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2018 Convocation Remarks by President John Fry

September 27, 2018

Good morning and welcome to all new and returning students, faculty, and professional staff. And a special welcome to our dedicated trustees and devoted alumni.

The Welcome Back letter I sent earlier this week reflected on many of our recent accomplishments. I will mention just a few of the highlights before talking about a topic that I think is of vital importance to Drexel’s future. It’s a topic that’s also central to the vision of our keynote speaker this morning.

But, first, we welcome our most academically talented and largest freshman class ever! This is the second year in a row we have recruited a record-breaking class. The word is clearly out about Drexel.

Second, our outstanding faculty increased the amount of sponsored research awards last year by 11 percent to nearly $120 million. The growth is reflected in Drexel’s rise in the rankings for utility patents granted. According to the National Academy of Inventors and Intellectual Property Owners Association, we moved up 18 places to 54th in the world.

Third, we embarked on an ambitious $750 million capital campaign to support important university priorities such as endowed faculty chairs, research and academic program funding, and endowed financial aid and co-op scholarships.

This investment in our faculty and students will ensure that Drexel solidifies its position as a nationally competitive, comprehensive research university for decades to come.

To that end, I am happy to announce that — thanks to major gifts and commitments from many generous donors — the campaign is well over half way toward our $750 million goal.

For the third consecutive year, we have raised more than $100 million, bringing the campaign total to over $500 million as of this month, which surpasses the University’s previous campaign record of $455 million.

Each of these initiatives makes Drexel stronger, and secures our place as a university of distinction.

One of the many attributes that distinguishes Drexel is our incredible university collections. And that’s what I would like to spend a few minutes talking about.

I want to highlight some of our collections and reaffirm just how important they are to our mission as a research university.

AJ Drexel’s vision included building a great art collection for students and faculty to engage in the applied study and research of arts, industry and science.

Our collection of decorative and fine arts objects – known as the Drexel Collection - forms the basis of the University’s special collections.

Among the first of AJ Drexel’s gifts, was one million dollars he gave to then-president, James MacAlister, to use to travel to Europe and acquire works of art and design. Just imagine having that great assignment today? To spend what was the equivalent of about 26 million dollars worth of art back in 1891.

AJ Drexel adorned his Institute with examples of fine art and design so that the students who were here at the time — young women and men from many races and ethnicities — were able to improve their aesthetic appreciation, while acquiring their education.

Our founder was at the forefront of progressive thinking realizing that if you place objects within an educational setting, they can tell us so much about the world.

I think that is one of the timeless ideas that AJ Drexel had, and that we proudly carry on. Today, there’s so much more:

The University Archives - managed by the University Libraries - cares for our rare books and documents.

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection educates and inspires through the exhibition and preservation of some 20,000 fashionable garments and textiles. In fact, we are dedicating a new gallery and storage facility in Westphal this evening.

Drexel’s acquisition of MCP Hahnemann University – the successor of the historic Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University - brought significant collections, unlike any in the world, that trace the history of women in medicine. These collections include art, textiles and rare books housed on the Queen Lane campus.

In 2011, we took a giant step in adding to our collections when we formed a partnership with the Academy of Natural Sciences. The Academy - which was founded in 1812 – is a crown jewel that cannot be replicated. It plays an important role in understanding where we have come from and as well where we are going.

The Academy’s venerable collection of 18 million artifacts and specimens has become a new cornerstone, adding to our many other historical collections.

Drexel’s parftnership with the Academy has changed and improved the university in significant ways. We gained a partner that brought us a comprehensive natural and environmental science focus. This partnership has enabled the university to train the next generation of environmental leaders, while providing students from many disciplines with valuable co-op experiences.

The affiliation with the Academy aligns with Drexel’s position as an institution with deep expertise in collections management, stewardship and scholarship.

The addition of the Academy’s extraordinary collection has been important to research, important to society, and important to training the next generation of students on critical issues facing our planet.

On a positive note, the Academy is thriving and just completed renovations to one of its most popular collections, the animal diorama displays, which date to the 1930s.

The addition of important historical collections also underscores the role of great universities to acquire and steward rare, priceless materials for faculty, students and future generations to learn, explore and inspire.

Other universities are making big investments in their collections as well. For example, Yale just received a $160 million donation to renovate its Peabody Museum of Natural History, which is home to four billion years of history.

As an anchor institution in America’s cradle of democracy, Drexel has an important role to play in preserving and maintaining important collections here, to serve as a foundation for research; and to share and enjoy with the general public, through great exhibitions.

In short, the ability to leverage - and grow - our collections is integral to Drexel’s mission to create high-impact, hands-on programs that foster research, teaching, career development, and civic engagement.

That brings us to today’s keynote speaker. Dr. Scott Cooper is president and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Scott joined us nearly a year ago. He brings academic firepower and a global perspective formed by a career spent working on three continents.

Scott came here from Victoria, British Columbia, where he was vice president for collections, knowledge and engagement at the Royal British Columbia Museum. The Royal B.C. is home to the largest natural and human history collections in Canada and was voted Canada’s best museum.

Before joining the Royal British Columbia Museum in 2014, Scott was director of museums at the Qatar Foundation in Doha, Qatar, where he ran a $65 million capital project and created the first museum dedicated to the subject of slavery in the Islamic world.

Prior to that, he worked in London as CEO of the Fulham Palace Trust, where he devised and implemented plans for the restoration and reuse of Fulham Palace, which is one of England’s most important heritage sites.

Scott’s training includes studies in construction management at the University of Manchester. He holds a degree in architectural conservation and a doctorate in architecture from the Edinburgh College of Art.

We’re thrilled to have Scott here, and look forward to hearing his inspiring words. Please welcome Scott Cooper.