Drexel President John Fry joined a panel of students, faculty, staff and alumni to discuss the moments that shape the Drexel experience.
A year’s worth of public lectures to mark Drexel University’s 125th anniversary concluded with a wide-ranging reflection from several generations of Dragons on the moments that make the University a special place.
Scott Knowles, PhD, interim department head in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of History, gathered a seven-member group that included students, staff, faculty and alumni, as well as President John Fry, and made a simple but challenging request: “Tell us about your Drexel story, if you had a few minutes to share your defining moment here.” After a run of academic talks over the past year, Knowles acknowledged the final event, held June 8 in the Kline School of Law, was “almost like a family history session to a certain degree.”
Fry admitted that his defining experience at Drexel didn’t have all that much to do with him personally. When the U.S. Department of Defense tapped the University as a leader in the creation of a $75 million research institute to support textile manufacturers in bringing new materials to the marketplace, called Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, Drexel took a major step forward. Drexel competed with every great university in the country to win the grant, and it took collaboration from the College of Computing & Informatics, the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering and more to make it happen.
“When I got that word I said to myself, ‘This is a moment of arrival,’” said Fry. “Nothing like this had ever happened at our University before, and this was a moment when we arrived as a first-tier university. … And the way we did it was as a team. Those things together were a passage into another era for our University.”
Edwin Gerber, PhD, a professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is among the current longest-tenured Dragons. He started at Drexel as a student in 1953, then moved into teaching. At the panel discussion, he recalled when Macintosh computers arrived at Drexel in 1983, forever changing the University’s future. The new technology, especially the mouse used with each computer, confused some Dragons.
“Some of the faculty thought the computers contained mice,” Gerber joked.
Judy Trachtman, who worked at Drexel from 1970 to 2010 in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said she still has her original Macintosh.
“I’m waiting for it to become a real collector’s item,” she said.
Trachtman responded to Knowles’ prompt by mentioning the melting pot of culture she experienced at Drexel, and the value of a diverse student body. She also said the University’s assistance in sending her children to college was something special that she holds onto.
“I gave to Drexel and Drexel gave to me,” she said. “It was a two-way street.”
For Rebecca Weidensaul, PhD, assistant vice president of Student Life, Drexel has always been about the authentic relationships and community available to everyone who comes through campus. She said those relationships serve as the foundation the University is built on.
“One of the things I’ll remember through and through about Drexel is the collegiality and the willingness to help each other, and to teach and learn from one another,” said Weidensaul.
Jerry John Nutor, a PhD nursing student and president of the Graduate Student Association, said when he was searching for a place to study, he wanted a university in the heart of a city, one that had an interdisciplinary nature for training health professionals and good relationships among faculty and graduate students. He liked what he saw when he read about Drexel, and he’s been building the moments Knowles asked about ever since.
“Since I arrived here in 2015, I’ve seen that I made the best choice,” said Nutor. “All these things I was reading, they actually exist here.”
To Fry, what’s here now is just the beginning for a university making major strides locally and globally. He said Drexel is positioned to be one of a few institutions that can make true advances in both areas.
Locally, the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships is doing important work in a federal Promise Zone, helping children and families living in poverty to find solutions and live better lives. Globally, the Dornsife Global Development Scholars Program is an example of the great effort Drexel is making, he said. The program has students in Zambia working on sanitation and hygiene project, something Fry recently saw up close. The efforts in Mantua and Zambia, despite being thousands of miles apart, exist on a continuum that allows students to have “intensive, life-changing experiences” where they can truly help people in need, whether at home or abroad.
“My hope for the future is that we are truly a local and global university that can make those connections, not in a theoretical way but in a personal and practical way,” said Fry.