The following is an email from Drexel President John A. Fry reprinted in The Triangle’s 2012 Welcome Back Week issue:
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you back to another academic year here at Drexel. As our students return to campus and our faculty and professional staff prepare for the busy weeks and months to come, I wanted to take a few moments to look ahead to an exciting fall term and beyond, as well as share some of the University’s noteworthy highlights from the past year—a year that has seen us continue our growth and evolution into one of the most dynamic and exciting universities in the nation.
Attracting Outstanding Students, Rising Up The Rankings
In May, I had the privilege of conferring degrees on approximately 400 graduates from the College of Medicine and 155 from the Earle Mack School of Law. Then in June, our five University City Campus ceremonies honored approximately 3,000 students receiving undergraduate degrees, 2,200 receiving master’s degrees and 200 doctoral recipients. A small but important group of those graduates celebrated at the second annual Commencement held in Sacramento, Calif., by our Center for Graduate Studies. My congratulations go out to all our new alumni.
Even as we said good-bye to those graduates, we were preparing to welcome the most academically qualified group of new students in Drexel’s history. Enrollment Management projects that 3,900 new full-time undergraduates will enroll this month, including 3,000 freshmen. The latter number was chosen with strategic purpose, as we begin three years in which the freshman class will be held to 3,000 and we will focus on continuing to increase academic quality and improve retention and graduation rates. Already, our efforts are paying dividends. This year’s entering class has an average SAT score of 1226, 18 points higher than last year, and its average high school GPA of 3.60 represents a rise from 3.43 in 2011. More than one third of these students graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, and more than two thirds in the top 25 percent; 29 students were valedictorians of their high school classes, and 22 were salutatorians.
Our incoming class will represent more than 1,400 high schools from 45 states and 54 different countries. Almost half come from outside Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including more than 200 from the growing markets of California, Texas and Florida, and there will be more than 450 international students.
While we work to attract an ever more talented and diverse student body, we have also continued our efforts to improve the educational experience here at Drexel—and our peers are clearly taking notice. In the most recent U.S.News & World Report college rankings, released earlier this month, Drexel jumped to No. 83 among all national universities, up from No. 88 last year. We also moved up to No. 3 on the magazine’s “Up-and-Comers” list, recognizing our place among those universities making the “most promising and innovative changes” in higher education.
Collaborating On A New Strategic Plan
Guiding our efforts in the years to come will be “Transforming the Modern Urban University: Drexel University Strategic Plan 2012-2017,” which was made public in May after more than a year of hard work and collaboration from the entire University community.
At the center of the plan are six strategic initiatives that we believe will transform Drexel over the next five years. These initiatives will see us do the following: (1) invest in academic excellence, (2) intensify and improve the student experience, (3) enhance Drexel’s global impact, (4) create an innovation nexus for research, technology transfer and economic development, (5) develop the nation’s most dynamic transportation hub-based university district and (6) continue to grow Drexel’s enrollment.
These initiatives are underpinned by four “transformational themes,” including breaking down barriers to ensure we operate as “one university,” enhancing our commitment to cooperative education, building on our leadership position in online and hybrid education and transforming the 30th Street gateway to our campus into an “innovation neighborhood.”
At the series of town hall meetings I held to introduce the plan, our faculty and professional staff as well as student leaders asked incisive questions, helped connect the strategic initiatives to a wide variety of functions at Drexel and expressed eagerness to put the plan to work across the University. And I am pleased to report that a number of significant initiatives identified in the strategic plan and campus master plan are now being implemented. If you haven’t read the plan yet, please do so at drexel.edu/StrategicPlan.
A University On The Rise
At the same time we released our strategic plan, we also published our Campus Master Plan—a document that shares our exciting vision for Drexel’s campus and its surrounding neighborhoods. Already, we are seeing that plan come to life through the various construction projects that are shaping and reshaping our University City campus, and will soon do the same in Center City.
In late August, I joined faculty and professional staff from across the University to celebrate the topping out of the magnificent new LeBow College of Business building, a 12-story, 177,500-square-foot facility that will revolutionize business education here at Drexel and place LeBow at the cutting edge of its field. The building is set to open this time next year.
