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Snapshot of Excellence—Looking Back at 2012-13

August 8, 2013

Dear Member of the Drexel Community:

Congratulations on a remarkable year of achievement. Every day great things are happening all across Drexel. The summer is a natural time to look back at the academic year and see how the University continued to advance and transform itself.

Drexel’s tremendous energy is now focused by an ambitious and forward-looking strategic plan, and it seems like our accomplishments are growing exponentially. There’s no way to capture everything we have achieved together this year in this message, but here are a few examples.

We’re implementing our strategic plan.
It’s been a year since we released “Transforming the Modern Urban University.” The strength of the plan is rooted in the collaborative process with which we developed it. Our early success in implementation also reflects our shared ownership of its initiatives.

The implementation of the plan is happening through broad strokes as well as tightly focused efforts, along a variety of timelines. New updates at the Strategic Plan website present some of the wins we have achieved together.

Our students and faculty are achieving unprecedented recognition.
This year seven graduate students were offered grants from the Fulbright U.S. Student program. Drexel has never before had that many Fulbright Scholars. They represent our programs in medicine, nursing and health professions, public health, engineering and education. Their valuable work will further Drexel’s reputation across Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

Another first occurred when all four undergraduates nominated by Drexel were named Goldwater Scholars. These outstanding students are among just 271 nationwide to receive the scholarships, which support the studies of future scientists, mathematicians and engineers. Only three other universities achieved a “clean sweep” this year.

Five Drexel faculty members received National Science Foundation CAREER awards, supporting promising young researchers nationwide. Their recognition says volumes about Drexel’s outstanding research enterprise today, and its potential to grow its impact in years to come.

We’re becoming more efficient and effective.
In December, we launched the STAR Review (Strategic Transformation of Administrative Resources) to improve Drexel’s administrative operations. Approximately 800 faculty and professional staff provided insight to Huron Consulting Services about the way the University functions.

Phase 2 of the STAR Review is now underway. Huron’s recommendations helped us develop eight specific initiatives that will lead to long-term performance improvements and allow us to dedicate proper resources to the strategic plan. All eight are described on the Office of the President website. The highest-priority initiatives are being undertaken immediately. They include:

  • Redesigning our budget process to create a model, based on responsibility-center management, that directly assigns revenues to units that generate them and collects funds from those units to support Drexel’s central activities.
  • Strengthening our central procurement infrastructure through a “procure-to-pay” model that leads to more intelligent buying, reduced risk and better management.
  • Implementing a new student lifecycle management strategy for engaging our students from their first contact with Drexel through graduation in order to improve Drexel’s retention rates, which lag behind our peers.

Our athletes are scholars and champions.
This year ranked among the most successful in Drexel history for athletic achievement. In the fall, the women’s field hockey and men’s soccer teams each gained NCAA tournament berths. Then in April the women’s basketball team concluded an amazing run by winning the Women’s National Invitation Championship. That was the first national postseason title for any NCAA Division I women’s team in Philadelphia. In May, the crew team won its first-ever overall team title at one of rowing’s signature events, the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta on the Schuylkill.

Just as gratifying as those exciting victories, last fall we learned that seven Drexel varsity teams had scored 100 percent in the NCAA’s most recent Graduation Success Rate measurement. Our athletes are incredibly focused and hard-working. Those traits serve them well in academics as well as sports.

“Drexel Innovates” is laying the foundation for growth.
Last month I announced the formation of Drexel Ventures, a new enterprise that will serve everyone at the University involved in entrepreneurship and innovation. It will greatly facilitate the commercialization of Drexel inventions, increase sponsored research and support entrepreneurial ventures growing out of our discoveries.

Drexel Ventures is part of Drexel Innovates, our strategy to fuel innovation in the region and beyond. Drexel Innovates got off the ground in a big way this year with the launch of the ExCITe Center (Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies), the formation of the Office of Corporate Relations and Economic Development and the magnificent gift from the Close Foundation to found the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship.

With Drexel Innovates, we are now able to make good on a number of key commitments in our strategic plan: to accelerate the creation of life-improving solutions, to more easily and rapidly commercialize our research and to foster economic growth.

Our academic enterprise is serving students in new ways.
Drexel was a leader in the first wave of online learning. To maintain our competitive advantage, we worked this year with The Parthenon Group, a leading consultant in the online education field, to better understand today’s market and best practices. The results of that process include (1) a new administrative division, led by a senior vice president for online learning, that will provide comprehensive services to online students and (2) a new focus for Goodwin College on enrolling bachelor’s degree completers, a key target market for online and hybrid programs.

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University has also ignited an academic spark. The BEES Department (Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science) in the College of Arts and Sciences, featuring Academy scientists now serving as Drexel professors, welcomed its first students in September. And this winter the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design announced a master’s degree program in museum leadership developed in partnership with the Academy.

