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Words of Wisdom from the Class of 2023

Congratulations to the Class of 2023!

May 25, 2023

Throughout the end of May and the month of June, we are celebrating Drexel University’s Class of 2023! We are so proud of our graduating master’s and doctoral students and all that they have accomplished. In honor of Commencement, we asked three familiar faces at Drexel - Chukwuemeka Chikelu, Heather Krick, and London Thompson what advice they had for doctoral students in earlier stages of their degree, why they chose Drexel, and to share some of their favorite memories! 

Photo of Chukwuemeka ChikeluChukwuemeka Chikelu is graduating with a PhD in biomedical engineering from the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems. He is also the recipient of the President's Award for Best Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) from this year's Drexel Emerging Graduate Scholars Conference. After graduation, he will be heading to Columbia University as a Postdoctoral Researcher. Congratulations, Chukwuemeka!

What advice do you have for doctoral students, such as those in earlier stages or considering a doctoral program? What do you wish you had known when you started?

“Your admission into the program is evidence that you have what it takes to get the job done. Be patient during tough times. Always think of the PhD program as more of a marathon than a sprint. Research plans or tasks may appear vague early on but, trust me, they become clearer and form patterns over time. Understand your personality type and your work style and own it. For example, I typically demand a level of quality in my work probably due to my perfectionist tendencies. This means that spending time alone and meditation is critical to my ability to deliver, and so this holds pride of place in my time allotment. My physical health is also important in maintaining my mental health and so I get enough sleep and spend time in the gym. Once you understand what works for you, own it! Also, entertaining self-doubt, the feeling of unworthiness of being in the PhD program, and all other markers of the imposter syndrome were unnecessary and a mere waste of my time. Lacking clarity, especially in the early stages, is normal; all one should do is keep going.
For students considering pursuing doctoral studies, take as much time as you need to identify the subject area you wish to explore and delve into it for deeper understanding. The burning interest developed here is the drive you need to identify to ultimately chart your research course. Start strong to finish strong!”

Why did you choose Drexel to pursue your degree?

"Coincidence! I was working at a Philadelphia-based start-up company, Lia Diagnostics Inc., makers of the world’s first flushable pregnancy test kit. The company wished to explore the use of a procedure called “electrospinning” to improve the performance of their flagship product – Lia pregnancy test kit. Talks were held with a foremost expert, Dr. Caroline Schauer (my academic advisor) of Materials Science & Engineering. The project kicked off as a collaboration between the company and Dr. Schauer’s Natural Materials and Polymer Processing Lab, and eventually became the foundational work that would launch my doctoral study under Dr. Schauer’s guidance."

What is your favorite memory associated with Drexel?

"My PhD Defense. It was such a happy day! The defense was smooth, and my family and friends and lab mates celebrated with me afterward. I felt so loved. A close second was Drexel Shutting down campus in 2018 for the Eagles Super Bowl victory parade! So many happy people in the city in one day! It was a sight to behold.”

Photo of Heather KrickHeather Krick is graduating with a Doctor of Health Sciences (DHSc) degree from the College of Nursing and Health Professions. Heather is also the recipient of Third Place In-Person Oral Research Presentation from this year's Drexel Emerging Graduate Scholars Conference. Congratulations, Heather!

What advice do you have for doctoral students, such as those in earlier stages or considering a doctoral program? What do you wish you had known when you started?

"My advice is this - if it's not a "HELL YES!" ... it's a "HELL NO!" You are going to be approached with a lot of great opportunities for research and writing and projects and publishing, but you need to prioritize! This is not the time to be overwhelmed with too many things on your plate - do not just say yes to something because it 'sounds like a good opportunity' - those will come later and will be worth it when you actually have the time and energy to give your full attention. Only say yes to those opportunities that make you say, "HELL YES!"

Why did you choose Drexel to pursue your degree?

"I was also an undergraduate Dragon, so Drexel feels like home. Drexel's values align with mine, I'm used to the academic quarter system, and the minute I knew one of my favorite undergraduate professors could be my doctoral mentor, I was sold!"

What is your favorite memory associated with Drexel?

