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Drexel University President Selected for Fulbright Award to Italy

December 13, 2019

The Rectorate building of the Politechnico di Milano in Milan, Italy. Photo courtesy Giuliana Iannaccone.
The Rectorate building of the Politechnico di Milano in Milan, Italy. Photo courtesy Giuliana Iannaccone.

Drexel University President John Fry has received a Fulbright award and will serve as a Fulbright Specialist to Italy this summer.

In late June, Fry will begin a three-week assignment at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy’s largest polytechnic university located in the heart of Milan. As the first Fulbright Specialist who is a university president to be hosted at the institution, he will share his expertise in university leadership, urban redevelopment and strategic planning.

During his residency at the Politecnico di Milano, Fry will collaborate with the university’s faculty, staff and students; other local university leaders; and representatives from the municipality of Milan and industrial associations. He will visit the institution’s two Milan campuses, its campus on Lake Como and the Milano Innovation District to host workshops, conduct meetings and give lectures. His focus will be on the role of innovation in U.S. universities; the benefits of community and civic engagement; the importance of urban regeneration; and possible avenues for international collaboration and partnerships.

“I’m grateful and thrilled to be working with the Politecnico di Milano in part because we’re very much kindred spirits in terms of our institutions,” said Fry. “Like Drexel, the Politecnico is a very highly ranked university with a similar kind of mission and role as an anchor institution in an intensely urban area that has large ambitions for more of an impact.”

Fry was first named to the Fulbright Specialist Program in 2017 by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and World Learning. The Fulbright Specialist Program pairs qualified U.S. faculty and professionals who have valued academic and professional experience with academic institutions around the world, to work with them on consulting projects related to subjects like institutional planning, faculty development and curriculum.

The Politecnico di Milano is looking to strengthen its local and international reputation as a comprehensive university with the potential for research and innovation. It also is working to increase connections with U.S. institutions and establish a partnership model of global collaboration among urban universities that could be used not just across Italy, but around the world. As a recognized expert in higher education leadership, urban revitalization, cooperative education and economic development, Fry will help inform and shape the institution’s vision through his Fulbright Specialist Program project, which is called, “The Global Challenges of Urban Universities.”

“The goal of completing this experience is to spread the word about Drexel’s capabilities for research, partnerships and civic engagement as part of a really dynamic city,” said Fry. “This is an opportunity in a country where I would love to be able to promote Drexel and show how we build strategic partnerships between ‘town and gown’ and how we relate to one another.”

The genesis of the project originated in July 2018, when Fry met with Eugenia Victoria Ellis, PhD, a professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, and her longtime research partner and colleague Giuliana Iannaccone, PhD, an associate professor and director of building and architectural engineering at Politecnico di Milano. Ellis and Iannaccone have researched and taught multiple classes together on initiatives related to responsive urban environments and sustainability strategies for cities around the world. Since 2015, they have worked together through some exchange programs funded by the European Union, initially through the EU-US Atlantis program, then followed by Erasmus+ which enhances the cooperation and mobility with partner countries in the field of higher education.

Supported by Erasmus+ funding, Iannaccone came to Drexel last spring with three of her colleagues. With Ellis, they held a half-day workshop around the theme of responsive urban environments, and met with Fry, which is when they mapped out the next step of their institutions’ potential collaboration.

A mix of Drexel and Politecnico faculty during a trip to Drexel. From left to right: Gabriele Masera, professor and deputy dean of Politecnico’s School of Architecture Urban Planning Construction Engineering; Manuela Grecchi, Politecnico professor and vice rector for its Lecco Campus; Giuliana Iannaccone; Matteo Ruta, Politecnico associate professor and director of building engineering-architecture; and Eugenia Victoria Ellis. Photo courtesy Giuliana Iannaccone.

“What is so wonderful about this Fulbright Specialist appointment is that it brings together the two institutions as well as industry and teaching and research,” said Ellis.

Ellis will accompany Fry on his trip to Milan, and Iannaccone will meet up with them in Milan, where she will have been working to facilitate Fry’s meetings and lectures.

“With this visit, it will be possible to make this collaboration grow and evolve our institution,” said Iannaccone. “For us at Politecnico di Milano, it’s a great opportunity to increase our collaboration with Drexel and further partner with a U.S. university, which is one of our priority areas when considering our globalization strategy.”

For Iannaccone and Ellis, this trip is the next step in furthering their research and academic partnership, as well as the connections between their cities (which have similar populations) and their institutions (Politecnico di Milano and Drexel were started roughly at the same time with a similar purpose of educating the next generation of professionals to support growing industries). This year alone, four of Iannaccone’s students will visit Drexel this spring, and will likely develop plans for an area around Schuylkill Yards, 30th Street Station or Drexel’s public realm by exploring strategies for revitalization as a responsive urban environment. Ellis and Drexel students will meet up with Iannaccone and her students in Italy this summer for a two-week, three-credit course called “Responsive Urban Environments,” in which they will attend and present at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at Venice Biennale, one of the most famous and prestigious cultural organizations in the world which organizes exhibitions and research related to the new contemporary art trends; a similar class was held in 2018 in which students developed plans for the Porta Genova district in Milan, which they presented at the 16th Architecture Biennale in Venice.

“International cooperation only works when it involves people who not only work and collaborate together, but who enjoy working and collaborating together,” said Ellis. “The feeling of friendship really makes things work.”