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Anthony J. Drexel Society Gala

Remarks by President John A. Fry

November 17, 2012

Good evening.

Each year on this night, it is a great pleasure to welcome Drexel’s strongest stewards and closest friends.
Thank you, thank you, for your support.

In the aftermath of the election, it seems everybody is talking about how to shift the economy into higher gear. At Drexel, we understand the challenge. 

We are proud of our track record, inventing new ways to solve problems, and creating new industries in the process. This year, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the bar code, patented by two Drexel graduate students in 1952.

Drexel’s pace has only accelerated. And thanks to you, we had a terrific year.

The Drexel community is electric with energy and purpose. Our unique model of classroom study alternating with co-op experience is attracting more attention, from more corners of the globe, than ever before.

We had a record 41,000 applicants this year for a class of 3,000. SAT scores rose by an average of 18 points—an enormous one-year leap.  Students from 41 states and 74 countries enrolled, including another 50 Philadelphia Liberty Scholars.

Our freshman class is by far, the most academically talented and diverse that we have ever had at Drexel.

Our research enterprise is being recognized for developing solutions that can help meet society’s challenges. For example, last month, DARPA, the research arm of the US Defense Department, chose Drexel to develop robots capable of disaster recovery in radioactive or bio-contaminated areas. 

Drexel will lead a consortium of 10 universities—including Columbia, Georgia Tech and the Korean Institute of Science and Technology.  The winning robots must be able to drive vehicles, bash through walls, climb ladders, muck out debris, and replace faulty equipment.   DARPA wants a proven solution in just 15 months.

Can you imagine the value such robots would have had after the Fukashima nuclear disaster or Hurricane Sandy? That is the sort of impact that Drexel researchers are perfectly positioned to make.

Also, we have $200 million of construction projects underway, governed by our thirty-year campus master plan.

This fall, the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design moved into the URBN Center. This amazing new collaborative space, in a landmark building, consolidates 21 programs in media, design and the performing arts in a single, glorious, light-drenched, completely modern building.

Crossing the threshold, one of our students took a deep breath and said, “I can just feel the creativity rising from my body and soul in this space.”

And the milestones will keep coming.

This September, Gerri C. LeBow Hall, housing our LeBow College of Business, will open, on-time and on-budget.  So will Chestnut Square—a unique university-developer partnership that will bring exciting residential, retail and cultural capacity to the heart of our campus.

Drexel’s dynamic growth is not limited to its research program or its campus.

One thousand students earned their degrees on-line last year. Drexel Online is an industry leader, and helps make Drexel accessible to students whose family and work schedules or geographical location would otherwise prohibit advanced degrees.

All of these achievements since last we met were made possible by your collective commitment to Drexel—students, faculty, trustees, alumni, professional staff and friends. 

And tonight, we celebrate progress in another area essential to the fundamental health of this university, an area of immense importance to me personally:  building community—both within the University and between Drexel and its neighbors.

Tonight we honor two exceptional individuals who have made an enormous difference in the cultivation of community. 

John Daskalakis will receive the A.J. Drexel Paul Award for Service to Alma Mater. John is a successful alum and a distinguished member of the Drexel Athletics Hall of Fame.  His name is synonymous with sports, healthy lifestyles, and passionate school spirit. He’s a Drexel original.

And, we will proudly recognize Phil Lindy with the Joseph Jacovini Outstanding Service Award, our highest award for non-alumni supporters. Phil spends so much time on campus, doing so much good, that students approach him to introduce themselves and shake hands with a campus icon.

First, let me talk about John Daskalakis, and about the importance of athletics at Drexel, which he has helped nurture.

Sports help our students fight fatigue and isolation.  Athletics foster friendships, and teach discipline and teamwork—skills necessary to compete in life.  The story of John Daskalakis provides a perfect example.
John grew up in Baltimore, the epicenter of American lacrosse. He was a scrappy player with a lot of heart. Coach Epstein liked John’s energy but wanted to improve his performance.

 “You can be good,” he said, “but we want you to be the best you can possibly be.”  John listened and went to work.

The coach liked the results.  He not only praised John, he offered him a scholarship, enabling him to attend Drexel.

John played lacrosse, was co-captain of the team, won many honors, but most importantly acquired self-confidence and leadership skills that turned out to be a game-changer for him.

“From then on,” he said, “I knew I could succeed at anything.”  And he did. 

His business interests included restaurants, telecommunications, and minor league baseball franchises.  He is a serial entrepreneur—buying low, building up, selling high.

Last year, we lost Cina Daskalakis, John’s beloved wife and closest friend. She was a partner to everything he does and we miss her dearly. But her spirit lives on here at Drexel.    

Everyone appreciates the generosity of John and Cina. Over 600,000 people a year use the wonderful athletic center that bears their name.  Members from across our community come to work out. More than 8,000 students compete on more than 100 intramural teams, including co-ed flag football. Sports are a catalyst for social change at Drexel, and women stand alongside men in proudly taking the field.

And then there are our varsity teams. 450 athletes compete in eighteen Division 1, NCAA sports, bringing honor to Drexel, and generating an enormous amount of school spirit and pride.

For the first time, our Men’s Soccer and Women’s Field Hockey won the regular season Colonial Athletic Association titles. Both qualified for the NCAA championships. 

Our athletes have a graduation rate even higher than the general student population, a rare thing among American universities. We are especially proud of our men’s and women’s basketball teams, with a 100% graduation rate.