A few blocks west on Market Street, we are putting the finishing touches on the URBN Center, which when completed will serve as the beautiful new home of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. This $70 million project will do more than enliven the western edge of our campus; it will also bring more Westphal students and faculty together in one shared space, where they will be able to better collaborate, share ideas and work across disciplines. We expect the building to be fully up and running in just a few weeks.
Along with these two projects, I’ve also been pleased to see the significant progress being made on the new Chestnut Square development on Chestnut Street. This mixed-use development will provide beautiful living spaces for our students and, through its street-level retail tenants, help turn our Chestnut Street corridor into a new “Main Street” for Drexel.
The amazing physical changes at our University City campus have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this month, Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron published a piece that praised the key elements behind our master plan, including the highly collaborative process that helped shape it. She described our plan as “unlike anything Drexel has produced before.” I encourage you to read her piece, which can be found here.
Meshing With The Academy Of Natural Sciences
One of the overarching themes of our strategic plan is the idea that Drexel must become “One University”—a University that stands together as a single entity, rather than a collection of schools and centers. This effort can best be seen at the moment in our work to integrate the Academy of Natural Sciences into the very fabric of our institution.
Drexel’s historic affiliation with the Academy has inspired the launch of the new Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES). The BEES Department will offer Drexel students new research and academic opportunities locally and across the globe, including access to leading scientists and the Academy’s world-renowned collections.
Even before they begin at Drexel, the first new students in our redesigned environmental science bachelor’s program will experience a unique weeklong interactive course at the Barnegat Bay field station in New Jersey, where research includes turtle ecology, wetland processes and climate change, fisheries biology and nutrient dynamics. The BEES Department will also house a minor in ecology and our master’s and doctoral programs in environmental science.
This is an especially exciting time to be integrating the Academy with the University. As part of its yearlong bicentennial, the Academy is offering behind-the-scenes tours of its world-renowned scientific collections, as well as special exhibits and events. All DragonCard holders now receive free admission to the Academy, so I encourage you to join in the celebration.
Growing Global Partnerships
I traveled to China again in June for the landmark opening of the Drexel-SARI Center in Shanghai, which will house our research collaborations and educational partnerships with the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute (SARI) and provide a Shanghai base for Drexel co-ops, internships, symposia and more.
Concurrent with that trip, Drexel served as Education Partner for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2012 Residency and Tour of China. The Orchestra set out to deepen its connections with China through performance and community engagement, and Drexel was proud to help provide educational programming.
In April, I led the Innovation Partnership Forum Delegation, including BIOMED and College of Engineering faculty and colleagues from Duke, Johns Hopkins and industry partners, on a five-day tour of Turkey’s leading locations for research and innovation. Our destinations included the nation’s best universities and unique “technoparks,” as well as a national biomedical engineering summit. There are many exciting partnerships for Drexel to pursue with high-quality research universities in Turkey.
Meanwhile, our partnership with the Institute for Drug Research of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem continued to move important new methods of drug delivery toward commercialization. The research funded under this joint effort may eventually help treat patients with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, asthma and skin cancer.
Creating And Expanding Innovative Centers And Partnerships
In the weeks to come, I will be making an exciting announcement about a major gift to support the creation of a new center for civic outreach and academic extension. This new center, along with the already thriving Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, will provide Drexel with even greater capacity to serve as a positive change agent in the Powelton Village, West Powelton and Mantua neighborhoods. I am committed to making Drexel the most civically engaged university in the nation, and I am pleased to say that this generous donation will help us take a significant step toward fulfilling that aspiration. I look forward to sharing more details about this soon.
In March we celebrated the launch of the Laurence A. Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, as the Baiada Center in LeBow College of Business transitioned to a University-level institute. Made possible by a $500,000 gift from the Barbara and Charles Close ’36 Foundation, the transition will give students across Drexel access to the cutting-edge coursework and hands-on learning about entrepreneurship that the Baiada Center perfected, and allow the Institute to pursue more seed capital and grants to help Drexel entrepreneurs, be they students or faculty.
The Close Foundation also made a huge impact on the development of our A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, the nation’s first autism center focused on public health science, with a $1.5 million gift. The funds will support faculty recruitment and facility development for the Institute.
This spring, Drexel and Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia launched a new partnership to extend Breakthrough’s model of summer educational programming for low-income students from Philadelphia public schools to those transitioning to high school. Drexel Chairman Rich Greenawalt and his wife Peggy are founding supporters and leaders of Breakthrough, and in recognition of their commitment and the University’s support, the high school initiative was named the Peggy and Richard Greenawalt Breakthrough Program.
