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Humans of the Science Center: Elwood Boykin

At a recent Science Center town hall turned Eagles pep rally, employees were treated to the sight of a very familiar face in the official Eagles hype video (check out the 1:16 mark) released ahead of the NFC championship: our Maintenance Manager, Elwood Boykin.

What the rest of the country saw, which we’ve already known here at the Science Center for quite some time, is that Elwood “bleeds green” and is possibly the biggest Eagles fan you will ever meet; meticulously studying and dissecting recordings of past games, and able to hold his own in a conversation with just about anyone on football, exchanging stats and hot takes with the ease and confidence of a seasoned sports commentator.

Elwood Boykin featured in Eagles hype video, "It's a Philly Thing" (click to watch)

But beyond that, he remains as dedicated to his evolving role with our organization, now spanning twenty-five years as of 2022, as he was when he first came on board, where he learned a lesson that he would carry with him to this day:

My boss when I started was a Senior Property Manger named Mary Robertson. I’ve never seen this in my life: she wanted to take a walk with me to tour the building one day, and a young lady who was pregnant was walking towards us. I watched Mary stop the young lady and without saying anything got down on one knee and tied her shoe because she knew it would be difficult for her. The young lady was African American, Mary was Caucasian, and her facial expression looking down at Mary was stunned. She changed my whole mindset that day. I’m a military guy so I could’ve just shut myself out and not communicated with anybody, but I realized at that moment that I had to soften up and that what my boss valued most was customer service. I use that story with all my team now because I tell them if Mary could tie someone’s shoe she didn’t know, we can pick up trash, for example. You’re not “above” anything. We’re at the forefront, we’re out there and every time the tenants see you, they see the Science Center. And that stayed with me forever and I think it molded me and taught me how to be a manager.

To Elwood, maintenance, a concept so often misunderstood by others who couldn’t tell you about the right ratio in CFMs of air vs exchange that makes a lab run, means to be a steward and a protector- a quality he embodies every day with the things he loves most; his uCity Square tenants, his maintenance guys, his city, his Eagles, his time in the military and his service.

It may not come as easily to all of us, but to him, as you will read, it’s a literal change of hat.

You just celebrated your 25th anniversary with the Science Center which means you’ve witnessed significant change for the organization. What stands out to you in respect to the change you’ve seen over the years?

I think the management that we have now is playing a really critical role in trying to get the Science Center to the forefront of the startup community where everything sort of started. I hear the Science Center name now more than I’ve heard it within the last so many years. And I’m a Science Center guy. I think everyone who comes to work here is benefitting from the Science Center name and it attracts people to this region, it’s powerful, it’s known all around the world. I was here when Avid Radiopharmaceuticals was a very small company, with only a couple of people working for them. I was here when Integral Molecular was small. I was here when NRG used to be Energy Plus. Companies are drawn to this location knowing there are many success stories. We’ve had people from all over the world come here, interested to see how this community works because we were the first of its kind, and we’ve been sustaining it for so many years. But I don’t think you can become bigger than the Science Center because they started something here that I don’t see anyone being able to replicate.

I was born and raised in Philly (I still live here) and I used to ride my bike through here with my friends, from South Philly to West Philly, before this whole campus was even up and I’ve seen the development of this area quite a bit. It was a surprise when I applied for the job and got it but at the same time, I felt it was destined or fated. I’ve been here for 25 years, and I still love it, that’s the main part, there’s always something to do.

What are you most proud of during your tenure?  

I’m proud of being involved in an organization that does things for the community and trying to develop a system where science and technology help other companies grow and pretty much feed the world. When a company grows, the economy grows. When the economy grows, everything grows with it. With some organizations, you just go to work, like it’s a production line. Here, every day is different. The biggest thing with me coming to work, is ensuring that the Science Center buildings are upkept and that when a tenant comes in to work, they have a very good atmosphere and a comfortable environment to be in.

Elwood Boykin celebrating 25 years at the Science Center, and Tiffany Wilson, CEO

You were recently promoted to Maintenance Manager! Can you explain what your role entails?

When you’re in maintenance you have a lot of amazing pieces of equipment that you are responsible for. One of the things I tell my guys is our job is to maintain, and when you maintain, you maintain something in its existing state. If it’s designed to only run a certain amount, we try not to let it decline or fade due to neglect or failure.

