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Anthony J. Drexel Society Gala

Remarks by President John A. Fry

November 23, 2013

Good evening everyone. We have a lot to celebrate, and to be grateful for. Your passion, conviction and devotion have brought us to a singular moment in the history of our University.

Once upon a time, Drexel was known as a woefully undercapitalized commuter school, located in a marginal neighborhood.  No longer, not even close.

Today, Drexel is known for its energy, ambition, and determination to drive positive change. Six years ago, we embarked on a campaign, first envisioned by the ultimate academic entrepreneur, President Constantine Papadakis.

Taki knew that growth was key to Drexel’s academic aspirations and financial stability. His untimely passing was devastating to all of us. But this community chose to honor his memory in the way he would have most appreciated.

Chuck Pennoni took over as interim president and kept the institution right on course, focusing not on what Drexel had been, but rather on what it could and should be. This insistence on continuous improvement was irresistible to me.

How often in life are you called to be part of something much larger than your personal ambitions? A place that truly changes the trajectory of everyone and everything that comes into contact with it?

I was deeply honored when the Board of Trustees, led by our wise and self-effacing Chairman Rich Greenawalt, invited me to become your President. It was the professional thrill of my life.

As I got to know each of you, I learned what a wonderful gift I had been given. Together, we tackled Drexel’s “Dream It. Do it.” campaign. We set our sights on doubling the goal from our last campaign to $400 million dollars. We cranked up the momentum. And we worked hard to reconnect with alumni and to make new friends.

The results have been remarkable. Not only did we achieve and surpass our campaign goal, 13 months ahead of schedule. Not only did we raise an unprecedented amount of money from 17,500 new donors.
We also inspired transformational gifts…

  • From extraordinary donors like Ben LeBow, who made possible the magnificent Geri C. LeBow Hall, which just last week was recognized as the second most beautiful business school building in the world;
  • Or Dick Hayne, who championed the purchase and creative transformation of a famous Robert Venturi building to the URBN Center, now the proud home of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design;
  • Or Phil Lindy, who redefined Drexel’s approach to community engagement and neighborhood revitalization. 

We had not attracted gifts of this magnitude since Anthony J. Drexel founded the Institute in 1891. We did all this—and we got it done during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

What we have accomplished, so far, is historical. We asked you to “Dream It, Do It”. And you rose to the challenge.

I am incredibly proud to announce that with your very generous support, Drexel has raised $454.3 million—the most successful campaign in our distinguished 122 year history.

What an achievement!  Let me be the first to congratulate you! 

And let me offer special thanks and congratulations to our incredible team in Institutional Advancement, led by Elizabeth Dale, and strongly supported by Pete Frisko, John Zabinski and a host of tireless, talented and devoted colleagues.

So we did all this—but we did so much more. We rekindled our Founder’s sense of purpose—to make Drexel an engine of personal, technological and community transformation. And in the process, we completely repositioned the University, strengthening and enhancing its profile, not only in the Greater Philadelphia region, but also nationally and internationally.  As a result, Drexel is attracting interest in all kinds of new places, from the West Coast to the Far East, from Istanbul and Jerusalem to Sao Paolo and Santiago.

A few months ago, I had a visitor from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The senior program officer was in town for another purpose but stopped by to say a quick hello.

I described our concept of Drexel as a “University in Motion”, and illustrated it with many examples.  Two hours later, she said that ours is the most compelling model of a contemporary urban university that she had ever encountered.

Here is a quick summary of the “University in Motion”: Let’s start with our campus.

Once we were a commuter school. To advance our academic agenda we had to create a vibrant campus that fosters relationship building—between students; between students and faculty; between Drexel and the surrounding communities.

So far, we have spent over $500 million on our master plan, delivering glorious spaces to work, to live, to play and to socialize—new academic buildings like the Constantine Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building; modern residences like the award-winning Millennium Hall; and beautifully landscaped open spaces that facilitate serendipitous interaction.

And our growth and success has inspired unprecedented investment from the private sector.  The demand for residential and retail amenities has been so great that we have recently begun a half million square foot project with American Campus Communities at 34th and Lancaster, right on the heels of the opening of Chestnut Square. The value of these two projects alone, along with the gift of the ground and air rights of Campus Crossings at 32nd and JFK Boulevard, is a staggering $280 million – a vote of confidence from the private sector if I ever saw one.

And just as important, projects like these have not only enabled more students to enroll at Drexel, they have started to reverse the decline of the neighborhoods surrounding our campus.

So let’s turn to the neighborhoods. Once Drexel was an academic island, surrounded by neighborhoods caught in a downward cycle of poverty. And now historic buildings that had been chopped up into third-rate student housing are being restored back into single-family homes, stabilizing our community with permanent residents, two dozen of whom are Drexel families, who are using our Home Ownership Program to purchase and rehabilitate these properties.

Our mission is to train tomorrow’s leaders by exposing them to the real world and equipping them to out-work, out-compete, and just as importantly, out-empathize everyone around them.         And we needed your support to do this. 

A magnificent gift from Dana and David Dornsife introduced the concept of an urban extension center right at the seam of the Mantua and Powelton neighborhoods, making Drexel expertise accessible to our neighbors for solving their endemic problems. Upon completion this April, the Dornsife Center for Community Partnerships will host a legal clinic, business advisory services, health programs, access to computer technology and a whole array of youth programs, designed to lead to jobs and build tangible success for neighborhoods that are in desperate need of hope, vitality and progress.

From campus, to the neighborhoods, and now to the city: Our partnership with the Academy of Natural Sciences demonstrates one way to achieve quality academic growth quickly, fortifying Philadelphia’s cultural economy in the process. The reverberations of this alliance between Drexel and the Academy are still being felt throughout the cultural and scientific communities in the city.

Another way to impact our city is to build new neighborhoods, like the Innovation Neighborhood surrounding 30th Street Station, which will one day be the gateway to our campus.

Our “University in Motion” is not limited by the boundaries of Philadelphia – it is national and international in scope. Drexel e-Learning has made it possible for students to access career changing education, no matter where they live and work. Launched as an independent start-up over a decade ago, Drexel e-Learning now boasts more than 7,600 graduates.

Our profile abroad has been raised significantly by unprecedented ventures, like our partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, which has resulted in the path-breaking Drexel-SARI Center in Shanghai, where the Drexel flag flies proudly from dawn to dusk.

Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering has just teamed up with the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to create advanced, pediatric drug delivery therapies.

From the campus, to the neighborhood, to the city, to the nation, to the world—in person, online or hybrid— Drexel is the “University in Motion.”

Drexel is also one of the best examples of how a university can approach its work in an entrepreneurial way. When people think of entrepreneurs, they tend to think of bold vision, a willingness to go against the grain and to take risks.

The truth is, most entrepreneurs fail. Anyone remember Digg, a hot, news-gathering social media start-up? Its 29-year-old founder made the cover of Business Week under the headline: “How this kid made $60 million dollars in 18 months.” He allegedly turned down a $200 million buy-out offer from Google.

Alas, the competition moved beyond him.  Digg was eventually sold for $500,000. It takes more than fast talk and big ideas to become a successful entrepreneur.

Drexel has a long-standing commitment to teaching our students the art and science of entrepreneurship, initially through our Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, which has enabled our students to experience the exhilaration and hardship of the entrepreneurial life. 

An incredible gift from the Charles and Barbara Close Foundation recently established the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel to teach entrepreneurial skills—not just at the business school, but to students anywhere in the University. We want to teach entrepreneurship as a set of personal skills that foster innovation in every aspect of life, not just as a technical process for building and launching new companies. 

Tonight we honor two distinguished leaders who personify the essence of entrepreneurial drive and success.

The A.J. Drexel Paul Award will be awarded this evening to Drexel Trustee Mel Baiada, a College of Engineering graduate, known as a serial entrepreneur and an early-stage investor.

And the Joseph Jacovini Outstanding Service Award will be presented to Drexel Vice Chairman Dick Hayne—founder, chairman and CEO of Urban Outfitters.

Mel and Dick are both devoted trustees.  Together, they represent the yin and yang of Drexel:  Both are passionately interested in students, especially those with entrepreneurial fire in the belly.  Both are numbers-driven, technologically oriented and committed to growth. 

Both are intense.  One is quiet.  The other isn’t.

