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Drexel University President's Report 2017

The President’s Report highlights the endeavors undertaken by Drexel faculty, professional staff, and students during the past year — work that distinguishes the University as a place for leadership in student success, academics, experiential learning, research, and community engagement.

Future in Focus

President's Message

Drexel University is driving to reach the next level of excellence, and 2017 was the year in which some of our most important work came into focus. Drexel’s continued strong showing in national university rankings, a second year of record-high student retention, the enrollment of the largest freshman class in our history, and the launch of our $750 million fundraising campaign brings us to an inflexion point. In short, we see Drexel on an upward arc of success.

And that is by design. We’re a University whose students, faculty, clinicians and professional staff believe in the power of working hard, and working smart. So, a couple of years ago, we began investing more heavily in student financial aid. We put the word out far and wide to prospective students. High school visits ramped up: Guidance counselors at hundreds of schools, who previously had no relationship with Drexel, learned about our unique blend of experiential and classroom studies. Bending the curve sharply on affordability, we held tuition steady and overall charge increases to under 2 percent. Meanwhile, we added 100 tenure-track faculty lines and will dedicate future fundraising efforts to people and programs.

In addition to being the largest ever, the approximately 3,200 new undergraduates in the freshman class for 2017 are highly qualified and more likely to remain enrolled and go on to earn their degrees. They hail from across the region, the nation and internationally, and, in their diversity, they fulfill the promise of inclusion and opportunity that is central to our educational mission.

Academic achievement continues to be the watchword at Drexel, which The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education ranked in the top 40 among private research universities. And more Drexel students and alumni were offered Fulbright scholarships than ever before, with eight receiving the prestigious award in the spring — further evidence of our global engagement.

As we look to the future, we’re encouraged that Drexel’s high-caliber research continues to grow, with new awards for research up 6 percent and such highly competitive awards as the Wellcome Trust ($12 million) to study urban health, and from the U.S. Department of Education ($30 million) to support urban education in West Philadelphia. In November, we announced the establishment of a Fabric Discovery Center, which leverages the University’s national leadership in smart-fabric manufacturing through our participation in the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America.

Our student-athletes continue to excel both on the field, with title-winning performances, and in the classroom, with 3.33 grade-point averages. This academic year, more than 450 student-athletes will compete in 18 varsity sports and another 9,000 students will participate in club or intramural sports.

Our commitment to inclusive economic growth in Philadelphia is centered around plans for Schuylkill Yards, now seeing its first phase come to fruition with the creation of the 1.3-acre Drexel Square just steps from Amtrak’s 30th Street Station — the sixth square in Philadelphia that will join the five designed by William Penn. In addition, we expanded our cradle-to-career efforts with the addition of a second, fifth-grade class at the Science Leadership Academy Middle School, the public school housed at our Dana and David Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships. The Dornsife Center itself is a hub of activity and community outreach.

Drexel’s campus also continues to grow with the addition of new amenities: a high-quality preschool at the newly built Vue32 development, which includes 164 new market-rate apartments; and The Study at University City, bringing high-quality, full-service lodging and dining to the Drexel campus.

The pride we share in Drexel University is built upon progress made in all these areas of University life — progress that is only made possible with the support of the Drexel board of trustees under the leadership of its chairman, Richard Greenawalt. And our faith in the future only grows when we see the progress that our efforts have yielded. “What is now proved was once only imagined,” the English poet William Blake told us.

I am proud to share this report with the Drexel campus community, alumni, and the University’s many friends and allies in the wider community. As you read on, I hope you will see how we’re focused on creating an exciting future — whether it’s training next-generation educators for urban classrooms, learning entrepreneurial skills by actually running businesses, conducting life-saving research, making medical breakthroughs, or improving our community through civic engagement.


John Fry

Student Success

At Drexel University, our future is in focus because we lean into academics, research, athletics and student life with a shared sense that, as we say, ambition can’t wait. It shows in so many ways — best seen in the extraordinary achievements of Drexel students, whom we believe are going to transform the world.

A Record-High Freshman Class

This year’s incoming class of freshmen is among the largest in Drexel’s history, with about 3,200 students coming from 41 states and 66 countries.

At the start of the 2017–18 academic year, Drexel welcomed more than 3,200 freshmen to campus. It was the largest class than the University had seen in years, especially since we implemented a new admissions strategy in 2015 that recruits smaller, but better qualified, freshman classes, leveraging more financial aid to increase student support and improve retention.

Moving from a 2016 fall class of 2,324 students, Drexel’s freshman enrollment this year even appeared headed for the 3,500 mark, with high school seniors in those numbers sending in deposits. And once the incoming class leveled out to its still-record size, that wasn’t the only milestone set this year: Drexel’s yield rate hit 14.9 percent, which beat the previous highest yield rate of 12.7 percent from 2015.