We continued to explore new ways to grow the Drexel Network, which brings a Drexel education to students in a variety of locations around the world. For example, Drexel Sacramento announced its first undergraduate program in business administration. And I traveled to Pottstown recently to announce that Drexel would offer graduate programs in Montgomery County Community College’s University Center. Similar discussions are underway with Delaware County Community College.

Our neighbors are becoming our partners.
The Dana and David Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships is getting ready to open its doors at 35th and Spring Garden Streets. Once the renovation of this historic site and its buildings is complete, we will begin to share expertise and knowledge mutually with our neighbors in Powelton Village and Mantua in a new model of university-community partnership—the first urban extension center by a private university in the United States.

We received $90,000 in funding from the Aberdeen Charitable Foundation for Mantua in Action, a youth development program providing middle school students with immersive after-school educational and extracurricular programs. It’s easy to imagine similar transformative programs serving every child in Philadelphia, with the help of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, corporate partners like Aberdeen and other anchor institutions throughout the city. And soon we will announce another transformative partnership to support the academic and social growth of young people in Mantua.

I can’t address the topic of community partnerships without mentioning the sad passing in June of Phil Lindy, namesake of our Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation. A great man, and the inspiration for Drexel’s civic engagement efforts, Phil will be missed deeply. It’s a privilege to be among the institutions called on to uphold his legacy of service. I know Drexel will rise to the challenge.

Our global footprint is growing.
I had the opportunity this year to visit Brazil and Chile with Governor Tom Corbett and a Pennsylvania trade delegation. While there I signed memos of understanding to pave the way for further collaboration with four major universities.

In March I was very fortunate to be the guest of David and Dana Dornsife on a trip to Ethiopia organized by World Vision. The Dornsifes support World Vision’s work to build wells and provide access to safe water for people across Africa. We were accompanied by Dr. Shannon Marquez of the School of Public Health, an expert in safe water systems, and are now exploring future partnership possibilities in the region.

Last month the Drexel-SARI Center in Shanghai, our collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, hosted its first academic symposium. The subject was Grand Challenges for the Integration of Stem Cells, Nanomaterials and Biomanufacturing.

Our campus is transforming.
Alongside the strategic plan, our campus master plan laid out Drexel’s vision for a campus that complements and supports our academic and civic goals. That transformation is gathering momentum.

This fall we’ll celebrate the opening of Geri C. LeBow Hall, as our LeBow College of Business students and faculty begin working in Drexel’s largest and most forward-thinking academic building. Some of those students may be living half a block away in Chestnut Square, where our partnership with American Campus Communities has built outstanding new housing along with exciting retail and restaurants that will serve the entire neighborhood.

The next wave of transformative projects is already taking shape, as we renovate Nesbitt Hall in advance of the School of Public Health’s move to University City, and Stratton Hall for the College of Arts and Sciences. Raymond Perelman’s incredible generosity has made possible a $5 million transformation of the outdoor heart of campus; we’ll begin to see Perelman Plaza take shape shortly. And we’re getting ready to announce another high-impact partnership with American Campus Communities along the critical commercial corridor of Lancaster Avenue west of 34th Street.

We’re impacting the culture, and having fun.
Every Drexel initiative advances our mission and helps us serve our students and society. But some are unique sources of pride for the University. And some are just so different that they capture the imagination of the world at large.

This year saw the exhibition “Highlights from the Drexel Collection” inaugurate the Pearlstein Gallery in the new URBN Center. In one place for the first time were art and artifacts from Anthony J. Drexel’s original collection, the University Archives, the legacy collections of the College of Medicine, the world-renowned holdings of the Academy of Natural Sciences and the diverse collections of Westphal College, including the Historic Costume Collection. Together, the pieces told a wonderful story of the role that these collections play in informing every aspect of the Drexel experience.

The news that the library was an early adopter of a kiosk to lend Macbooks to students 24 hours a day was picked up by hundreds of media outlets locally and worldwide. Once again, Drexel’s reputation for out-of-the-box technological thinking was bolstered.

Dr. Frank Lee and his game design students were featured from the morning shows to the tech blogs with their successful quest to project the world’s largest game of Pong on the side of the Cira Centre. That endearing bit of technological hubris was a great distillation of the Drexel spirit.

We’re ready to do more.
The strategic plan is in motion, and the STAR project is helping us build an even more solid base from which to work. The pace of transformation at Drexel is only going to increase. For example, you’ll soon see real progress in launching the Innovation Neighborhood, our research-inspired, transit-oriented development linking the campus to 30th Street Station. It’s one of Drexel’s most ambitious projects, and one of the most exciting.

One of the reasons that we’re all at Drexel is because we like to think big, work hard and get important things done in service to our society and our disciplines. You’ve proven once again this year that you’re up to the challenge of creating a world-class university infused with Drexel’s unique character. I look forward to the great things we will achieve in the coming year and beyond.


John A. Fry