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Connections: Looking Forward to 2016-17

September 6, 2016

Dear Colleagues:

As we greet a new academic year and anticipate with excitement Drexel's 125th anniversary celebrations, I ask you to pause, and consider something that we all know to be true: At a great university, it's the connections that make all the difference.

The admirable achievements of our scholars, the humbling generosity of our benefactors, the willingness of a diverse urban community to seek common ground with us – when it all works together, these connections lead to something much greater.

The connections are visible when our faculty convene conferences, classes and seminars, creating new knowledge and passing it on to the next generation. They stand out when university benefactors fund initiatives like the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, and then take the next step to personally get involved with the wider community. And those connections shine more brightly when urban planners, developers and regional transit experts plan together for transformative growth around Philadelphia's centerpiece rail hub, with Drexel quickly emerging as the anchor of an urban innovation district that rivals any in the nation.

So welcome to the center of activity – where so much has happened in the past 125 years and so much more is about to take place. Here is a snapshot of just some of what we are doing at Drexel.


As we look ahead, as always the best harbinger of our success is the incoming freshman class – this year, some 2,400-strong. They're more diverse than ever, and their level of academic achievement meets the high bar that Drexel keeps raising.

Two years ago, we made the strategic decision to improve our retention and graduation rates, starting with radically reducing the number of applications, which had reached an unwieldy 55,000 a year. We did this so we can give each applicant the personal attention she or he deserves and make sure Drexel is a good fit with their expectations. Early results for last year's incoming freshmen class look very promising. Our third-term retention rate for that class has hit what appears to be an all-time high of 94.9 percent. This year, we have admitted another freshman class well-suited for Drexel, and we're very excited about what they'll accomplish.

Our incoming freshman class is increasingly diverse with an increase in the share of the freshman class representing underrepresented minority students — 17 percent are Asian, 6 percent are African American, 7 percent are Hispanic, and 12 percent are international students. This diverse mix of students will add to the vibrant mix of people, ideas and activity on campus, in our neighborhoods and across the city.

In the coming year, students and their families also will find a new amenity: The Study at University City, a 212-room hotel at 33rd and Chestnut Streets, which will open in November.


Research and scholarship is a cornerstone of Drexel. The University's high-caliber research got a big vote of confidence in April, when the U.S. Department of Defense tapped Drexel as a key leader in the creation of a $75 million national research institute to support American textile and "smart fabric" manufacturing. The institute — called the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America – will be a national manufacturing resource center for industry and government.

Beginning in 2010, the University has ranked in the top 20 nationally for the number of inventions disclosed per dollar of federal research funding received. Drexel's current patent portfolio includes more than 200 issued patents, and the University has more than 400 additional technologies at various stages of patent application.

In 2015, Drexel was ranked among the top 50 worldwide universities granted U.S. utility patents according to the National Academy of Inventors and Property Owners Association. The University was 37th among U.S. institutions on the list, ahead of such prestigious schools as Yale University, Dartmouth College and Carnegie-Mellon University.

We welcome two new deans to Drexel this year. Dr. Paul Brandt-Rauf will join us in February as the new dean of the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems from the University of Illinois in Chicago and Dr. Yi Deng was appointed dean of the College of Computing & Informatics from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.


The state of Drexel's finances is strong. Our endowment has grown to $663.4 million, a 23.7 percent increase in just five years.

We closed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 by raising $120.7 million in outright gifts and pledges, surpassing our goal by $700,000 and beating FY2015 by $5.3 million. This marks the third year in a row of achieving a record-breaking fundraising total. This year we will capitalize on the excitement and momentum surrounding Drexel's 125th anniversary to publicly launch the most significant fundraising campaign in Drexel history.

Preliminary indications show that the University will have another strong operating surplus in FY2016 and that overall net assets will increase. The University posted an operating surplus of $72.4 million (a 5.9 percent margin) in FY2015, its strongest result since FY2013.

In July, Moody's Investor Service assigned an A3 rating to Drexel's proposed issuance of $115 million in revenue funding bonds — a refinancing that will save more than $1 for every $5 borrowed. Moody's cited a number of factors in assigning an A3 rating, including the University's "consistent operating surpluses and growth in financial resources." Moody's also highlighted other strengths, including Drexel's diverse array of academic offerings, improved fundraising and positive operating performance. Standard & Poor's also gave Drexel an A rating, citing many of the same financial strengths.


