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Building on Success for the Academic Year: 2019-2020

September 23, 2019

Dear Members of the Drexel Community:

As this new academic year begins, we can look back, ahead, and around us with deep pride and appreciation. We have much to celebrate -- the launch of the 100th anniversary of the Drexel Co-op program, the continuing brilliance of our faculty, new additions to the University City campus, and the arrival of a high-achieving class of first-year students.

At the same time, we have all worked hard over the summer to ensure Drexel’s excellence.  I know that this period has been a challenge, one that many in our community are still experiencing.  Facing a virtually unprecedented situation in our College of Medicine, and navigating a national decline in graduate and international student enrollment, we have taken the difficult steps necessary to close a significant budget gap.  I can report that we begin the academic year on a solid financial footing, and I am deeply grateful for the resolve and resilience of this community.

I am also pleased to report that, subject to final approvals, we will be able to partner with Tower Health in the purchase of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, safeguarding our access to clinical training sites for our third- and fourth-year medical students and ensuring the continuing high-quality care for children in one of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Drexel’s alumni and friends, generously loyal, expect nothing less of this University. And we know that their support is unwavering — as witnessed by the substantial strides in the latest Campaign for Drexel. The Future Is a Place We Make campaign stands at more than $570 million, including over 125 new endowed scholarship and fellowship funds, 10 endowed professorships, and more than $5 million raised to support global and cultural co-op experiences. More than 1,120 faculty and professional staff also generously donated to Drexel in the most recent fiscal year.

We can be equally proud of our stewardship of the University’s $755 million endowment, which has had a steady 8.3 percent annual return since its inception nearly three decades ago. Our returns have been consistently strong, and these funds are helping to aid our academic enterprises, including the student financial aid that keeps a Drexel degree affordable — aid that has grown by approximately $111 million since 2015, while holding down tuition and fee increases.

Today, we welcome the newest members of the Drexel community, the nearly 3,200 first-year students starting classes this fall. We are proud to receive students of their caliber and gratified that they chose Drexel for their studies. They come from around the country and from all over the world, and their average SAT score is 1290, up more than 10 points over last year, which itself was a watershed.

These new undergraduates join a vibrant and engaged student body involved in 350-plus student organizations supported by Student Life, and volunteering at hundreds of nonprofits around the region, supported by the Lindy Center for Civic Engagement.  On campus, incoming students will find new amenities, including the just-opened Drexel Square, the beautiful public space across from 30th Street Station created by our partner Brandywine Reality Trust, and, with move-in, a renovated Bentley Hall residence that will become a new home for Pennoni Honors College students. Later this fall, two seasonal bubbles will be inflated for the first time to support year-round athletic activities at Buckley Recreational Field and the Vidas Athletic Complex. We will also shortly break ground on a new project that will support both our community partnerships and Drexel students pursuing careers in the education field: a new home for the Powel Elementary School and the Science Leadership Academy Middle School at 36th and Warren Streets — a project funded entirely by external private and public donations.  And this spring, Wexford Science & Technology will begin construction on an academic tower next door to the school at 36th and Filbert Streets to house Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, which will consolidate the offices, research labs and classrooms of that vibrant college onto the University City campus. Congratulations to Dean Laura Gitlin and her outstanding faculty.

This academic year, we welcome three deans, two new to campus and one long-time colleague, Dr. Penny L. Hammrich, who transitions to her first full year as dean of the School of Education following a year as interim. New to Drexel is Norma Bouchard, PhD, who becomes dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She joins us from San Diego State University, where she was dean of the College of Arts and Letters and a professor of European Studies. Dr. Bouchard takes over from Dr. Maria T. Schultheis, who served admirably as interim.  Finally, Charles B. Cairns, MD, FACEP, FAHA, is the new Annenberg Dean and Senior Vice President of the College of Medicine, succeeding Daniel V. Schidlow, MD, who graciously delayed his planned retirement through the summer months while the College of Medicine strengthened its ties to our new partner, Tower Health.

I am pleased that excellent candidates have been found for three-quarters of the 31 tenured and tenure-track faculty positions being filled this fall and winter, with another 10 hires expected for teaching, clinical, and research faculty.

The College of Medicine is adapting to significant challenges caused by the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital and has worked hard through this difficult summer to support its faculty and students.  It remains the fifth-largest medical school in the country, receiving nearly 15,000 applications each year for 260 spots, with an acceptance rate of only 5 percent.  

Our research enterprise was recently elevated to R1 status in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education — a rank that denotes the highest level of research activity, held by just 37 private universities around the country — and is being restructured to make sure we maintain this distinction and achieve even more. Aleister J. Saunders, PhD, executive vice provost for research and innovation, and Shintaro Kaido, vice provost and chief innovation officer, are undertaking a comprehensive planning process aimed at better coordinating our research support services.

At the Academy of Natural Sciences, we are implementing a new strategic plan with the phased redevelopment of our signature galleries and the creation of exhibitions and programs that not only reposition the Academy as a ‘force for nature,’ but further unlock its relationship with Drexel. The Academy’s Science division continues an exceptional run of success this calendar year, with six out of 13 National Science Foundation proposals securing funding.

We can also take pride in the achievements and abilities of the women and men of Drexel Athletics.  In the spring, Drexel partnered with the city of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Eagles and the NCAA to host the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship for the fourth time. More than 80,000 people spent Memorial Day weekend at Lincoln Financial Field watching the action. The women's squash team finished seventh in the nation last season, the highest ranking in program history, and earned a bid to the Howe Cup ‘A’ Finals at the CSA National Championship. On the men's side, Bransten Ming and Matias Knudsen both earned Second Team All-American honors. Drexel women's basketball player Bailey Greenberg was named the CAA Player of the Year, becoming only the second Drexel athlete to do so. On the men's side, Camren Wynter was named the CAA Rookie of the Year.

Finally, with this new academic year, we proudly celebrate a century of co-op at Drexel.  A commemorative publication will be issued, and Scott Knowles, PhD, Drexel history professor, will focus on this anniversary in his keynote address at Convocation. I hope you will join me Thursday for this formal turning of the academic calendar, starting with breakfast at 8:30 a.m. in Behrakis Grand Hall and continuing with the program at 10 a.m. in the Mandell Theater. I wish you all a happy, productive and rewarding academic year.


John Fry