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A Stronger Drexel for the Academic Year 2021-2022

September 20, 2021

Dear Students and Colleagues,

I am tremendously happy and thankful to have our students, faculty, and professional staff back on campus.

I am also proud that we are beginning the new academic year stronger, more innovative, and more united than ever. Now, we return poised for renewal and progress.

Bringing Energy Back to Campus: New and Returning Students

With a growing number of highly accomplished first-year students enrolled, we look forward to welcoming a dynamically diverse incoming class of 2,900 talented future problem solvers and leaders. One in five will be underrepresented students of color — an increase of 6 percent — and fully one-quarter are the first in their family to attend college, as we continue to expand access to a Drexel education.

We will be further strengthened and invigorated by the arrival on campus of last year’s class of first-year students and transfers. While their transition to college life was hardly what they had envisioned at the start of 2020, these remarkable individuals also developed powers of creativity, adaptability, and resilience in extraordinary ways.

Transformational Faculty Appointments

This fall, we welcome 40 new faculty members who bring impressive experience and strength to Drexel University. Collectively, they will enhance cross-disciplinary teaching and research throughout the University. They also will bolster the economic and social impact of our colleges and schools through engagement with industry, civic, and community partners.

Four areas where we have made strategic appointments include:

  • Health, with a focus on medical sociology and biology;
  • Technology, specifically in artificial intelligence research;
  • Design, with significant appointments to our Music Industry program; and, notably
  • Africana Studies, with heightened focus on African American literature, visual culture, and Africans in global context.

Building a Stronger, More Innovative, and Inclusive Drexel

This past year, we launched our new strategic plan, Drexel 2030 — Designing the Future, which is focused on improving the quality and impact of our academic programs and research and deepening external partnerships that will expand experiential learning, strengthen curricula and enhance our research. The plan also renews our resolve to advance equity, inclusion and racial justice, with accountability for achieving key measures of success.

On the latter point, last week saw the release of the Anti-Racism Task Force’s Final Report,  which offers recommendations for confronting and eradicating structural racism and inequality — on our campus and throughout society. Sustaining our commitment to equity and racial justice not only will help to make Drexel stronger, more innovative, and better in every sense, but will also reinforce and complement our many civic engagement initiatives throughout the city and region.

We can take pride in transformative achievements and progress across many areas of university life made over the past year. These include:

  • Leveraging our shift to remote learning during the pandemic in order to enhance Drexel’s effectiveness and global reputation as a leader in digital instruction, research, and pedagogy;
  • Conducting more than $130 million in sponsored research while continuing to strengthen our research support infrastructure under the leadership of our Office of Research and Innovation and Executive Vice Provost Aleister Saunders;
  • Mounting and expanding research efforts that helped to combat the greatest public health crisis in our lifetime;
  • Taking a major step forward in our commitment to support public education with the opening of the Powel Elementary/Science Leadership Academy Middle School next to our campus;
  • Launching a new era for the College of Medicine by enrolling the first class of 40 medical students at our state-of-the-art, four-year regional medical campus in West Reading in collaboration with Tower Health;
  • Beginning construction on the Health Sciences Building, which will house the College of Nursing and Health Professions and educational programs in the College of Medicine. The Health Sciences Building will bring these two critical programs both to the heart of our main campus and our West Philadelphia community, and will be completed next summer;
  • Opening the Rush Building at 33rd Street and Lancaster Walk as a new student center on campus. Rush is now home to the Center for Black Culture, the Student Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Student Organization Resource Center, and many student organizations;
  • Continuing to improve and beautify the Drexel campus by creating the Gateway Garden in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at 32nd and Market streets;
  • Mounting the search for the inaugural executive director of the Environmental Collaboratory, the groundbreaking sustainability effort led by the Academy of Natural Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering, one of numerous achievements during Climate Year 2021; and
  • Celebrating the remarkable personal achievements and team triumphs of Drexel’s student-athletes, including the men’s and women’s basketball and lacrosse teams’ historic entries into the NCAA Tournaments earlier this year.

Speaking of athletics, we are excited to welcome new members of the Drexel community, including: Maisha Kelly, a seasoned collegiate athletics administrator with deep Philadelphia roots who is Drexel’s new director of athletics; Kim Hillier, who joins us as the Mary Semanik Head Coach of Women's Lacrosse following a successful tenure at Stony Brook University; and Katie Jansson, our new Women’s Head Softball Coach, who comes to Drexel from Iona College.

I am also pleased to report that our dean of the College of Engineering, Sharon Walker, PhD, has taken on the additional role of executive director of ELATES at Drexel, a national leadership development program designed to advance senior women faculty that is now a joint effort between Engineering and the LeBow College of Business.

Maintaining our Financial Health

Despite substantial fiscal challenges posed by the pandemic, the University remains on very solid financial footing: Thanks in large part to your collective efforts to reduce expenses and find efficiencies and innovative solutions, we were able to avoid mass layoffs and furloughs, and we restored the employee merit pool and retirement savings benefits. At the same time, we now can direct more investments toward faculty, classroom spaces and improving the student experience.

Meanwhile, our alumni and many other friends also rallied over the past year to help propel our great teaching and research enterprise to ever greater heights. Their generous support powered the Campaign for Drexel past $716 million — within reach of our final $750 million goal in support of scholarships, faculty chairs and other academic enhancements and initiatives. Through the Campaign, we have established more than 170 endowed scholarships and more than a dozen endowed professorships. We also launched many important initiatives and centers, including The Ubuntu Center on Racism, Global Movements and Population Health Equity with a $9 million gift from alumna Dana Dornsife and her husband, David. And thanks to prudent stewardship, the University’s endowment grew over the past year by more than 21 percent, to $983 million.

Protecting our Physical and Mental Health

While we are all happy to be back on campus, we cannot afford to lower our defenses against the coronavirus, especially with the spread of the more contagious delta variant. Moving into the newly created role of chief wellness officer, Marla J. Gold, MD, will continue leading the University’s response to COVID-19, while building and sustaining a comprehensive and proactive approach to reducing risk to our Drexel community and neighbors.

While our community has shown extraordinary resilience, flexibility, collegiality and humanity over the past 16 months, our experiences during the pandemic — not to mention extended isolation — have taken a heavy emotional toll on us. To anyone feeling anxious or apprehensive about returning to campus, please know that we are here to support you with enhanced counseling services through the student Counseling Center and the new SupportLinc portal under the Employee Assistance Program. Remember: We are all in this together.

Drexel United, Drexel Strong 

Embarking on the fall quarter, I believe that we all have gained a new appreciation for the importance of personal interaction and engagement. While we found new ways to connect remotely — and will continue to take advantage of digital affordances that promote efficiency and effectiveness — the prospect and benefits of being back together in person will be that much more precious.

Thank you for keeping Drexel University united and strong during extremely challenging times. I wish you all a healthy, productive and rewarding academic year.


John Fry