Sports can also be a welcoming front porch to a large, complex urban university. For example, Drexel invites neighbors from Mantua and Powelton to attend basketball games, free of charge. 

Neighborhood children come to learn squash at our new Kline & Specter Squash Center in the DAC, mentored by our student-athletes.

Our ability to use athletics and recreation to create community among our students and employees, and with our neighbors, has been enhanced immensely by John Daskalakis, and it will be a privilege to honor him tonight.

As we all know, no great university can succeed as an island, isolated by its prestige, its resources, even its noble search for knowledge.  It can only succeed if the community around it also succeeds.

121 years ago, Anthony Drexel founded this university because he knew that America could not achieve rapid industrial expansion, with a workforce equipped only with agricultural skills. Drexel understood that new business opportunities would be open to him if young men and women were trained to thrive in the urban world he had helped create.

That sense of reciprocity prevails to this day. Our ambition is to make Drexel the most civically engaged university in the nation. We have worked hard, together with our neighbors, because it’s the right thing to do, and also because helping them advances our own core interests. 

Without a doubt, our best ambassador-at-large for community engagement is Phil Lindy. Part of a four generation, family-owned property management business, Phil knows what makes neighborhoods secure, beautiful and desirable.  

He is a “people” person, a risk taker, the kind of guy who prefers to try something and learn from experience, rather than study a concept to death.  

He is not shy.  His enthusiasm is boundless.

Since 2008, Lindy programs have promoted social responsibility and public service. Our students tutor West Philadelphia middle schoolers, proudly known as Lindy Scholars. On Saturdays, you can often find Phil in the back of the classroom, checking to see how things are going.

Phil inspires our students. He has underwritten programs that enable them to work on hundreds of civic engagement projects health programs, small business development, renovating city playgrounds.

Phil has encouraged us to think even bigger, and focus on innovation and impact. We wanted to find a way to bring Drexel’s problem-solving expertise into the heart of the neighborhoods, in a spirit of partnership, in a way that would enhance the “learning-by-doing”  education of our students and give our neighbors a stake in our success.

To give just one example, architecture and biomedical engineering students collaborated to design and build a garden for seniors at Mantua’s Presbyterian Apartments, just north of our campus.  Besides mastering the technical requirements of site planning and construction, they had to learn how senior citizens experience their worlds. How do they move?  What makes them feel safe or threatened?

Drawing up plans for pathways, planters, and benches was merely the culmination of the learning experience.  The real work entailed figuring out what questions to ask, learning to listen constructively to feedback, engineering responsive solutions.

What employer wouldn’t value that skill set? 

Our students earned class credit and built up their resumes, while also learning critical communication skills. The seniors got a therapeutic new space where they live. And Drexel benefited from new neighborhood relationships and a shared sense of accomplishment.

These are the kind of win-win projects that Phil Lindy promotes.

We are determined to scale up and accelerate up our neighborhood revitalization efforts—there is so much more Drexel can do. Inspired by the great agricultural extension centers of public land-grant universities, we wanted to invent a  new concept—an urban extension center, right in the middle of the neighborhood, where the University’s expertise would be accessible to our neighbors for solving local problems.

When a key parcel of land on Spring Garden Street, where Powelton Village meets Mantua, came onto the market, we thought it could be the perfect site, but we were not quite ready.  Phil looked at the run-down buildings and weed-choked lot, pulled out his checkbook, secured the property, and took the risk.

He gave us the time we needed to complete our planning and fundraising. Last month, we inaugurated the Dana and David Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships—-Drexel’s new urban extension center, which will direct resources from across the university toward helping neighbors solve critical problems in West Philadelphia.

The law faculty will help with legal issues. Engineering and design will help with home renovation. Health sciences will work on nutrition and disease prevention. The business school will conduct financial management workshops.

The Dornsife Center will provide digital access to a community where fewer than half the residents have computers at home.  It will encourage youth leadership, arts programs, and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

It was made possible by an amazing $10 million gift from Drexel alumna Dana Dornsife and her husband David.  And I know Dana and David were inspired by the vision and groundwork laid by the inimitable Phil Lindy.

Phil reminds us repeatedly that public service is more than a photo-op that adds prestige to an ambitious life.  Public service is life. 

To pay tribute to him, his generosity and passion, I am pleased to announce the establishment of the Lindy Institute. The Lindy Institute will serve as a hub for efforts across our university that relate to urban problem solving, both here and abroad.  These will include academic courses for Drexel students, scholarly research on urban development and public policy, entrepreneurial partnerships with our neighbors, community engagement projects and many other initiatives to improve health, safety and education in communities around the United States.

The Lindy Institute will make Drexel a destination for change agents from around the United States.  Drexel will become the place where idealism and practical problem-solving define new pathways out of poverty. To the extent that we can formalize and replicate that process, we know we can help shift Philadelphia’s economy into higher gear. 

That model will be of interest everywhere. And it will carry the name of Lindy.

Phil, I can’t wait to honor you after dinner.

My friends, you have brought Drexel to this pivotal moment in our history.

This year we raised the funds to create the Dornsife Center.  With your help, we will endow it, and also turn the Lindy Institute into the preeminent laboratory for urban renewal, healthy community partnerships, economic revitalization, and urban health.

Our determination comes from our founding principles, our can-do spirit, our laser focus on practical problem solving.  Our passion comes from the human relationships we have forged within our great university and with our partners in the communities we share.

Let’s not just dream it. Let’s do it.  Let’s put some more gas into the engine that will drive such positive, enduring change.

Thank you.