"Participating in the Drexel Food Lab! I couldn't wait to get back into the Lab when I returned as a Dragon, and my DHSc program allowed me to incorporate this hands-on food product development experience into my research. The Drexel Food Lab provided the tools and equipment for me to create something incredible with food, and with the help and expertise of faculty and students working in the Lab, I was able to develop innovative ways to improve health using delicious food!"

Photo of London ThompsonLondon Thompson is graduating with a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree in educational leadership and management from the School of Education. London also served as Vice President of Academic Affairs for the Graduate Student Association for the past 1.5 years, helping organize the Scholars Share program, Drexel Emerging Graduate Scholars Conference, and chairing the GSA's Academic Affairs Committee. Congratulations, London!

What advice do you have for doctoral students, such as those in earlier stages or considering a doctoral program? What do you wish you had known when you started?

"First and foremost, my advice is to utilize your Master's program as an opportunity to develop and refine your research focus. By doing so, you can save valuable time when you begin your doctoral studies. During my Master’s program, I had the chance to delve into the theories and complexities surrounding college athletics. These experiences played a crucial role in shaping the direction of my doctoral dissertation. Whenever possible, I would approach my assignments through the lens of college athletics. For instance, if I had to write a paper on leadership, I would incorporate research from both higher education and athletics. This approach not only helped me complete my assignments but also introduced me to the research that ultimately informed my dissertation.

My next piece of advice is to select a research problem that genuinely excites you. However, it is equally important to remain flexible and open to refocusing your research based on the knowledge you gain through your studies. Initially, my research focused on exploring the lived experiences of Black male student-athletes. However, after conducting several pilot studies and examining the prevailing issues, I realized a significant gap in the research: the lived experiences of academic advisors. The ability to refocus my research brought deeper meaning to my dissertation and allowed me to address an important research gap.”

Why did you choose Drexel to pursue your degree?

"I had multiple reasons for choosing Drexel University. First, Drexel holds significant personal meaning for me as it has been intertwined with my upbringing. Being a native of south Philly, I attended Greenfield Elementary, and I have family members, including my mother, uncle, and niece, who are alumni. I vividly recall accompanying my mother to her classes and dozing off in the library while she studied. My decision to come to Drexel was driven by my desire to fulfill what my mom had started.

Additionally, during my Master's studies, I encountered a considerable amount of research on the experiences of student-athletes, much of which was emerging from Drexel. It was important to me to pursue my doctoral studies at an institution that would truly understand and relate to my research interests. Without a doubt, I made a wise choice in selecting Drexel.

Lastly, a major factor in my decision was the realization that many of the professors at Drexel looked like me and had research interests that aligned with my own. This sense of alignment and representation led me to believe that I would be entering an environment where I could truly be authentic and true to myself. It's quite astonishing that throughout my entire academic journey, spanning from grade school to my Bachelor's and Master's degrees, I had never worked with a Black professor. Although I have yet to have a Black male professor, I have been incredibly fortunate at Drexel to be supported and guided by numerous Black female professors and leaders, which has had a transformative impact on my life. Seeing individuals who look like me pursuing their passions and excelling in their fields served as a profound inspiration and a source of hope. As a Black male doctor of education, I am acutely aware of the importance of my presence in this space, as my lived experiences have highlighted the need for diverse representation in the field of education."

What is your favorite memory associated with Drexel?

"One of my favorite memories revolves around the various small groups I was a part of. Being involved in the Graduate Student Association was an incredible experience, and I also cherished my participation in different writing groups alongside some amazing PhD students. We would gather, brainstorm topics to write about, share our concerns, and provide support to one another. Moreover, I formed remarkable relationships with individuals in my cohort who I consider lifelong friends.

Without a doubt, my most cherished memory of all was the moment I realized I had actually finished my studies. It took some encouragement from my supervising professor to fully grasp the fact that I had completed all the necessary tasks. It took a couple of days for it to sink in, but now I have internalized it and accepted that I have achieved something that initially seemed distant. It's as if I was diligently working one moment, and suddenly, I had reached the finish line. In many ways, I'm now navigating the process of embracing a new identity as an advocate and practitioner. This transition marks my 'Wu-Tang' moment, where I have evolved from being a student to becoming a teacher. Looking ahead, I am filled with excitement about what the future holds."

We are incredibly proud of our graduate and professional students! Congratulations! You are, now and #ForeverDragons!

Article by Rachel Mroz