Mel Baiada earned two degrees from Drexel. In 1989, he started Bluestone, a company that grew out of his experience helping his brother Mark to automate Bayada Nurses. Ranked as one of the fastest-growing, privately held companies for three straight years, Bluestone was split into two parts:  Bluestone Consulting and Bluestone Software. Just two years later, Hewlett Packard acquired the software company.  The consulting part was renamed Sengen, and then it split into two enterprises.

Meanwhile, Mel started Base Camp Ventures, to invest in technology start-ups.  He is also a partner of Grapevine Development.

Mel has served as a Trustee since 2000. He is quiet and systematic in his approach to problem solving. 

His counsel on how to use technology to do things like recruit and enroll the most talented students—on campus and online—has been invaluable.

Mel has encouraged us to build relationships with community colleges. He once was a transfer student from Burlington County College.  We now have over 300 students from Burlington County College enrolled at Drexel.  500 have graduated.

Our network of community college alliances is expanding. Just yesterday I signed a comprehensive agreement with Delaware County Community College, and in doing so made it the latest dimension of our fast-growing Drexel Network. Students in search of a less expensive way to enroll and benefit from Drexel have Mel to thank.

We are grateful to Mel for a gift that established the Laurence Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship---a vital part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Drexel. 

For all those budding Drexel entrepreneurs, we are proud to present Mel Baiada as a model.  We are proud to call him one of our own and to honor him with the AJ Drexel Paul Award.

Tonight, we also honor Richard Hayne, a one-of-a-kind guy if there ever was one. A former VISTA volunteer, he opened his first clothing store near the Penn campus with $4,000. Now it has become a 475-store empire, operating under five different brands, including Anthropology and Urban Outfitters.

No surprise that he has an affinity for young people and deep insights about what motivates them. 

Dick is socially progressive and fiscally conservative.  If you visit his Navy Yard headquarters, you will see employees, often accompanied by their pets, busy working to achieve plan, in spaces that are open and collaborative. 

Dick encourages a healthy, casual lifestyle, but he is no-nonsense when it comes to business.  Technology is the backbone of his success and he has helped Drexel to benefit from his experience. 

He’s been a devoted trustee since 1996—I am one of three presidents who have benefited immensely from his insightful, passionately expressed counsel.

We are indebted to him for the URBN Center which enabled us to consolidate 21 programs in media, design and the creative arts in a wonderful, free flowing space. It is an incredible incubator of experimentation, collaboration and creativity.

The URBN Center is literally changing the culture of this campus, helping to diminish the divide between science, business and the arts. Everyone wants to be part of the URBN Center, including colleagues from Engineering, Nursing, Biomed and Medicine. 

It’s the coolest place on our campus.

This year, all of these colleges collaborated with Westphal to invent the belly-band—a remote monitor made out of a comfortable, sensor-embedded strip of high-tech fabric, worn by expectant mothers that could alert obstetricians to complications in a pregnancy.

Drexel is deeply grateful to Dick Hayne for his many contributions, both intellectual and financial. We are proud to recognize him with the Joseph Jacovini Award.

My friends, I know you share my pride in all that Drexel has accomplished—solidifying our academic, financial and physical infrastructure, transforming our reputation and creating a new culture of philanthropy.

Thousands of people have chosen Drexel to be their preferred change-agent.  They know what a difference we already make in the lives of students, neighborhoods, Philadelphia, the region and the world.

If we had more, we could do more.  And we will do more.  The need is profound. There is no time to waste.

Tonight is a night to celebrate, but Monday morning, it’s back to business. 

In the last few years, we have concentrated on revitalizing our physical capital. Now it’s time to invest just as wisely and generously in our human capital. The essence of a great University is its faculty and students.

We now intend to devote our energy to build our endowment, providing professors with the resources to do their best work and enabling Drexel to attract gifted, entrepreneurial students, eager to transform the world.

As I look around the room, I am very encouraged. I know how deep your commitment to this University is. I know how much you share my passion to get things done. 

Together, we have created the new Drexel— focused on creating opportunity and upward mobility for anyone with the determination and drive to pursue it; focused on practical problem solving; focused on fostering productive, global relationships; focused on strengthening the regional economy. 

Could there be anything more worthwhile to do in life? 

I thank you for your support, and I count on your enthusiasm and commitment as we move this great place forward.