for me not just as a mentor, but also as a friend," Kris stated.

Inspired by Swan’s mentorship, Kris returned the favor to other students: as secretary of Drexel’s chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honors society, he was able to work with high-achieving student leaders committed to serving their communities.

A native of Devon, PA, Kris visited Drexel's campus in 2018 and was wary of the culture shock of being in Philadelphia. But he credits his mother with helping him make the right choice and with being his strength over the last five years.

"I told my mom, 'I don't see myself coming to Drexel, there's no way,'" he reflected. "But she told me I was going to face a lot of challenges as I got older, and I needed to find ways to overcome them."

Feeling encouraged to try new things and live in the city, Kris decided to give Philly a chance - and he ended up loving it.

"It was a really fantastic experience to live in a city that has so much culture and diversity," he said, recalling the people who've come into his life from all different backgrounds since he arrived at Drexel and crediting them for his positive experiences. "Each of them played a role in helping me become the person I am today," he said. "I want all my friends to know that I'm so glad I got to create a lifetime of memories with them."

The connections Kris has made since coming to Drexel have opened the doors to countless accomplishments, such as a full-time offer from his final co-op at W.S. Cumby Construction and his senior design team's recent victory at the Architectural Engineering Institute's 2024 InternationalStudent Design Competition in San Jose, California.

From communication skills to professional development, Drexel provided Kris with the tools he needed to succeed and ultimately "gave [him] a new life." "My message to future students is that you're never going to know unless you try," Kris stated. "When you get thrown into the fire, you start to discover what you can do, and when you unlock that potential, you're a beast. That's what Drexel helps students do. It's up to you to take charge of your story."