Building Connections at Philly Materials Science & Engineering Day

Getting up close and personal with the animal armor of an armadillo with the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philly Materials Day 2018.
Getting up close and personal with the animal armor of an armadillo with the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philly Materials Day 2018.

Last February, Drexel University freshman Engy Khoshit was a North Penn High School senior attending the annual Philly Materials Science & Engineering Day. Better known as Philly Materials Day, the event connects local K-12 students and community members with undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (Drexel Materials), the University of Pennsylvania and other partners for a day of workshops and hands-on demonstrations related to the field of materials science and engineering. Partly because of that experience, Koshit went on to enroll at Drexel and today is a Dragon in the College of Engineering pursuing her passion for discovery.

Since 2011, Drexel Materials has hosted Philly Materials Day on Drexel’s University City Campus. One of those partner presenters, North Penn High School, has been participating in the event for six years, forging a meaningful connection between the high school students and a potential future alma mater.

Before coming to the University, Koshit attended Philly Materials Day during her last two years at North Penn High School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. She said she always noticed how crowded and diverse the event was, and that engaging with science and engineering enthusiasts and learners made her more determined to stay involved in those fields as time went on. During her senior year, she presented on wireless energy transfer via high frequency coupling as part of North Penn’s “Engineering Design and Development Class.”

“I was really interested in Drexel after speaking with a lot of the students who were presenting on behalf of Drexel,” she said. “Some of them were involved in research and expressed how easy and common it was for a materials engineering student to have these opportunities at Drexel.”

Engy Khoshit volunteering at last year's Philly Materials Science & Engineering Day as a senior at North Penn High School. This year, she volunteered as a Drexel freshman.

She also met with Drexel Materials Department Head and Professor Michele Marcolongo, PhD, who urged Khoshit to contact her with any questions. That experience, she said, “definitely played a huge factor in determining how much a faculty member cared about its student and which university would provide that close relationship.”

Now in her second term at Drexel, Khoshit was one of the 80 Dragons who volunteered at this year’s event. She worked at the event to fulfill the community service requirement required by her Civic 101 course — a “bonus two-in-one” deal, she said, because she was planning on volunteering anyway. She presented on hydrophobic and hydrophilic (not dissolvable or dissolvable in water) properties of different typical household items.

Khoshit wasn’t the only Philly Materials Day alum-turned-Dragon at this year’s event. Jonathan Hollenbach, a sophomore materials science and engineering major, attended this year after coming to campus to present in 2016 as a North Penn High School student. That year, he attended as part of North Penn High School’s Engineering Academy and presented on photochromic materials that darken with exposure to specific types of light — a big hit with the children who saw the material change color when hit with a UV laser pointer. That visit, he said, was probably his first look at how diverse the materials science and engineering field really is.

“Philly Materials Day was definitely one of the contributing factors in attending Drexel University,” he said. “I applied to colleges looking to go into materials engineering and Philly Materials Day was a wonderful way for Drexel to show off how much research is going on and how undergraduate students can get involved.”

Abraham Calvin, BS ’14, demonstrated some of Gold Sponsor Boeing’s helicopter technology at Philly Materials Day 2018.

The other major factor, he said, was the Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) Program offered through Drexel’s Office of Undergraduate Research, which set him up with research after his freshman year.

Khoshit and Hollenbach are joined by a growing group of alumni from North Penn High School now at Drexel thanks to North Penn High School’s Technology and Engineering Education Department Chair Michael Boyer.  

Boyer has brought about 100 North Penn high school students to Philly Materials Science and Engineering Day since 2013, including 17 students this year.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to get involved is because I am always looking for opportunities for my students to learn and participate in something new,” he said. “I want to broaden their horizons.”

At Philly Materials Day, Boyer’s students have demonstrated the different research projects they are working on. This year’s endeavors included everything from the conductivity of materials to solar cells to thermoelectric generators.

Making lotion potions in a workshop run by Drexel’s section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Philly Materials Day 2018.

“The students and I love the experience,” he said. “It is amazing to see them transform, monitor and adjust their presentation skills depending upon the visitor — a parent and a small child one minute and then a Drexel or Penn professor the next — asking them questions.”

Boyer has had his own experiences with Drexel Materials: For three summers from 2003 to 2005, he participated in its National Science Foundation Research Experience for Teachers program for educators interested in including nanotechnology in their curriculum. These sessions helped him develop a nanotechnology research program called The Future is N.E.A.R (Nanotechnology Education and Research) for his students. Boyer’s enthusiasm for the field and engagement with the department led Drexel Materials to ask him if he want to have his students present, rather than just experience the event as attendees.

“Philly Materials Day was always a really fun and satisfying day for me, and the amount of connections I made really made me feel comfortable coming to Drexel because I knew I had people to rely on if I had questions about anything,” said Khoshit.