Our College of Medicine continues to expand the educational choices it offers to students by growing its network of clinical affiliates. Drexel has partnered with more than 20 affiliated hospitals to ensure that our medical students are able to receive the most outstanding, relevant and specialized clinical training possible. Most recently, in June, the College announced that students would have the opportunity to do elective rotations in up to 10 fields at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point, N.J.
Becoming A Destination For Scholars And Leaders
In May, the Center for Hunger-Free Communities in the School of Public Health convened its first annual national conference on hunger and poverty, “Beyond Hunger: Real People, Real Solutions.” Participants including researchers, advocates, government and nonprofit officials, public health experts and people who have experienced hunger first-hand adopted a nine-point call to action to advance the fight against hunger (read the call to action here).
Some of the world’s leading infectious disease research scientists, including Nobel Laureate Dr. Bruce Beutler, gathered at the College of Medicine in June for the first International Symposium on Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease. Three days of sessions focused on diagnosing, treating and preventing infectious, inflammatory and oncogenic disease.
The fifth-annual Student Conference on Global Challenges, organized in March by the Office of International Programs, focused on food. More than 200 students, faculty, professional staff and community members addressed issues including hunger, nutrition, food distribution and marketing, food arts and culture, advocacy and food policy.
A national competition for law students created at Drexel, the Earle Mack School of Law’s Transactional LawMeets, completed its third and most successful year when regional winners from across America gathered at Drexel for the finals. The Transactional LawMeets is the first competition allowing students studying transactional law to practice their deal-making skills against their peers.
Encouraging Student And Faculty Achievement
There’s no possible way to list all the individual achievements of our students and faculty here, but a few noteworthy examples follow.
Three College of Medicine students were selected as Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellows through 2013 by the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. Phoebe Dacha, Alicia Howard and Ashley Stephens will join 240 Schweitzer Fellows nationwide in executing service projects to help meet the health needs of underserved individuals and communities.
Senior economics major Nevena Bosnic was selected for the highly competitive Carnegie Junior Fellows Program. She was chosen based on her interest in the European economic crisis, which she observed as a Vidalakis Scholar on co-op in Crete, Greece, and studied as a research assistant back at Drexel. During her fellowship in Washington, D.C., she will work with a Carnegie senior associate in the International Economics program.
Two assistant professors in the College of Engineering, Dr. Steven May and Dr. James Rondinelli, each received a Young Investigator award from the Army Research Office’s Physics Division. Dr. May will study the role of crystal symmetry in determining the properties of complex oxides, while Dr. Rondinelli seeks ways to combine high electrical conductivity and optical activity in a single complex oxide material.
I would be remiss not to mention just a few of the many achievements of our outstanding student-athletes. For example, men’s crew was selected to compete in the Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames River in England in June, where it lost a close race to Harvard, while women’s crew won its first-ever gold medals at the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta. Drexel athletes continue to excel as fall sports begin—the nationally ranked field hockey team enjoyed victories over highly regarded teams from the University of California and Duke, while women’s soccer is off to its best start ever including a victory over Penn. Just as important, our athletes continue to be among the nation’s best academic performers, as exemplified by the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams receiving the Team Scholar All-American Award from the College Swimming Coaches Association. And Drexel celebrated the launch of our newest varsity sport, squash, with exciting inaugural men’s and women’s seasons last year, and will once again host the U.S. Open Squash Championships beginning on October 4.
Celebrating A Great Year
Inevitably, a short recap such as this could not possibly capture all or even most of the notable events that mark any academic year at Drexel. So I will just reiterate once more that last year truly was a remarkable year. I am thrilled with what we accomplished, and with our new strategic plan now guiding our vision moving forward, I am excited to see how much more we can do in the year to come.
I am also excited by the degree of commitment and support shown by every part of the University community. To give just one concrete example, our annual “Why I Give” employee Annual Fund campaign saw more than 1,900 faculty and professional staff make gifts this year, for a record 62 percent participation rate. This was up from 54 percent in FY2011, and from 13 percent just three years ago.
Thank you to all of you for your hard work, and your dedication to Drexel University. It’s clearly making a difference.
John A. Fry