A big reason for Drexel's financial strength is the generosity of so many loyal alumni, friends and supporters. This month, Drexel's Thomas R. Kline School of Law will celebrate its 10th anniversary. The law school was renamed in 2014 after Drexel trustee Tom Kline, one of the nation's most respected and influential trial lawyers, donated $50 million to the school.

Last fall, the longtime humanitarian philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife donated $45 million to the School of Public Health, which was named in their honor.

The Perelman Center for Jewish Life will open this fall, thanks to a generous $6 million gift from philanthropist Raymond G. Perelman. This will be the first freestanding building at Drexel dedicated to Jewish student life. It will be the home of Hillel on campus and the site for Shabbat services and dinners as well as Jewish education programs.

Renovations have begun on the Korman Center in the heart of the campus, thanks to an $8 million gift from the Hyman Korman Family Foundation and another $8 million in matching University funds. The building renovations will result in state-of-the-art classroom space and modern, comfortable lounges. The renovations will also include the addition of a beautiful campus green to be known as the Korman Quadrangle.


We have been hard at work on our goal of making Drexel the most civically engaged university in the nation.

One especially exciting development is the opening of the Science Leadership Academy Middle School to be housed temporarily at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships. The first class of 90 5th graders will dive into a nationally acclaimed curriculum starting this week.

Over the summer, nearly 40 high school students came to Drexel for real-life career experience in departments and offices all over the University as WorkReady Philadelphia interns. The majority of the students were from West Philadelphia. And 75 neighborhood middle-school students spent their summer boosting their math, science and literacy skills at our STEM summer camp.

The Dornsife Center is all about nourishing a sense of shared community, and sometimes we do that literally. Our most recent community dinner in August saw 300 people from Mantua, Powelton Village and West Powelton enjoying a summer evening out at a cookout on the Dornsife Center's beautiful lawn.


This spring, we announced a landmark partnership with Brandywine Realty Trust to develop a 14-acre parcel adjacent to 30th Street Station into America's next great urban innovation district known as Schuylkill Yards.

With our development partners investing $3.5 billion of their own capital over the next two decades, we are taking the lead in a project that will transform Drexel's gateway into a multi-use innovation district with programmatic, academic, commercial, residential and retail space surrounding a magnificent public park to be known as Drexel Square.

Schuylkill Yards will generate substantial long-term employment opportunities for our neighbors in Mantua and West Powelton, create exciting new co-op jobs for our students and result in additional research opportunities for our faculty. In addition, as it develops over the next 20 years, Drexel has the opportunity to receive more than $200 million in ground lease payments for the University's endowment to invest, the return from which will be allocated to student scholarships, faculty support, and academic programs.

Another closely watched development is Vue32, a 16-story residential tower, with adjoining townhomes, a much-needed childcare facility, and more at 32nd and Race Streets. When completed, it will expand housing opportunities for graduate students, faculty, professional staff, and other professionals.


Our student-athletes continue to make us proud. This year, more than 450 student-athletes will compete in 18 Division I NCAA sports from basketball to field hockey, and another 9,000 students will participate in club or intramural sports.

The Drexel men's crew team is becoming a national power. This summer, the men's varsity eight won a race at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in England. Closer to home, Drexel crew won its fourth consecutive overall team championship at the Dad Vail Regatta on the Schuylkill. The women's crew team finished second at the CAA championships. On the hardwood, our women's basketball team earned its seventh postseason appearance in eight years after advancing to the conference championship for the fourth time this season. In the pool, swimmer Rachel Bernhardt became the first Dragon to take gold at the conference championships and earn bids to the NCAA Tournament and Olympic trials. Golfer Chris Crawford finished his collegiate career last spring as three-time All-CAA First Team selection and became the first Drexel golfer to qualify for the U.S. Open. And on the courts, Drexel's squash teams have risen to national prominence this year, with both men's and women's teams earning top 10 national rankings. The men's team claimed the Hoehn Cup Championship with a thrilling victory over Cornell, and finished ninth in the country.

Our student-athletes maintain the right balance between sports and academics. Field hockey player Lauren Hibsham was a four-time NFHCA National Academic Squad selection. Seventeen rowers earned places on the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's All-Academic team, a number which matches Yale for the best in the country.


This captures just a taste of the many connections and exciting developments that are making a difference at Drexel. I am delighted to have everyone back on campus and welcome all newcomers. Let's make Drexel's 125th year its most memorable one yet.

Warm regards,

John A. Fry