“The world won’t wait. Neither will we.” These words have come to epitomize Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences, currently headed by the dean, Dr. Donna Murasko. After sixteen years, Murasko will be stepping down as dean to become a faculty member in the biology department, but these words will continue to embrace the landscape of the arts and sciences at Drexel.
Murasko will end her tenure as dean June 30, 2018 and following a year-long sabbatical, she will reignite her teaching career starting in September 2019. This will be a bittersweet moment for Murasko, as she has thoroughly enjoyed her time as dean.
“The job is a big job, but it’s a really awarding job and Drexel is such a special place to do it,” Murasko said.
As the dean of CoAS, Murasko is responsible for overseeing the departments within the college, hiring faculty, managing the budget and interacting with other colleges within the university, which is particularly important since the college provides foundational courses utilized across the university.
Murasko fulfilled these duties — and more — with a particular objective in mind.
“My goal initially was to make people inside the college proud of who they were, to make the university recognize how important we were and to get people outside to know that we had a very vibrant college of arts and sciences,” she said.
Over the years, Murasko said she has seen a drastic change in the college and at the university altogether.
Murasko has been with Drexel for about 40 years. She started at the Medical College of Pennsylvania when it was an independent entity, and when Hahnemann Medical College became a part of Drexel, she was president of the university faculty. She then joined the Provost’s office to facilitate the merger between Hahnemann and Drexel and subsequently became interim dean until she was selected as the permanent dean in July 2003. She had also been a professor of biology and immunology for about 10 years.
Murasko has seen the university from all sides through these various positions, but she looks forward to the next chapter of her Drexel career where she can interact with students on a more individual level, she said.
“I want to reconnect more personally with students,” she said. “While I can look at what I’m doing as having an impact on a broad range of students, I’m missing the impact that I can have on smaller numbers of students because I don’t get to know them as well as I can.”
In addition to building academic relationships with students, she is also excited to be able to spend more time with her family, especially following the birth of her granddaughter.
However, she admitted that she will miss having the power to directly nurture interesting programs that her colleagues suggest.
“I am going to have to rely on other people to think these things are as important as I do,” she said.
Yet, through her new role, Murasko still has big plans in store.
She is already planning the types of courses she will teach, like a potential course she calls “drugs and bugs,” which will examine organisms that cause diseases and analyze the utilization of drugs to combat them. She’s eager to teach classes again, though she says she would prefer to teach non-majors.
In addition to planning unique courses, there are two major initiatives that Murasko will devote her newfound extra time to.
With a strong passion for community non-profits and an even stronger desire to unite students with these organizations, Murasko plans to develop a fund for students to get paid for certain nonprofit co-ops. Students who receive the funding will be required to take a series of courses on nonprofits, thus gaining a certificate in nonprofit administration. All students will eventually be eligible to receive this certificate as well. As of now, Murasko has mobilized some initial funds to have 14 positions available for the upcoming year (seven for fall/winter and seven for spring/summer) and she will continue to expand the initiative so that it is permanently implemented.
“I want to have an experience that will serve our nonprofits well and will serve our students well,” she said, explaining how she has been trying to kick off the program for over 10 years, but will finally have the time now that she is stepping down as dean.
She will also dedicate her time to improving STEM education through her involvement with the Center for the Advancement of STEM Teaching & Learning Excellence.
And Murasko knows all about improvement; she has watched the rapid transformation of the arts and sciences at Drexel.
“When I joined, I kidded that everyone felt CoAS was a necessary evil,” she said. “I didn’t feel, when I joined, that the university internally or the world around us recognized that there was a college of arts and sciences.”
She explained that since Drexel started as the Institute of Technology, it was primarily focused on engineering and business, often disregarding the arts and sciences.
“People said we were a ‘service-college.’ I banned the word. We are a foundational college; if we don’t provide the information and skills for students early in their career, the other colleges can’t build on them,” she said.
She explained how many people often underestimate the power of a liberal arts degree.
“There’s been a lot of questions over the time that I have been dean whether or not an undergraduate degree from a liberal arts college, which I consider this college, is worthwhile and I absolutely think it is, but I think it’s important to recognize that you don’t learn the breadth of sciences and humanities and social sciences just because. You look at them to see how they can impact the community around you and how they can be utilized for your ultimate career,” she said.
It all goes back to the motto.
The college is indicative of an ever-changing world and the students that are changing with it, she said.
“Everything that we’re learning — whether we’re talking about history, sociology, biology or environmental science — everything that we learn now, has an impact today,” she said.
Following her departure from the role, she said that she is hoping that CoAS faculty will continue to look for opportunities to deepen its connection to society, while specifically fostering the continuity of information between what is taught in the classroom to the world around us.
And ultimately, she hopes the college will continue to grow.
“It would be really nice for people to think, ‘Ah, Drexel University: engineering, business, nursing, and a great college of arts and sciences.’”