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Research Co-op Serendipity

Adam Cordi

Senior Adam Cordi is the first to admit that he had reservations about pursuing a research co-op with Drexel University’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. “As someone who enjoys working with people in a collaborative setting, I assumed that the experience would be isolating or limiting in some fashion,” he explained. To Adam’s surprise, however, the six-month Engineering Cities Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program sponsored by the National Science Foundation far exceeded his expectations, quelled initial misconceptions and helped to define his career path in the process.

Adam, now in his final year of the BS/MS in Materials Science and Engineering program, knew that a research co-op would help him to define the difference between engineering and science. “My first co-op was governed by hands-on engineering work, so I wanted to try something new that would give me a different perspective, something that would help me decide whether my career interests were aligned more with academia or the industry,” he remarked.

Under the direction and guidance of Associate Professors Dr. Patricia Gallagher and Dr. Sabrina Spatari, Adam worked on a host of projects related to sustainable urban engineering and became well-versed in environmental impact audit software. One of the more notable projects involved an in-depth examination and analysis of dam remediation efforts at Tuttle Creek Lake in northeast Kansas. The outcome of this project not only resulted in a published paper, but also in an opportunity to travel to the UK to attend a conference sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

While in attendance, Adam met with project collaborators including Kenichi Soga, esteemed Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Cambridge. “It was an incredible experience to travel abroad and discuss my research with Professor Soga,” Adam said of the unexpected opportunity.

Another unanticipated benefit of the REU co-op for Adam was the time spent with other students participating in the program. “I had the opportunity to go on field trips and build relationships with students from different universities around the country,” said Adam. “I not only made lasting friendships, but talking about my technical research with students from different disciplines really helped me develop my communication skills and made me think more about teaching as a career choice.”

Adam credits the REU experience and the commitment of his advisors with influencing his decision to pursue a PhD with a focus in renewable energy and eventually teach at the collegiate level. “I have remained actively working with my advisors, and by the end of my time at Drexel, I will have several published papers,” remarked Adam.

When reflecting on the unique challenges associated with research, Adam’s description underscores the impact that co-op has had in helping him develop career focus as his time at Drexel nears its end: “Research is about finding a path during the journey.”