Meet This Year’s Convocation Student Speaker, Alex Ashley

He shared some information about what he’ll discuss at the event, what advice he has to give to Dragons and why students should attend Convocation this year.
A man in a button-down shirt poses on a roof with a city skyline in the background.
Photo courtesy Alex Ashley.

Drexel University’s Convocation is held at the start of each academic year to set the stage for the next four terms, celebrate and reflect on the University’s missions related to academics, research, service and civic engagement.

This year’s event, which will be held Sept. 28 at the Mandell Theater at 3220 Chestnut St., features a student speaker with a lot to say. Alex Ashley, a second-year PhD student studying chemical engineering and an international student from Jamaica, will be speaking to Dragons from the podium on stage. But before that happens, he shared some tidbits about his experience at and before Drexel and some of what he plans to talk about at Convocation. 

Q: Can you talk a little bit about who you are and what you do at Drexel?

A: I got my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Lafayette College, and I’ve been at Drexel for a whole year. I’m going to talk about a little bit about this in my speech, just to give people some history about me, but I had a very interesting childhood growing up. I’m an international student who grew up in Jamaica; many of the Jamaicans you meet, if you ever meet any or have met any, are usually from the city parts of Jamaica, but I’m from the country. My dad and grandfather own farms. During my first year at Drexel, I was very much in my shell and was a homebody, but I’m a newly converted city boy and love living in South Philly.

I’m super passionate about solar energy, and in fact, my PhD is tied to solar energy. It’s really about me trying to make solar energy more attractive globally so that more people want to do that instead of doing the traditional fossil fuel route that creates carbon emissions, climate change, global warming. I work under Dr. Jason Baxter in the Chemical and Biological Department in the College of Engineering.

I serve on the board for my department’s graduate student association, and I am also on the board for the West Indian Student Establishment, which is an organization for West Indian students or students that are also from the Caribbean.

Outside of Drexel, I am the head director for STEM consulting and tutoring for GradQuo Educational Services, which is a company based in Jamaica that helps students internationally apply to graduate programs across the world. I also help with teaching GRE courses, particularly math. The company is in its second year, but so far, we have a 100 percent success rate with getting people into graduate schools! One of those students is now at Drexel and we met this week, which made me feel really fulfilled to see one of my students now here. I also tutor on the side. I love teaching. I’ve been a TA every quarter here at Drexel, and I’ve been working with Drexel’s Center for Learning and Academic Success Services (CLASS) as an academic coach.

Q: Why do you think students should attend Convocation and get involved at Drexel?

A: I think I have a lot to share from my experiences from undergrad and now grad school. And this speech is not just for chemical engineers or engineers or STEM majors. I think the information or the insight that I have to provide goes across all fields. I don’t want to throw around these words, but it really is true. It’s really about community involvement. It’s about outreach. It’s about collaboration and networking.

Also, I don’t think you should just stay within your own department when you’re in school. Because in reality, the world isn’t black or white, it’s gray. And if you just stay in one department, all you’re going to see is that one color. There are so many colors out there. There’s so much more to learn and see different perspectives. It’s all intersectional.

Q: As a newer student, what was the transition like to Drexel and what advice do you have for students finding their way here?

A: From my own experiences, having been here a year, I’ve encountered a lot of issues having to do with me transitioning to a new institution. Issues ranging from unfamiliarity with my environment, both Drexel and the Philadelphia area; international student issues with visas; relationships with my adviser or people in my department; knowing how to maneuver the research space or research field because it’s a totally different ballgame on a PhD level than what I’m used to in the undergrad research environment. I’ve had many issues in my first year, and every time I’ve asked for help or reached out, I’ve been met with some positivity and encouragement. Asking for help is one of the most underrated things!

There are so many resources here that you get access to by virtue of just being a Drexel student, and I think you should try to try to use them. The resources here cater to almost every need. For example, the Counseling Center at Drexel has a great program and as a student, you can get free therapy there. I really have learned a lot by branching out and encourage students to do the same.