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Meet Three New CoAS Directors

Meet the New Directors at the Drexel University College of Arts and Sciences


August 26, 2020

Over the past few months, Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences has welcomed (albeit remotely) new administrative leadership from as far away as Tennessee and North Carolina. Meet the three directors who are leading the College in the areas of advising, student success, marketing, communications and recruitment!

Director of Recruitment

Name: Molly Knowlton
Degree: MEd in Higher Education Management, University of Pittsburgh; EdD candidate in Higher Education Leadership & Policy, Vanderbilt University
Hometown: Tewksbury, New Jersey 

What did you do before coming to Drexel?
Before coming to Drexel, I worked at the Tennessee Department of Education in Nashville, Tennessee. There, I worked on college and career readiness initiatives focused on increasing seamless postsecondary enrollment across the state. I have also worked at Colgate University, University of Pittsburgh, and Vanderbilt University in undergraduate, graduate, and professional admissions.

What book, movie, show or podcast would you recommend? 
I love listening to podcasts. One of my favorites right now is Ear Hustle. Hosted by former inmates, the podcast tells stories of life inside San Quentin State Prison. I am also a big fan of the show “The Office,” and I have been listening to the new podcast Office Ladies. It is a re-watch podcast hosted by “The Office” co-stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey. It is the perfect lighthearted break!

What is your favorite food or restaurant?
I love trying new restaurants! Since moving to Philadelphia in May, I have enjoyed exploring the city by checking out some of my new local spots — of course, as takeout for now! One of my favorites so far is DanDan in Rittenhouse. I am looking forward to one day getting the full dine-in experience!

What is your favorite thing about Philadelphia?
So far, my favorite thing is how walkable the city is. It has been fun to be able to wander around the city and discover little coffee shops, interesting restaurants and beautiful streets. I have also loved walking along the Schuylkill River Trail with my dog, Indiana Bones! 

What was an impactful moment from your own college career?
Even though I majored in history in college, I decided to pick up a minor in geology. I made the decision originally because I wanted to go on some of the amazing trips associated with the courses — including a trip to Ecuador to study volcanos!

It did not come easily to me, but I am so glad I stuck with it. I met so many amazing people outside of my major, traveled to incredible places, and challenged myself by taking courses that did not come easily to me. I always encourage college students to push themselves and try new courses, clubs, or other opportunities even if they are outside of your comfort zone!

Director of Marketing & Communications

Name: Tom Durso
Degree: MBA, Saint Joseph’s University
Hometown: Glenside, Pennsylvania

What book, movie, show or podcast would you recommend?
Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” is ostensibly a writing guide, but it has something poignant and insightful to say to everyone, regardless of profession or vocation.

What is your favorite food or restaurant?
If there’s anything more delicious (and versatile!) than pizza, I haven’t tasted it.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Eating all of the pizza (see above!) yet maintaining my waistline.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? What made you choose to work in higher education?
At various times when I was a kid, I wanted to be a radio DJ, an architect, a cartoonist, and the Phillies’ second baseman. I fell into higher education, really, but it hooked me. At a higher-ed marketing conference a few years ago, I got a t-shirt that reads, “Advancing the Only Industry That Advances Every Industry.” I’m proud to wear that shirt — it really sums up why I love working in higher education.

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement thus far in your career?
As a marketer, my biggest achievement was leading a comprehensive market research project at a prior institution and using the results to inform a significant rebranding initiative. As a journalist, I once wrote three stories that ran on the front page of the next day’s paper. Lots of breaking news that day!

What do you hope to add to the CoAS community?
I’m a storyteller at heart, and CoAS is just bursting with great stories. I’m here to make sure those stories get their due, within the College, within the University, and among the wider world.

Director of Advising & Student Success

Name: Brad Petitfils
Degree: PhD in Curriculum Theory, Louisiana State University
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana

What did you do before coming to Drexel?
I started my career at a Jesuit university in New Orleans, and initially worked in instructional technology until Hurricane Katrina. Thereafter, I was thrust into the world of online course design and worked with departments to create online degree programs.

