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2017 Convocation Remarks by President John Fry

September 20, 2017

Good afternoon and welcome to all new and returning students, faculty, professional staff, and especially members of our fabulous freshman class. Welcome, as well, to all trustees and alumni! It is wonderful to see so many familiar faces and so many new ones.

Convocation is an important tradition at Drexel. It brings together the dynamic and diverse members of the Drexel community for the start of a new academic year - this, our 126th. The new academic year marks a time of unlimited possibilities. And of our shared ambition to move Drexel forward.

For faculty and professional staff, it is a time to recommit to our mission of excellence in teaching and research - done in a community that embraces innovation and inclusion.

For our freshmen, it is the start of a new chapter in their lives. For returning students it is the next phase in your journey. Our freshmen class this year is the biggest in our history and one of the most talented ever. With the addition of this new class, Drexel’s vibrant and diverse campus is now home to students from 162 countries.

There are so many exciting new developments at Drexel, some of which I would like to share with you today.

First, I am happy to announce the initial planning for a prospective Fabric Discovery Center at Drexel. This is a partnership with the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America. The Center will foster greater entrepreneurship in smart fabrics nationwide and promote advanced manufacturing in the U.S.

Our freshman students are some of the first beneficiaries of the cutting-edge technology coming from Drexel’s Center for Functional Fabrics led by Professor Genevieve Dion. At freshman orientation, each freshman student was given a smart backpack with a unique code woven into the fabric. The fabric-based coding system links to an app that will allow students to connect to one another through social media.

These backpacks are not yet commercially available. Drexel students and their brethren from MIT are the first in the world to use this exciting new technology.

On the topic of philanthropy, I am delighted to announce a major leadership gift from longtime trustee and Drexel alum Nina Henderson.

Last evening Nina announced she was making a major gift to endow the Provost’s position now held by Brian Blake.

At the Board of Trustee’s dinner last night, Brian was formally installed as the Nina Henderson Provost of Drexel University. Congratulations to Brian. This is an incredible honor for a wonderful scholar-leader. And thank you Nina for your vision, your generosity, and your passion for academics.

That vision plays out in Drexel’s efforts to connect students to the world locally and globally. Whether it is through a programable backpack or in and out of the classroom.

It is at the heart of what we do. For example, faculty in our Global Classrooms collaboration offer courses that engage Drexel students with peers at one of our many partner universities.

Our Global Engagement Scholars program offers students a great opportunity to mix relevant coursework with co-curricular activities, including foreign language study and participation in globally oriented campus organizations and events.

Of course, at the heart of our undergraduate program is co-op. Drexel continues to increase its international co-ops. This past academic year, 200 students completed co-ops in 50 countries.

Drexel also brings the world to our campus. This summer Drexel welcomed 25 young leaders from Africa, who were part of the Mandela Washington Fellows program. The fellows came from 18 countries and spent six weeks here. The Mandela Fellows left brimming with new ideas and connections to help improve their countries.

The expansion of Drexel’s global engagement efforts is due in large measure to the work and dedication of our former Senior Vice Provost Julie Mostov, who recently took a deanship at NYU. Julie will be missed, but her legacy is secure in the many outstanding international programs created under her leadership.

Drexel is also lucky to have many brilliant international scholars, including our keynote speaker today. Dr. Ana Diez-Roux.

As dean of the Dana and David Dornsife School of Public Health, Ana embodies global and local civic engagement. The dynamic and growing Dornsife School was founded on the principle of health as a human right.

Dean Diez-Roux is internationally known for her research on the social determinants of population health and the study of how neighborhoods affect health.

Ana began her medical studies in Argentina, where she received her MD from the University of Buenos Aires. She also has a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in health policy and management from Johns Hopkins University.

Earlier this year, Dean Diez-Roux received a $12 million grant from the Wellcome Trust foundation to study how to improve the health in Latin American cities. This is just another example of the humane work we do to connect and improve the world.

We are deeply fortunate to have Ana here at Drexel, where she brings her global perspective on population health and health disparities. This is clearly one of the biggest challenges facing our city and the world.

There is no one better suited to discuss this topic. It is my honor to welcome our Convocation speaker Dr. Ana Diez-Roux.