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Drexel Convocation with Cora Marret

Remarks by President John A. Fry

October 2, 2012

Thank you Provost Greenberg.

Good morning colleagues and friends. Welcome to Convocation, our University’s celebration of the promise and excitement of a new academic year.

To all of our returning students, faculty and professional staff, welcome back. I am looking forward to the first full year of our new strategic plan, “Transforming the Modern Urban University.” Thank you for your contributions to the plan, and for your commitment to seeing it through to its full implementation. With this innovative roadmap in place, Drexel’s impact will continue to increase.

And to our new faculty, students and professional staff, welcome to Drexel!  You have chosen well, as have we. You’ve joined a community of incredibly talented and selflessly dedicated people who have created one of the most entrepreneurial universities in the nation, connected to a rich history that is based on access, opportunity, and the integration of science, art and industry.

You’re here because you have the ability to bring a new dimension to our community. Drexel will help you reach your goals, and you in turn will help the University fulfill its enormous potential.

Drexel has been renewed in recent years by smart growth, by campus transformation and by a strategic effort to become a comprehensive, national research university with a deep commitment to its urban environment.

We’ve grown our student body while advancing its quality and diversity. For example, this year’s freshman class represents 3,100 students chosen from among 41,000 applicants. One third graduated in the top 10 percent of their senior class, and nearly two thirds in the top 25 percent. These students represent 41 states and 74 countries. And the average SATs for this class grew by 18 points to 1226.

For all these reasons, this is the most academically talented freshman class in Drexel University’s history. And our graduate and transfer students are also outstanding, and will make an immediate impact on research and campus life.

Our new campus master plan matches Drexel’s increased size and strength with a compelling, long-term vision for an exciting campus and revitalized neighborhood where our University community lives, works, studies and innovates. The “big idea” in our campus Master Plan is the development of an “Innovation Neighborhood,” with its gateway at 30th Street Station, which will draw colleagues from around the nation and the world to join us in our research, technology transfer and economic development efforts.

When you step outside this building this morning, you’ll see construction cranes rising in two directions.
Our plan is already underway, through our new LeBow College of Business academic building and our Chestnut Square residential and retail development, as well as the remarkable URBN Center of our Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, which opened for classes on September 24th.

Last year, Drexel helped blaze a new trail for universities that want to extend their mission and expand their engagement with the scientific and civic communities. Our affiliation with the Academy of Natural Sciences is a model for institutional collaboration.

Later in our Convocation ceremony, our deans will introduce the newest members of the Drexel faculty. Among them will be the accomplished scientists, scholars and teachers of the Academy, now proudly part of our College of Arts and Sciences. The signature achievement of this affiliation is the launch of the College’s new Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science. The BEES Department, as we’re calling it, combines the academic strengths and scientific materials and facilities of both institutions, to stunning effect.

This year’s incoming environmental science majors, some of whom may be here this morning, arrived at Drexel with a unique experience already under their belts. The week before classes began, they traveled with Academy and Drexel scientists for a weeklong interactive course at the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Barnegat Bay Field Station.

I can’t imagine a better way to join Drexel’s experiential approach to education and the Academy’s commitment to field research. One of the students remarked to Rich Horwitz, while holding a dogfish shark, “This is the best day of my life.” At any University, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Academy scientists also represent another layer for our rich and world-changing research enterprise. As we seek to understand how changes in our environment affect life on Earth, our new faculty members are helping us achieve critical mass for studying our ecosystem.

The research of the BEES department will help Drexel fulfill our promise to lead the way in scientific discovery that addresses the many environmental challenges facing society. Also fulfilling that promise is our outstanding enterprise of translational research, which is producing life-saving solutions ready for market and clinic.

Building on the remarkable support of the Coulter Foundation, Drexel is not just a leader in translational research, but a model for other universities worldwide.

Our promise to change society is being kept by our A.J. Drexel research institutes. These cross-disciplinary institutes are impacting critical fields such as nanotechnology, plasma medicine, communications networking, autism and more. 

And this summer we launched the ExCITe Center, a new research partnership providing leadership at Drexel’s traditional nexus of art, science and industry. ExCITe stands for Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies.  Under the leadership of Dr. Youngmoo Kim, the center will address societal needs such as digital literacy, technology-based secondary education and increased access to arts and culture.

ExCITe has become much bigger than Drexel. We’re fortunate to have our city’s renowned academic institutions, historic cultural organizations, dynamic and entrepreneurial education and economic development groups and the city itself as partners.
And to pause for a second and look at the numbers, I am pleased to report to you that as of June 30, 2012 our total sponsored research awards were $116.8 million, an increase of 14% over our total in 2008. And we are off to a strong start this year, with an exciting award of approximately $3 million for our College of Engineering, which I will be formally announcing later this year.

Thanks to the Academy of Natural Sciences, our Coulter-inspired translational research programs, our A.J. Drexel institutes, the continued excellence of our medical and health sciences researchers, the ExCITE Center and the productivity of every Drexel researcher, I see that rate accelerating.

In honor of Drexel’s commitment to building its excellence and capacity in basic and translational research, it is my privilege to introduce today’s keynote speaker. Dr. Cora Marrett is the Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation, the second ranking official in that venerable organization.

The NSF is the lifeblood of American innovation.  It provides 20 percent of all federal funding for university research, and is the major source of funding in many fields. The NSF helps America stay on the cutting edge of discovery, from traditional fields to high-risk, high-reward ideas that just might change the world.

Dr. Marrett previously headed the NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources. There, she helped align STEM education with national priorities, and advanced critical education initiatives that enabled every discipline.

She has extensive faculty and administrative experience in higher education, at some of America’s most outstanding universities including the University of Wisconsin system, where she served as senior vice president for academic affairs and professor of sociology at the Madison campus, and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

She has received honorary doctorates from Virginia Union University and Wake Forest University, and is a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

To Drexel she brings a considerable wealth of knowledge and perspective regarding academic research, which animates so much of what we think about and do. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Cora Marrett.