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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Commencement 2017: The Ties That Bind

Family is the most important thing to me,” said Khalil Drayton, who hails from Queens, New York. He is the oldest of seven children raised by a single mother. Drayton will also be the first person in his family with a college education.

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May 13, 2017

Commencement 2017: The Ties That Bind

Rensselaer graduate Khalil Drayton is the first in his family with a college degree

Troy, N.Y. — “Family is the most important thing to me,” said Khalil Drayton, who hails from Queens, New York. The oldest of seven children raised by a single mother, Drayton initially wanted to stay close to home when it came time to plan for college. It took some convincing from his mother, mentors, and teachers to get out of his comfort zone. Drayton said his experience at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was well worth it. After Drayton walks across the stage at the 211th Commencement Ceremony that will be held on Saturday, May 20, he will leave Rensselaer with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and a master’s degree in supply chain management. Drayton will also be the first person in his family with a college education.

“I decided to attend Rensselaer because I wanted an opportunity to make a difference not only in my life, but in the lives of others who aren’t as fortunate,” said Drayton. “As the eldest of seven siblings, I initially wanted to stay nearby my family in Queens to take care of my family. My mother worked late and overnight shifts at her job to support us and I felt that my responsibility was to look after my younger siblings. However, my mother, mentors, and teachers all convinced me that RPI would be the best choice for me if I ever wanted to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself in a completely new environment.”

“Being interested in math and biology, specifically in how the body works and functions, I knew that RPI’s biomedical engineering program could help me achieve my goal of making a difference in the lives of others down the road,” Drayton said. “The last factor in choosing Rensselaer was that an unlimited number of doors could open for me in terms of outreach. I wanted to use every resource possible at RPI to expose our youth to all the opportunities in STEM around us.”

While at Rensselaer, Drayton carved out a path that included opportunities to participate in undergraduate research and coordinate STEM presentations and activities for area middle and high school students, while also exploring Rensselaer Greek life and various student organizations.

Following graduation, Drayton wants to pursue a career in supply chain management within the medical device industry. “I feel that pursuing this path will allow me to utilize knowledge from both of my degrees to ensure that the all of the new, innovative devices that we are developing are getting into the hands of those who need them in a quick and efficient manner,” Drayton said. “Of course, my end goal is to eventually go back to Queens to show students at my high school that they can all attend college with enough hard work and perseverance.

“My mother has been the biggest influence in my life,” continued Drayon. “My experience at Rensselaer transformed me in many ways, and I know that my mom is happy to see that man that I have become.”

With graduation just around the corner, Strategic Communications and External Relations had a chance to interview Drayton about some of his experiences and most memorable moments at Rensselaer.

What are some of the research projects that you have been involved in?

I have been an undergraduate research assistant in Musculoskeletal Mechanics Laboratory, managed by Eric Ledet, associate professor of biomedical engineering, since fall 2015. My team is currently in the process of developing wireless, implantable micro sensors that can detect changes in blood pressure within muscular compartments of the body. The innovative part about these sensors is that they can continuously monitor blood pressure using an external antenna, so the wound can be closed and the patient will be less prone to infection. This allows us to detect a condition that causes patient’s pressure in their muscular compartments to increase to unsafe levels called Acute Compartment Syndrome (ACS). ACS is extremely hard to detect because there is no current technology that can measure compartmental pressure accurately and continuously. With this new sensor technology, we hope that patients who face traumatic injuries can detect ACS earlier and avoid amputation of their limbs.

What are some of your most memorable accomplishments at Rensselaer?

The RPI Engineering Ambassadors are a group of RPI engineers devoted to inspiring younger students through STEM. We have an opportunity to talk to students about our chosen majors, the latest technology breakthroughs, and obstacles yet to overcome. We do this by visiting middle and high school students and delivering presentations and a series of hands-on activities. I was given the opportunity to attend middle schools and high schools around the Capital Region in order to educate the youth about careers in STEM, specifically in the field of engineering. As part of the program, my responsibilities consisted of attending three school visits per semester, three volunteer events per year and participating in a research assistantship. The most memorable trip for me took place during a winter break trip in January 2017, when we visited 1,799 middle and high school students enrolled in St. Raymond Academy for GirlsSt. Raymond Elementary School, and St. Raymond High School for Boys in the Bronx. Based in an urban setting, the students enrolled in the schools reflect the economic, geographic, and cultural diversity of the New York metropolitan area. The three-day educational outreach effort was led by Valdimir Ramos-Vasquez ’18, a dual major in aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering, who is also a graduate of the St. Raymond High School of Boys. This program was most memorable to me because I could picture myself sitting in the same seat as those students just a couple years ago in Queens, eager to pursue a major that was both interesting to me and impactful to those around me.

