Drexel Graduates its First Class of Coulter Fellows

Coulter Fellows David Diaz, Ariana Levitt and Samantha Pearson, from left to right.

For several years now, the Coulter-Drexel Translational Research Partnership Program in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems has enabled faculty research teams to develop solutions to improve clinical needs and patient health care. To date, 50 projects have received a total of $6.5 million in support. Of these, 12 technologies have progressed to pre-clinical human study stage, with one later being cleared by the Food and Drug Administration. 

This year, the program’s 11th, marks the beginning of a new chapter. For the first time, there is now a formal program for graduate students to conduct market research and aid the due diligence process for the faculty teams submitting grant proposals.

The Coulter Fellows Program is open to Drexel graduate students from across the University. The first Coulter Fellows are Ariana Levitt, a first-year PhD student in the College of Engineering’s Materials Science and Engineering Department; Samantha Pearson, who is in the LeBow College of Business’ 15-month business administration master’s program; and David Diaz, who recently graduated from Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems with a PhD in biomedical engineering.

“We are delighted to have strong partnerships across the many schools and colleges at Drexel,” said Assistant Coulter Program Director Amy Campbell.

The additions of Levitt, Pearson and Diaz to the program’s interdisciplinary teams reflect the collaborative nature of the Coulter-Drexel Translational Research Partnership Program. After all, Drexel biomedical engineers, clinical researchers, scientists and engineers are already coming together to improve health care through innovation.

In the beginning of the five-month fellowship, which started in January, each student chose the projects they would prefer to work on. In some instances, they worked with another fellow on the same project. As part of the team, they researched what sector the product should enter and what similar projects are already available, among other things. This research ultimately ended up in the group’s application proposals and presentations. 

“Our team would ask questions and seek our opinions when they were creating new ideas. I felt like I was truly working with the researchers and you weren’t just there to do the work that needed to be done,” said Pearson.

Pearson applied for the fellowship because she wanted to learn what it was like working with a research team at the early stages of a project. Having previously worked in business development and commercialization, Pearson was familiar with working with a product after it had been developed but never before.  

Alternately, Levitt wanted a better understanding of the business and marketing aspects of research. Her current research relates to integrating materials like polymers and fibers into textiles, which could lead to clothing with health-monitoring sensors stitched inside.

“I’m really interested in developing research projects that can help improve human performance and care, which is what Coulter is looking for in their projects,” she said. “But whether you’re coming from business or biomedical engineering or materials engineering, there’s a way for you to get involved with Coulter.”

Diaz had previously worked on a team that had received Coulter funding and had a great experience. He wanted to continue to expand his resources and knowledge that could help his career.

Recently, the teams presented their proposals to the oversight committee of the Coulter Program.

“Our work was used not only in the proposal but also in the presentations,” explained Diaz. “It makes you feel incredible to know that you worked on this project and made a meaningful contribution.”

Now that the fellowship has wrapped up, the Coulter Fellows Program administrators are already looking for its second class. They will begin recruiting from various Drexel graduate programs in November 2016. Additionally, the program is working with the LeBow College of Business to possibly incorporate aspects of the projects and the program in future MBA classes.

“The typical LeBow MBA student has an entrepreneurial spirit, so the opportunities presented through the program represent a great chance for the students to challenge themselves,” said Ron Nordone, assistant dean of graduate programs in the LeBow College of Business, who had referred Pearson to the program.

As for the first class of Coulter Fellows, they’ve already gained experience and knowledge to widen their expertise both in and out of their fields. And that was their number one goal when they all applied for the fellowship in the first place.

For more information about the Coulter Program, contact Kathie Jordan at kcj39@drexel.edu. For more information or to apply to be a Coulter Fellow for 2017, contact Amy Campbell at akc32@drexel.edu.