After getting my doctorate, I moved into Institutional Research and worked for a time as Director of Campus Planning and Assessment, and later became Senior Director of Student Success and Institutional Research and Effectiveness. During those years, I was also the university liaison to the regional accrediting agency, I was teaching two courses per semester in the Psychology department, and I was director of our summer abroad program in Paris, France. I left New Orleans for a similar role at the University of North Carolina Asheville in 2018, but when I learned of this opportunity at Drexel, I couldn't pass it up.

What book, movie, show or podcast would you recommend?
Well, part of my research has been focused on the intersection of pop culture and hidden pedagogies, so it’s hard to choose. I am really a fan of Wes Anderson films in general, but I thought “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was sublime. In the past, I have taught courses on the old HBO show “Six Feet Under,” which still holds a special place in my heart. More recently, I was teaching a course on the Netflix series “Black Mirror,” though that seems to be a bit dark considering our current contexts!

When is the last time you did something “for the first time”? What was it?
During this pandemic, I have been taking advantage of still living in Asheville, which is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In June, I did a five-mile hike on a rather isolated trail that was recommended by some friends. I have been on many hikes before, but this was the first time I did one alone, and the experience was a bit unexpected. Lots to think about on that trip, and once I reached the summit and spent some time looking around, it helped to put some of our contextual chaos into perspective.

What/who inspires you?
Right now, I have to say my younger sister is the most inspiring force in my life. She is a nurse at a hospital in New Orleans, and contracted COVID-19 in April. She spent roughly four weeks in the hospital, with a brief stint in ICU, and thankfully, made a remarkable turnaround. Though even today — four months later — her recovery continues, she has recently been liberated from the need for supplemental oxygen at home and is looking forward to returning to work. That kind of selflessness is special. We literally owe our lives to people like her.

What have you been working on recently?
Aside from thinking of how and when to move to Philadelphia? Well, I have two writing projects in different stages of development. First, I am working on an article with a former colleague about the role of education in what will become the post-COVID world. Also, I have had a new book idea in mind for some time now, and I have taken advantage of the pandemic to get more reading done. My earlier work focused on hyperreality and posthumanism, but now I am thinking of the birth of film as a new medium and comparing that history to the birth of the Web as we know it today. I’m interested to see how the two comparatively evolved, and what we might learn about individuals and society based on our collective reactions to new technologies.

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement thus far in your career?
I have always been a proponent of the administrator-teacher model in higher education. In the past, teaching has allowed me to connect with students who would normally never have visited our support offices — whether for advising, or tutoring, or even counseling — primarily because they were afraid to ask people for help.

In this context, I think I can point specifically to teaching my “Six Feet Under” course in New Orleans. When I first offered that class, I wasn’t sure how students would react to it, but word spread around campus, and by the time I left there, it had garnered somewhat of a cult following. In my last semester there, though there were only 80 students enrolled, nearly 300 people showed up for the last lecture, including students’ families and former students who had graduated years prior.

I am really at my best, and happiest, when I’m working with students — whether through advising, mentoring, teaching, or guiding them through the streets of Paris. I’m looking forward to the end of this pandemic so we can start working together (in an embodied sense) for Drexel students.

What do you hope to add to the CoAS community?
Well, up until now, I have spent my career in liberal arts institutions — and the ethic of care that I’ve learned is heavily influenced by the tradition of the Jesuits. When I interviewed for this position, someone asked “Why CoAS?” I remember saying that CoAS is my intellectual home; that is, the work of the programs in CoAS is typically the work that we see in liberal arts institutions. And so, while I can’t speak to what has happened before my arrival, I hope that I can bring some of the ethos of the liberal arts approach to the CoAS community: student-centered, a holistic sense of care for their well-being and growth, and sympathetic mentoring. The advising staff are obviously committed to students here in CoAS, so I feel like we will work well together moving forward.

Learn more about undergraduate advising or academic programs in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences!