Elisabeth Van Bockstaele. Photo credit to Jeff Anderson.
Another school year has started, and it’s time to set goals and check on goals from the last year, for both you and the University.
Drexel University makes and tracks its goals through a strategic plan — Drexel’s is called Drexel 2030: Designing the Future — which is formulated and led by Chief Strategy Officer Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, PhD, and a core team of faculty and professional staff who regularly convene to advance the implementation of the plan’s goals. It’s intended to provide a road map for the University to fulfill its mission, better the student experience and enhance its community impact.
“A strategic plan can really only be effective if the community is engaged and aware of what’s going on,” Van Bockstaele said. “Our next task is to incorporate students into that conversation and we want them to be familiar with what’s going on. The more we can get the word out, the more engagement we’ll have and the more ideas we’ll receive from our community members.”
Van Bockstaele caught up with DrexelNow for this lightly edited Q&A to explain what the Strategic Plan is, give an update on initiatives related to the Strategic Plan and explain what’s guiding the plan.
Q: Broadly speaking, what is the Strategic Plan, and why do we have one?
Ultimately, a strategic plan is intended to make our University a better place for its entire community and that includes not only our students, faculty and professional staff, but also our alumni and external partners that Drexel University works with.
In fulfilling Drexel’s mission, Strategic Plan implementation is guided by six imperatives, which are Research Impact, Powerful Partnerships, Student Empowerment, Culture of Equity, Adaptable Curricula and Immersive Learning. Each one of these is intended to better our environment and guide us in improving Drexel University’s reputation and addressing some of society’s greatest challenges, and they help us to prioritize initiatives. As we’re outlining our goals under these imperatives, it’s important to track our progress through metrics and key performance indicators.
The plan also outlines our shared values, or the five I’s, which are integrity, inclusion, impact, integration and innovation. These shared values unite us as a Drexel community and are at the foundation of everything we do, including as part of plan implementation.
Q: How does the Strategic Plan impact the student experience?
A: The plan really is focused on enhancing the student experience both in and out of the classroom. All of our imperatives are directed at improving the student experience. Our goal is to support, prepare and empower students to be purpose-driven global citizens who will help solve society’s greatest challenges. We want to have inclusive learning environments, so we’re focusing on building a culture of equity, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Drexel.
We are also a co-op school, so we’re really known for experiential learning, but we want to provide immersive experiential learning and have that woven in everything we do for all our diverse student population. This includes access to external partners, which is part of our Powerful Partnerships imperative, and we already have our students serve in co-op positions with our external partners. We want to have those external partners also provide innovation in our classroom experience, so they’re helping us develop what skills are needed for a 21st century employee in diverse organizations.
We also believe that research impact and innovation happen at the intersection of different disciplines, so we’re prioritizing transdisciplinary and applied research and having our students engage in creative activities.
Q: How has/will the student experience change due to those changes?
A: Our Strategic Plan is about catering to all of our diverse student body, so in addition to our undergraduate students, we have graduate and professional students, online and on-campus students, students who are on the quarter calendar or the semester calendar, nontraditional and adult learner students, and international students. Our Strategic Plan and imperatives are intended to serve all those different student constituencies. With our Strategic Plan, we try to deliver the best possible experience for every kind of student and enrich the campus environment through our campus master plan.
One way is with the Academic Resource Center, which is going to be a centralized hub of support services for students. Even though that’s a physical space in the Korman Center, it’s intended to bring together a lot of the educational support assets that were previously distributed across campus into a singular location. Whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student, or online or on campus, we’re going to be developing these strategies through the Academic Resource Center to help students succeed in the classroom and guide students outside of the classrooms as necessary. Even if you are fully online, this campus is open to you, whether that’s the library or any of the facilities at Drexel. We want students to feel that they’re part of a community here.
And then as for the campus enhancements, it’s exciting to see not only all of the innovation and growth happening at Schuylkill Yards, but also how much green space is being prioritized. We want to give Drexel, which is an urban institution, a more campus feel by developing signage which helps students increase their sense of belonging. We’re also thinking about better housing opportunities, including for graduate and international students.