Reflecting on each day, there is really no feeling more rewarding than knowing that some of these students did not even know that engineering was a feasible career option to pursue, and we helped to change that mindset. When you ask if they know any types of engineers, they automatically assumed that an engineer is a car mechanic. I always explain that there are so many different types of engineering; mechanical, civil, chemical, biomedical, electrical, and computer. Even though I am a biomedical engineer, I present a civil engineering topic to students, so that they understand that regardless of which type of engineering you choose, we all have the common goal of developing solutions that can help others.

I was awarded a Rensselaer Brotherhood Scholarship by the Rensselaer Society of Engineers (RSE) Scholarship Foundation during my junior year at RPI. Receiving this scholarship was memorable because it is only awarded to an RSE brother who shows exceptional community, school, and fraternity involvement, while maintaining strong academic success. Being part of this brotherhood since my freshman year helped me to forge lifelong friendships as well as molded me into the person I am today. This award gave me a feeling of pride in the work that I had done to improve my fraternity’s brotherhood and academics as a former vice president and scholarship chair.

Are there any particular challenges or obstacles that you had to overcome while at Rensselaer?

The toughest part of attending Rensselaer was leaving my family behind. Keeping that contact and being that support system for all of them only got tougher as the homework, projects, and exams started to pile up. This was a sacrifice that I had to make as the first person in my family to attend college. However, I saw that as more time passed by, the next eldest sibling in my family began to step up and really started to take care of my family in my absence.

My fraternity brothers at RSE also helped me cope because they treated me like family and gave me advice that would help me progress and transition into succeeding at this school. Even though I had no one in my immediate family that could tell me exactly how to handle problems at college, the older brothers at RSE shared their experiences and knowledge with me, and that was really vital to me getting to where I am today. Establishing a new support system and knowing that things were OK at home allowed me to focus on my studies. At the end of the day, I knew that if I continued to work hard and graduate from RPI, I would be the role model my siblings would look up to and definitely not be the last of us to go to college.

What are some of the benefits that you enjoyed at Rensselaer?

The greatest benefit of being part of the undergraduate community at Rensselaer is the diverse amount of groups and organizations that are available to students. Greek life and volunteer opportunities played a large role in my undergraduate experience here at Rensselaer. I was also given an opportunity to work a part time job at our RPI Ben & Jerry’s shop as an ice cream scooper for the past three years. I feel that if you are more committed to your studies than extracurricular activities, there are many different professors who can provide undergraduate and graduate research opportunities. In addition, the collaborative nature of engineering allows students to still participate in a research project that they are passionate about outside of their major. There are intramural and club sports that vary from rugby all the way to wiffleball, depending on student’s interests. Rensselaer truly provides undergraduates with the opportunity to find their niche through our Student Union organizations and clubs.

Based on your experience, what advice can you offer to the incoming class of students?

It is easy to get lost in your academics here at RPI. I feel like a lot of students come in with the mentality that they will either have to dedicate 100 percent of their time to studying during the semester or that they can simply breeze through all of the classes here. I have learned the hard way that the only way to succeed at this school is to have proper work-life balance. GPA is important, but not everything. Move outside of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to meet new people, and participate in activities outside of academics. No one’s path through Rensselaer is clear-cut or well-defined as a freshman. It is the accumulation of experiences and opportunities we pursue that define who we are at the end of our journey at Rensselaer. Make the most of it!

Watch a video of Khalil Drayton:  https://youtu.be/bBoJtflGYZQ?list=PLGcVFlTZ8Qneo47EyHF06B8KJQwLoSd3V

Drayton’s experience is an example of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer. The foundation for this vision is the recognition that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be adequately addressed by even the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration—working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions—to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges—from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in the global impact of research, in its innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With over 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to www.rpi.edu.