Drexel Celebrates Convocation With an Eye on the Power of Truth

Drexel University President John Fry speaks at Drexel's 2017 Convocation.
Drexel University President John Fry speaks at Drexel's 2017 Convocation.

The Drexel University community rang in the new academic year at Wednesday’s Convocation in the Daskalakis Athletic Center, with a focus on the role of an academic institution in a world full of problems waiting to be solved.

“Our main role as a university is to continue our work to reveal the truth — to reveal the truth through precise description and the most rigorous research possible,” said Ana Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH, dean and Distinguished University Professor of Epidemiology in the Dornsife School of Public Health, who delivered the keynote address to open Drexel’s 126th year.

Diez Roux spoke to a crowd that included faculty, staff, alumni and the largest freshman class the University has seen, reflecting on her transition from her time as a pediatrician to her place in academia. She said that the students and faculty at Drexel must look for truth no matter their discipline, whether that means discovering what causes fabrics to be water repellent, how genes are turned on and off in cells, or why some birds cooperate when searching for food.

“As academics, we have the skills, the resources and the time — indeed, we have the luxury — of working on the intellectually fulfilling task of revealing the truth about how things work and why,” said Diez Roux.

In addition to searching for the truth and spreading it far and wide, she said the University plays a critical role in connecting specific local experiences to experiences around the world, and in advocating for a better society.

“It is also our job to continually question and advocate for core social values,” said Diez Roux. “This is a tricky task, because it must be done in a way that is open to new ideas, that allows for critical thinking, but that also does not shy away from our social responsibility to use our power and resources for fairness and justice.”

Diez Roux made a point to mention the importance of students, who are woven into everything a university does. At Drexel, education, research and public service complement one another in the quest to reveal the truth and promote core values, she said.

More than ever, those three pillars of the University are in harmony as the new academic year begins, M. Brian Blake, PhD, executive vice president and the Nina Henderson Provost of Drexel University, said as he welcomed the audience. In addition to boasting a record-setting group of freshmen, Drexel is on the rise in national rankings, is expanding its academic offerings through the addition of new master’s programs, and has recently been awarded grants that will go a long way toward furthering its academic mission. Put simply, “the research enterprise is quite strong,” Blake said.

President John Fry noted that Drexel’s global footprint is continuing to expand, bolstering the University’s academic pursuits. This year’s freshman class adds to a student population that represents 162 countries, he said. Co-op students last year studied in more than 50 countries. And with a summer visit from 25 young African leaders as part of the Mandela Fellowship program, the University is reaching beyond the American border more than it ever has.

On campus, there is a vision of “One University” entailing what Ludo Scheffer, PhD, a teaching professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the Faculty Senate, called a “Search Together Process” of faculty, administration, staff, and students. All Dragons, he said, should work collaboratively from idea formation all the way through implementation and formative evaluation. 

“That shared governance and shared stewardship only work when we are on the same page at the beginning of every journey we undertake, and that we regularly check in with each other if we still have this shared purpose and direction,” said Scheffer.

As Drexel enters its 126th year, on the heels of a yearlong celebration of its 125th, the future is bright, Fry said.

“The new academic year marks a time of unlimited possibilities and our shared ambition to move Drexel forward,” he said.