Dear Students and Colleagues,

I am delighted to welcome you to a new academic year filled with the promise of friendships formed and renewed, discoveries and progress made, and dreams fulfilled.

I begin by extending a special welcome to our most accomplished and diverse cohorts of new undergraduate, graduate and professional students, and to all our military veterans. I am proud that our entering undergraduate class, which currently stands at 2,993 students — well beyond our goal of 2,800 — more closely resembles the fabric of our evolving global society: 17% of our new class identify as underrepresented students of color; and 12% are international students hailing from more than 60 countries. By choosing Drexel, they truly have energized our academic and civic mission, enriched our dynamic diversity, and renewed our faith in the future. By betting on Drexel, they are embarking on a rigorous yet transformational adventure in experiential learning that will prepare them to flourish as professionals, citizens, and leaders under any circumstance.

Every Drexel student should know this: All of us who are privileged to serve this University are vested in your success, and care deeply that you always feel valued, supported and included. Wherever you are on your Drexel journey, I encourage you to engage your professors and members of our professional staff early and as often as you need or wish.

I also want to express my deep and lasting appreciation to our dedicated faculty and professional staff for helping our University navigate through wave after wave of the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping our teaching, research and public service mission heading true north. I will reiterate that we must be mindful of the heavy physical and psychological toll that the pandemic has taken on so many among us; so, please, let’s make sure we are taking good care of ourselves and one another.

Meanwhile, the virus has become more manageable to the extent that the World Health Organization now sees the pandemic ending soon. Still, we cannot drop our guard like it is 2019 again – at least not yet. The virus continues to circulate around the globe, and following the University’s Public Health Guidelines, with indoor masking recommended, remains a smart course of action for keeping our campus open and our people safe.

Exciting signs of progress

The good news is, Drexel is moving forward quite well. I would like to highlight some recent progress from across the University.

  • As described in much greater detail in Monday’s message from Provost Paul Jensen and me, the College of Nursing and Health Professions finally has its long-awaited home on our main campus with the opening of our12-story, state-of-the-art Health Sciences Building at 36th and Filbert streets. By bringing together many of our outstanding health-related programs in nursing, medicine, and biomedical sciences, this building will be a game changer for Drexel, for the continuing growth of our uCity Square innovation district, and for all the communities we serve in West Philadelphia.
  • Having retained our prestigious R-1 Carnegie Classification this past winter, we achieved a 9% increase in sponsored research expenditures over the previous fiscal year. We also got a running start on FY23 with the exciting news that the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, was awarded a five-year, $10 million Autism Centers of Excellence Grant from the National Institutes of Health to understand and reduce barriers to good health and health care access for people with autism.
  • As further validation of our strategy to partner with developers in growing our research and innovation ecosystems in tandem, Boston-based SmartLabs, a laboratory-as-a-Service (LaaS) leader, has announced plans to become the first tenant of the Life Science Research Lab Facility that Gattuso Development Partners is building on campus adjacent to the Armory. The emergence of our campus as the epicenter for Philadelphia’s booming cell and gene therapy sector will translate into more research opportunities along with state-of-the-art lab and teaching space for our faculty, and countless other research and co-op opportunities for our students.
  • Drexel’s formidable art and historical collection, one of our most valuable teaching and research assets, was enhanced exponentially this past spring when the University secured stewardship of the collection of the former Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent. The University has already previewed a portion of the Collection through online public access. Meanwhile, if you have not yet done so, you should treat yourself to a visit to the beautiful Paul Peck Alumni Center for a showcase exhibit of the Drexel Collection, which has been extended through December 23, 2022.
  • In wrapping up our The Future is a Place We Make campaign, we surpassed our overall $750 million goal by $56 million to reach $806 million — while raising nearly $100 million ($96 million) in gifts and commitments, well north of our $75 million FY22 goal. From the transformation of the Pennoni Honors College into a premier intellectual oasis and hub for civil discourse and liberal learning … to the launch of groundbreaking programs in environmental studies, entrepreneurial education and so much more, the Campaign has had an extraordinary and lasting impact on the University and its extended family of students, faculty, alumni, friends, and professional staff. 
  • Our outstanding student-athletes continue to shine.
    • At 5-0-3, our unbeaten women’s soccer team is off to its best start in Drexel history and is one of only 27 out of 337 Division I teams nationwide to remain undefeated.
    • Our field hockey team has won four out of its last five games, including a thrilling victory over our neighborhood Penn Quakers rivals this past Sunday, which I happily watched with our Director of Athletics Maisha Kelly.
    • And congratulations to recent Drexel graduate and lacrosse standout Karson Harris on being nominated by the Colonial Athletic Association for the prestigious NCAA Woman of the Year Award.

