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Anthony J. Drexel Society Gala

Remarks by President John A. Fry

November 14, 2015

This audience is truly a community, one that has grown up around two important ideals, those being: higher education that serves society, and philanthropy that has the ability to change lives. It’s a humbling experience to bring that community together in one place, and to extend our profound gratitude to all of you. When you add in the fact that we’re coming off the most generous year of giving ever by Drexel University’s friends, tonight may just be our best celebration yet.

There’s a virtuous cycle that’s come to pass in recent years at Drexel. You, our community of leading benefactors, continue to expand upon your support and set higher and higher standards of generosity. You make it possible for our students, faculty and professional staff to achieve their dreams, and accomplish amazing things —in access to education, in teaching and learning, in research and innovation, in civic engagement and the creation of strong neighborhoods.

Those accomplishments, in turn, inspire new donors to join your ranks, and that makes new levels of achievement possible. It’s a wonder to behold. And it all hinges on your remarkable commitment. So, let me add my voice to David Unruh’s, to our students and faculty, and to our neighbors in Philadelphia, as we say thank you for being the source of so much energy and potential and goodness.

Let me take this chance to thank David and his colleagues in Institutional Advancement. David, to have your first full year be Drexel’s best year ever, that’s something to be very proud of. Congratulations to you and everyone on your team in Institutional Advancement, and special thanks to our great professionals from Protocol for making this even so beautiful and memorable. I also want to salute the immense impact of our Board of Trustees, and ask all trustees present tonight to please stand and be acknowledged. Your stewardship helps chart Drexel’s course, and as philanthropists, you also help put the wind into our sails, as we follow the course that has been set.

That brings me back to the virtuous cycle I mentioned. Even as we take a moment to celebrate everything we’ve achieved together, the cycle continues. And it will hopefully lead us into the most ambitious philanthropic campaign in Drexel’s history.

Our donors help us establish excellence in teaching, research and service to society. And your support serves as an unequivocal vote of confidence, telling our faculty and students that what they do really matters. In short, your philanthropic leadership helps us be bold in setting goals, pragmatic in making plans to achieve them and relentless in our execution of these plans.

Our last campaign allowed us to take leaps forward in building the physical infrastructure needed to support our vision.  But that was really only the groundwork. The next campaign will focus on the true source of the value Drexel creates for society: the outstanding people at the heart of our academic enterprise.

First, it’s imperative that talented, energetic students from all socioeconomic backgrounds have greater access to the gift of a Drexel education. Most critically, this means securing more endowed scholarships. It also means expanding academic advising and student support services, developing paid co-ops for all of our students, and enabling our graduate students to have significant practice opportunities.

Second, we must serve our students with the most modern, innovative, technologically sophisticated approaches to teaching and learning. To do that, we have to expand endowed professorships so that we can recruit and retain top faculty to teach and mentor our students. And we have to develop and implement new models of pedagogy that are collaborative, technology-inspired and experiential.

Third, we want to continue to grow Drexel’s research enterprise, focusing on our strength in translational research. This, too, hinges on increasing our investment in recruiting nationally recognized faculty and supporting groundbreaking scholarship. It also calls for the expansion of our centers of scholarly excellence, in particular, our extremely successful interdisciplinary institutes. These initiatives, like the AJ Drexel Autism Institute, the ExCITe Center and the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, could only emerge from Drexel’s unique academic ecosystem.

Finally, we will finish the work we started in aligning our facilities with the activities and ambitions of our academic community. That includes building a state-of-the-art physical sciences and engineering complex, and reimagining our Library. 

I look forward to working with all of you to achieve these goals, as we plan the new campaign, together. Tonight is about acknowledging how far we’ve come, and in particular, the people who have helped us get here. So, I want to turn now to our two signature awards of the evening, which recognize leaders within this community of leaders. I’m personally thrilled to honor two exceptional individuals, and their really wonderful families. Anyone who cares about Drexel owes them a debt of gratitude.

In a moment, I’ll introduce Tony Noce, chair of the Alumni Association Board of Governors and Drexel trustee, to present the A.J. Drexel Paul Award for Service to Alma Mater to John Chapel. But first I want to say a few words about John and his wife, Jinnie, and the impact they’ve had on Drexel.

Like so many alumni who become lifelong supporters, I suspect that John’s generosity is inspired in part by the fact that his college education was hard-won. He enrolled at Drexel in 1961, but was forced to take time off because of financial challenges. After working as a draftsman, and changing majors, he graduated in 1967.  I think the value of education becomes clearer after an experience like that, and John and Jinnie have been steadfast supporters of both Drexel and Jinnie’s alma mater, Penn State.  John’s been deserving of this honor for a long time, but I’m especially glad we’re doing it this year.

The Chapels’ best-known act of philanthropy was endowing the dean’s chair of the LeBow College of Business, which bears John’s name. At the time they made this incredible gift, it was only the second endowed dean’s chair at a private university in America. As Drexel pivots to focus our fundraising on the critically important task of creating more endowed deanships and faculty chairs in our colleges and schools, John has immense credibility as a leader in that effort.

John and Jinnie are wonderful parents and grandparents, and beloved members of the Drexel community. I’m so proud to share this moment with them. John and Tony, please join me up on the stage.

Our second honor tonight is the Joseph H. Jacovini Outstanding Service Award. This is Drexel’s highest award for service by a non-alumnus. It’s inspired and will be presented by a man who is the standard-bearer for service to Drexel, Joe Jacovini. Joe is a Drexel trustee, a former chair of the Board, and a great friend and advisor. Without stealing Joe’s thunder, I want to say a few words about our recipient, Steve Sheller.

Often, when we talk about service in a context like this evening, we’re talking about giving, and philanthropy is an incredibly important service. But for Steve, and really for the entire Sheller family, including his wife, Sandy, and daughter Mimi, service goes far beyond financial generosity. Steve, like John Chapel, is a Drexel trustee. His deep commitment to the success of this University and its students and faculty is inspirational to our board.

Sandy and Steve’s support of the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ 11th Street Family Health Services Center is also much more than financial. Just this week, we celebrated together as the center opened its expanded home, which is named for the Shellers. Sandy has been a constant presence in the center for years as a therapist, teacher and adviser. And Steve and Sandy are an integral part of the community that has formed among the nurses and therapists and the neighbors they serve. It’s an inspiring place to be.

And of course, Mimi is a prolific Drexel scholar and distinguished professor who founded our Center for Mobilities Research and Policy. Her work has put Drexel in the forefront of a new field that is vitally important to the times we live in.

Steve Sheller’s leadership has made this a better, more compassionate service-oriented institution. And it’s our privilege to honor him tonight. Please welcome Steve Sheller and Joe Jacovini to the stage.