Matthew Dragovich, '17G, was selected as the graduate student commencement speaker. Dragovich completed his doctorate in mechanical engineering this year. (Sarah Epstein/B&W Staff)

Doctoral student Matthew Dragovich to deliver graduate student commencement speech

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After completing his doctorate in mechanical engineering, Matthew Dragovich, ’17G, had no intention of walking at commencement this year.

His plans changed, however, when he was told he was selected to be the graduate student commencement speaker.

Hannah Dailey, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, served on Dragovich’s dissertation committee and was one of the professors who nominated him to speak at the commencement ceremony.

“I didn’t know I was nominated until I told Hannah (Dailey) that I wasn’t going to be walking, and then she told me, ‘Uh, you should probably do that,’” he said.

Dailey thinks highly of Dragovich and his abilities. She was impressed by his dissertation as well as the way he taught and communicated complex topics to those who do not have much prior knowledge.

She also decided to nominate him because she knows Dragovich is a skilled public speaker, having experience presenting at several conferences and examinations for his doctorate.

Dragovich began his education at Northampton Community College, where he received his associate degree in mechanical engineering. He received a scholarship to then attend Moravian College to finish his Bachelor of Science in physics.

He said he didn’t study much while he was in high school, and it wasn’t until he attended NCC that he began to enjoy learning. After finishing his associate degree, he decided he wanted to pursue a doctorate in the future.

“I realized if I studied I was actually a pretty good student,” Dragovich said.

Although he considered getting his master’s degree, he decided he didn’t want to waste time writing a master’s thesis, especially since he was accepted directly into Lehigh’s mechanical engineering doctoral program.

He successfully earned his doctorate, focusing his studies mostly on biomechanics, but he recognized he still had a long way to go in terms of learning. This idea first came to him when he was told he would be speaking at commencement, and he decided to include it in his speech.

“I speak a little bit about what your degree is actually worth,” Dragovich said. “I know a lot of people who never went to college that are a lot smarter than I am, so I tell people a degree doesn’t make you smarter, it gives you knowledge.”

Starting in July, Dragovich will be participating in a post-doctoral program at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. He originally thought the position would start in May, which is one of the reasons he had planned on not walking at the commencement ceremony.

At NYU, Dragovich will be researching treatment for different types of melanoma and how the concept of protein-protein interactions can be used in treating it.

Frank Zhang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, worked with Dragovich as his adviser and also nominated him to speak at commencement. Zhang said he is “one of the best grad students at Lehigh.”

He said Dragovich was up for a professor position at two universities. However, Zhang believes his decision to continue learning through his post-doctoral fellowship will allow him to be more successful in the field of research.

“In my opinion, he will become a future leader in this specific field,” Zhang said. “He really wants to solve mechanical problems in treating cancer.”

Dragovich believes researching medical topics makes a difference because of its immediate impact, but he ended up pursuing these topics by chance. He wasn’t sure if he would like the research but decided to take advantage of the opportunity presented to him through an open space in a lab.

“I think a lot of people get bogged down trying to follow a dream, and you don’t really know what you want, especially when you’re 20,” he said. “So, I just followed an opportunity and ended up really enjoying it.”

In the future, Dragovich would like to become a professor because it would allow him to both teach and do research. But for now, he will use his engineering knowledge and reasoning, approaching biological systems as he would mechanical systems, to research problems in the medical field.

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