Pushing ourselves all the time toward getting better all the time

These exciting developments and so many others are very much the rule at Drexel. At the same time we recognize there is always more room to improve and more opportunities to get better.

That is why we are continuing to engage our entire community as we push ahead with implementing our current strategic plan, Drexel 2030 — Designing the Future, with a focus this year on growing our enrollment, innovating within the curriculum, retaining students, and promoting a greater sense of belonging for everyone.

And that is why our work to promote inclusion and combat racism wherever it manifests itself – and to assess our efforts with transparency -- will move forward. I encourage everyone to read the executive summary of the Anti-Racism Task Force’s 2022 Annual Report, which links to the full report [PDF], and review the recent report of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Campus Climate Survey that the Office for Institutional Equity and Inclusive Culture  just released. More importantly, I ask each of you to take it upon yourselves to have open and honest conversations with one another, listen to one another deeply, and do the work.

Important transition updates

As we welcome another stellar cohort of new faculty to Drexel, we also have undergone a series of academic leadership transitions:

  • A national search for a new dean for the College of Arts and Sciences was completed with the appointment of David S. Brown, PhD, who arrived at Drexel on September 1. Dr. Brown is a collaborative academic leader and eminent interdisciplinary scholar of political science with expertise in political institutions and their impact on economic development. He most recently served as the Divisional Dean for Social Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he is credited with leading several college-wide initiatives that strengthened student retention efforts and supported faculty development of inventive pedagogies. Along with a track record for innovative academic leadership, Dr. Brown brings to Drexel an impressive publishing and research portfolio, which includes an NSF grant to study the impact of NGO funding in the Brazilian Amazon.
  • As Provost Jensen and I reported this past June, Dr. Laura Gitlin will be stepping down as Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions and returning to the faculty when her term expires in January 2023. As we conduct a national search for Dr. Gitlin’s permanent successor, we have ensured a smooth transition with the appointment and summer arrival of Ann Branchini, PhD, as interim dean of CNHP. Dr. Branchini, who most recently served as Interim Dean of Academic Services at Brandeis University, brings to Drexel a background in academic nursing and a distinguished career in academic leadership, which included a successful program-building tenure as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty at Molloy University from 2016-2021.
  • Finally, on a somber note, the entire University community suffered a devastating loss over the summer with the sudden passing of our beloved friend and colleague Penny Hammrich, Dean and Distinguished University Professor for the School of Education. A winner of major research grants and an accomplished academic administrator, Dr. Hammrich joined our Drexel community in 2010 as a professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. She was appointed Dean in 2019. In just three years, Penny launched several programs and initiatives that have benefited the School’s students, faculty, and communities we serve. Among the new education research labs that she helped to create was the Lisa and John McNichol Early Childhood Education Lab, which has had a significant impact on pre-K education in Philadelphia and beyond.
    • Penny Hammrich loved Drexel so much, and she inspired so many of us. On October 27, we will gather at 1 pm at Behrakis Grand Hall for a memorial celebration of Penny's life. Please save that date and expect to receive a formal invitation and details soon.

Closing thoughts

I encourage you to stop by two public art installations that arrived on campus on loan over the summer: Monument in Waiting, a sculpture by Theaster Gates, which is now installed at the Korman Quad on 33rd Street between Chestnut and Market streets; and Pars Pro Toto, by Alicja Kwade, an outdoor sculpture that, upon completion of the installation, will include eight stone spheres of varying types and sizes along Lancaster Walk. 

Every time I pass by the stone plinths and granite tiles of Monument in Waiting, I contemplate both the progress we have made as a university and society toward fulfilling America’s democratic ideals, and the considerable ground that we still have to cover. I am struck by this inscription: “Until real heroes bloom, this dusty plinth will wait.”

Unlike that dusty plinth, we will not wait to work together toward making Drexel a more powerful force for civic progress and an exemplar for institutional equity, innovation, and inclusion. Let’s have our best year ever.

John Fry

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