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  • The Real Value of a Drexel Degree

    Wednesday, March 12, 2014

    The Real Value of a Drexel Degree

    March 12, 2014

    As a new arrival on the Drexel campus, I have spent the past few months getting to know my colleagues, as well as our students.  Needless to say, it has not only been a pleasure, it has also given me a unique opportunity to discover some of the many “pockets of genius” among this university’s faculty.  From the leading-edge research they conduct to the technology-enhanced learning environments they create, our faculty members are at the forefront of innovation and our students – whether online or on-campus – are reaping the tremendous benefits of their ingenuity.  So in the coming weeks, I will use this space to share a few of the countless ways these extraordinary men and women are adding real value to a Drexel education.    

    Smart Garments:  Fiction or Future?

    We’ve all heard of smart phones and smart cards – even smart boards. But smart garments?  


    While wearable technology may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, its future is fast approaching, thanks to enterprising research incubators like the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Lab, an integral part of the ExCITe Center at Drexel University (a greenhouse for cultivating entrepreneurial projects that connect the dots between technology and design).

    By partnering with Shima Seiki – the world leader in 3-D computerized knitting systems – Drexel is blazing new trails in this burgeoning field, under the able leadership of Genevieve Dion, the lab’s founding director and an assistant professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts and Design.  Likewise, given the multidisciplinary nature of her research, she has turned it into a campus-wide collaboration among faculty and students at Westphal; the College of Engineering; the College of Computing and Informatics; the College of Medicine; the College of Nursing and Health Professions; and the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems.

    Put simply, smart garments are clothing items – from hats to shirts to shoes - made of fabric that is embedded with technology.  And its potential utility is nothing short of mind-boggling, particularly when it comes to medical, military, and physical fitness applications.  For example, Drexel investigators are using Shima Seiki’s sophisticated knitting system to develop a smart fabric maternity bellyband capable of tracking and assessing fetal well-being, through the use of wireless telemetry that is actually woven into the fabric.  By the same token, this technology could be deployed through combat fatigues, designed to detect the presence of chemical weapons on or near the battlefield.  

    A team of three Drexel University engineers have also come up with a way to integrate electrical energy storage units into textiles, which until now has proven especially difficult for wearable technology designers.  To capture and convey the details of their high-tech research, this remarkable trio, led by doctoral student Kristy Jost, created a powerful graphic, which recently earned both first place and the People’s Choice Award in the National Science Foundation’s prestigious International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.  A version of the poster – entitled Wearable Power ¬– is also featured in the February edition of Science magazine.  

    Of course, as an award winning clothing designer (whose work has created a following among stars like Tina Turner and Elvis Costello), Professor Dion is interested in developing smart garments that combine function with fashion in a way that is both meaningful and transformative. Consequently, she envisions her research as a platform for what we have dubbed STEAM here at Drexel – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Design, and Mathematics.  It’s a novel approach to the more conventional STEM focus, and from what I can see, one that certainly serves our students well in today’s rapidly emerging innovation economy.        


    Dr. Susan Aldridge is President of Drexel University Online and Senior Vice President of Online Learning at Drexel University. For more information on Dr. Aldridge, please visit: www.drsusanaldridge.com 

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