Now I’m the one who has to distribute everything my guys need to make sure that happens. I have to get used to emails, that’s the biggest thing! I talk a lot with my guys, we are there every day one-on-one. My transition here is communicating more through the computer than in person, but I’m trying to bring that world up to the office. I like going out talking to property managers one-on-one and not sitting here and communicating through emails. The Science Center I knew when I came here was really person to person. You could walk into a company that’s trying to develop something and you get engaged with that tenant. The Science Center has that closeness when it comes down to startups’ development, it was like a nice little home effect.

I’m proud of being involved in an organization that does things for the community and trying to develop a system where science and technology help other companies grow and pretty much feed the world. When a company grows, the economy grows. When the economy grows, everything grows with it.

Elwood Boykin

People typically think of real estate as just buildings. But can you elaborate on what these spaces actually mean in the context of the innovation and experimentation that happens here?

I always tell everybody; you have the front of the house which is what everyone sees. You walk into the office, your lights are lit. Then you have the back of the house where everything really happens. I tell my kids; it reminds me of that movie A Night at the Museum- everything comes alive. We have literally thousands of pieces of equipment in a building that we look at, monitor and check every day.

For example, you have to have so many exchanges in a lab per second to keep that lab balanced we have to know that if you put in 75 CFMS (cubic feet per minute) of air into the lab, you want to have exhaust at maybe 71 CFMs to keep your lab slightly positive so you don’t pull any contamination into the labs.

Elwood on the job

I make sure my guys understand that, and their limitations and what needs to be monitored every day. We do what are called “building rounds” every single day, sometimes three times a day and it's just what it sounds like. We go to every single building at uCity Square, check everything, open the building up in the morning, make sure your boilers, your heaters, your exchanges are good to go, and close it down at night. We do transitions during the winter and summer where we run our heat exchanges or close them down depending on the weather. It takes a lot to maintain all that.

When you’re not at the Science Center, making sure all our buildings are running smoothly, what can we find you doing?

Sports, sports, sports, sports and more sports: Flyers, Eagles, Phillies, badminton, golf, auto racing, horse racing. To do what we do you have to be able to have something to look forward to afterwards. It’s a very demanding job. Me, personally, I don’t really have a “hobby” my thing is just sports, I watch all day every day.

I wear two hats; my Veteran hat to work and then my Eagles hat when I get off work. When I come into work I still feel as though I’m serving the Science Center the way I served my country and I try to let everybody know that.

Elwood Boykin

You were stationed all over the world as part of your service in the military. What was the most interesting/ or your favorite place you were stationed?

I did 10 years in the military. I fell in love with Germany. When I first got orders, they sent me to Kissingen and I was at Fulda Gap. I was there when the wall came down, believe it or not, I woke up one morning and we got orders that the wall was coming down, but it wasn’t a conflict. It was an experience to drive our Humvee across that field that separated the two sides, into east Germany and see how much they were cut off from the West, it was kind of a shock.

You are hands down the #1 Eagles in Philadelphia. How are you feeling about the Eagles’ Superbowl prospects?

I’m a realist, and I think with the coach and the team we have we are better than the 2017 team. We probably have the smartest, most intelligent front line- the best in all of football. Watch how they communicate. It’s almost like a job to them, and I think that’s how a company runs. Those guys really really work together, and I think they are the real superstars.

I coached little league football for 10 years and I’ve played football. I also coached a flag football team in Germany and won a championship. I feel comfortable saying that I think they’ll win, because I don’t have any superstitions when it comes to football. The Eagles play the way they practice. Same thing I do at work. I tell my guys, “You succeed how well you work, if you work hard you will succeed, no matter what you do.” If you look at the way the Eagles are playing now, they have meticulous passes, meticulous runs, meticulous audibles. That front line’s been together for a while and they’re communicating very well.

I’ve never worn a non-Eagles jersey in my life, I’ve never even bought a non-Eagles jersey in my life. I wear two hats; my Veteran hat to work and then my Eagles hat when I get off work. When I come into work I still feel as though I’m serving the Science Center the way I served my country and I try to let everybody know that.