Q: How will the Strategic Plan impact the community around Drexel, from West Philly and beyond?
A: We’re excited about the new Vice Provost of for University and Community Partnerships, Youngmoo Kim, who served as one of the chairs of one of our Drexel 2030 implementation teams. He has a great vision for how to bring the community into Drexel and work through the Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships. We’re trying to brainstorm solutions with our community on how to best support them.
An example of recent success is the Environmental Collaboratory receiving a Climate Hubs Learning Partner grant from the Waverly Street Foundation, which is intended to support its work in community-driven solutions to environmental problems.
Drexel has also recently formalized a merger agreement with Salus University. They have many clinics that provide optometry and audiology care to the residents of the communities near those clinics. Drexel has that also with the 11th Street Clinic, but it’s exciting to expand health care offerings to meet the needs of our community.
Drexel 2030 recently launched a funding proposal process for its strategic initiative teams. One of our first successful grants is called the Global Hubs, which is led by Rogelio Miñana, [PhD, vice provost of global engagement] and it’s intended to expand our reach into different countries. One of the efforts is being spearheaded in India, where we will be welcoming nine students from one of the hubs into the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems starting in the winter term. This is a type of approach where we’re trying to develop relationships with our global partners in a targeted way. It’s not only building relationships with their faculty and thinking about research, but also creating pipelines via these global hubs for students to come to Drexel.
Q: What Strategic Plan-related updates have happened over the past year?
A: With respect to our Powerful Partnerships imperative, we are very excited about the affiliation agreement we have with Peirce College as well as the merger with Salus University, which will provide more academic offerings to our students. Salus is a primarily graduate institution with health science-related programs including speech language pathology and an occupational therapy optometry program. These are programs with good-paying jobs that we didn’t offer before. Having those programs merged into our University will provide opportunities for Drexel undergraduates to continue their education here.
We’re also focusing on workforce development and upskilling, especially with our community partners within Philadelphia. As we’re coming out of COVID, we want to help with the economic recovery of the area. The affiliation agreement we have with Peirce College is intended to serve the adult learner, like a resident of Philadelphia who is looking to either complete their bachelor’s degree or upskill their education. We are piloting a program right now with three undergrad online programs at Drexel, including psychology, general studies and health services administration, that allows students to start at Peirce College and complete their associate degree, and then seamlessly matriculate into the Drexel online bachelor’s degree program. The first set of students started at Peirce this fall.
We’re excited about infusing something that’s very “Drexel” — our experiential learning — into the Peirce programs through an apprenticeship program. Peirce has a medical billing and coding certificate program which provides great jobs and it’s an area that’s seeing tremendous growth. With our co-ownership of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Drexel is partnering with Peirce to provide apprenticeships for Philadelphia residents to be hired as St. Christopher’s employees, and the hospital will pay for their education to earn their certificate in medical coding or billing. It builds off some of the work that’s being led by Kena Sears Brown [director of Continuing Professional Education and Workforce Initiatives in the Goodwin College of Professional Studies], who was awarded a PA SMART grant that created some apprenticeship programs in cybersecurity. Kena is a chair of one of our Drexel 2030 initiative teams.
Q: How can students keep up with updates/progress on the Strategic Plan?
A: First, our website is going to be expanded to include the results that we are accomplishing, as well as some metrics and key performance indicators to track our progress. We also have a feedback form, so we are always asking individual students or community members to exchange ideas with us through this feedback form, and we always appreciate the great feedback we’ve received from the community.
We also rely on our DrexelNow articles and news updates, where we provide updates on the strategic plan implementation and announcements from leadership, which are usually populated with links that can take you to a deeper dive into different topics and University-wide initiatives.
We’re also talking about having a town hall or Q&A session for students. We’ve had town halls for faculty and professional staff where we’ve given updates on the strategic plan, but we haven’t done it with students. We’re eager to do that now that we have implementation results, and we want to hear from our students and make sure they’re aware of all the great things we’re implementing at Drexel.