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Campus mourns loss of social-minded student | The Triangle

Campus mourns loss of social-minded student

Drexel sophomore Erica Halpern died last week after she was hit by a car Nov. 2 on Concourse Street near Belmont Avenue.

Halpern, who was leaving the Please Touch Museum, was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for treatment, but never regained consciousness.

In an email message sent 12:03 p.m. Nov. 5, President John A. Fry notified the University of Halpern’s death.

“It is unthinkable that one of our students, in the midst of a happy and promising life, was taken from us so suddenly,” he wrote. “I have been in regular contact with Erica’s family and have offered them our deepest condolences as well as all the support we can provide.”

Those close to Halpern, 19, considered her both intelligent and civically minded. She was double majoring in psychology and teacher education, volunteering at the Please Touch Museum and taking sign language classes at the University of Pennsylvania so she could work with disabled children.

“I always asked her if it was painful for her to go to school with children with disabilities,” Kate Zavyazkina, a sophomore biology major and Halpern’s friend, said. “From what I saw she was fine with it and she really loved it.”

Halpern also traveled to Honduras with Global Brigades Medical over spring break 2011 to treat children in rural areas without access to healthcare.

“From what I heard, all the children loved her. Her selflessness and commitment to help other people was inspiring,” Zavyazkina said.

Jennifer Stanford, assistant teaching professor in the biology department, taught Zavyazkina and Halpern in University 101. Halpern began at Drexel as a biology student before switching majors. Stanford recalled what Halpern was like in her class.

“Erica was a vibrant student, full of life and energy,” Stanford said. “She was polite, kind and conscientious. She was actively engaged in the Drexel and Philadelphia communities.”

One memorable experience, Stanford said, was during the class civic engagement opportunity last fall at the Lee Cultural Center.

“At this event we worked as a group to clean a playground at the center, raking leaves, removing trash and making the playground clean and safe. Erica was fully engaged in the activity and worked hard to clean the playground with her fellow students,” she said.

Stanford continued, “From these experiences, it was clear to me that Erica was enthusiastic about engaging with her community and that she reflected carefully on what she could do to further engage.”

Zavyazkina was also impressed by Halpern’s hard work at the event.

“There were a lot of people standing doing nothing — just hanging out, not really helping — but Erica made sure she was doing the most that she could the whole time,” she said.

Last year, Zavyazkina and Halpern had a biology lab together.

“That was the first time I actually consciously, in my head, realized that she was a friend of mine,” Zavyazkina said. “My lab group was the last one to go, and hers was the first, and she waited for me for an hour.”

She continued, “[Erica] was always in a good mood, and she was fun to be around. Spending time with her was always great, and she was very intelligent too.”

A funeral was held for Halpern at noon Nov. 7 at the Star of David Chapel at the New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon, N.Y. Halpern’s family and friends attended, and Drexel provided buses to transport students to the service. Approximately 30 students attended, including Zavyazkina.

“The people that went on Monday were amazing. Everyone there was incredible in their support for each other. Same with those who were there at the hospital,” Zavyazkina said. “Everyone watched out for each other, and even though they had eyes full of tears, they were willing to lend a shoulder to cry on.”

In Fry’s email, he noted that an on-campus memorial is also being planned. Once finalized, the details of the service will be announced on the Student Life website.

Fry also encouraged students struggling with Halpern’s loss to reach out to Drexel’s Counseling Center for support at 215-895-1415 or after regular hours at 215-416-3337. The Center also offers a peer counseling helpline open Sunday through Thursday from 8 p.m. to midnight at 215-895-1523. The service is composed of trained student volunteers. For more information about crisis counseling, visit drexel.edu/studentlife/ch/default.html.

“It is when tragedy strikes that the strength of our University community becomes most apparent. Let us stand together to mourn and remember Erica and to provide our prayers and comfort to her family and friends,” Fry said.