“The success of our university-wide recruitment efforts for the next incoming freshman class shows that our student enrollment and retention strategy is solid and working,” said President John Fry.

The new students came to Philadelphia from 66 countries and 41 states. About 11 percent of the Dragons are international students, with the countries that sent the most Dragons were India, China, Vietnam, Pakistan and Nigeria. About 74 percent of the incoming freshmen hailed from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts.

About 13 percent of the freshman class identifies as underrepresented minorities: 6.8 percent identify as Hispanic, 6 percent identify as black or African American, and less than one-tenth of a percent identify as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. One in five new students identify as Asian.

And one constant remains in this new freshman class, as with all others: 100 percent of these freshmen are Drexel Dragons. Learn more about how Drexel’s new student-success strategy created more Dragons.

Pictured above: Rebecca Low, biology ’21; Miles Knight, cybersecurity ’21; Lux Ezell, environmental engineering ’21

Academic Excellence

Whether it’s developing new routes to rewarding careers, seeking cutting-edge solutions to society’s problems, or building new leadership, a university focused on the future must be all about supporting outstanding academics and growing resources.

Training a New Breed of Teachers with a Passion for The Urban Classroom

For the first time, Drexel’s School of Education is preparing students from any major to graduate with a middle school teaching certification and a special focus on the urban classroom. A $1.2 million grant made the launch possible.

Aja Sor thought she would be nervous this winter when she taught a group of fourth graders at the Andrew Jackson School in South Philadelphia about balancing weights. She had never led a class and, until a few months earlier, had never really considered being a teacher. But as a member of the first cohort of Drexel students in the DragonsTeach Middle Years program, which allows students in any major to earn a middle school teaching certification, she was at the beginning of a journey that will give her all the tools she needs. And she’ll still receive the bachelor’s in psychology she had been planning on before learning about Middle Years.

The initiative launched this year received a $1.2 million grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership that will allow the University to graduate 40 students each year, beginning in 2020, who can help fill Philadelphia’s pressing need for middle school teachers. Sor was in the classroom as part of the first of three introductory courses that students take before committing to the program, which requires roughly 50 credits to complete. In the end, she said, the nerves weren’t necessary.

“Talking to 28 fourth graders who want to hear you talk, it relaxes you,” said Sor. “It came easy to me.”

Drexel President John Fry views science and math education, which the program emphasizes, as vital to Philadelphia’s future — and he has made Middle Years a high priority. “We have a rare opportunity to help meet the School District of Philadelphia’s need for middle school math and science teachers,” Fry says. “In addition, we’ll be able to launch Drexel graduates on rewarding careers, and we’ll also be able to develop an intensive teacher training program that, hopefully, if we’re good at what we do, will serve as a national model.”

Next up for Sor in the second DragonsTeach introductory course was teaching high school. Not long ago, she might have blanched at the idea. But she’s quickly finding her footing in the classroom.

“It’s a little daunting,” she said, “but if I can handle 28 fourth graders, I’ll be OK.”

Experiential Learning

A University doesn’t make the nation’s top 10 list of schools for best preparing students for careers without having deep roots in experiential learning — something Drexel pioneered in 1919. As leaders in co-op, our future is in focus, because our past holds such a rich store of experience.

A New Home for Experiential Learning

Saxbys’ second student-run café on campus opened in June, doubling the opportunities for Drexel students to get real-world experience running a business.

Students were buzzing on both sides of the counter in late June, when Saxbys opened its second entirely student-run café on the Drexel University campus, on the ground level of the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building. President John Fry and Drexel trustee Stanley W. Silverman ’69, ’74 joined Saxbys CEO Nick Bayer for a celebratory shot of espresso to mark the occasion, and Fry reflected on the relationship the two entities have shared since Bayer first suggested a new format for on-the-job education.

“I believe our University does its best work in partnerships, and this has been an exemplary partnership for the last four years,” Fry said.

The new café joined the one opened in April 2015 at 34th Street and Lancaster Avenue — both are operated by Dragons who make every drink, analyze every profit-and-loss report, organize every team meeting, plan every marketing push and schedule every event. Fifty-eight Drexel students and alumni were employed by Saxbys at the time of the June opening, accounting for more than $550,000 of payroll, and 14 students have worked co-ops with the coffee company. Dan Kinsinger (shown above) is one of 14 Dragons to co-op at Saxbys. He became a Student Café Executive Officer in 2015 and is now overseeing other executive officers across Philadelphia — and he’s still just a junior.

Both Fry and Bayer took time at the PISB launch to praise the work of Tauheed Baukman, a junior business and engineering student in the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business who will be running the new café.

“That’s a young man who’s going to make a huge, huge difference in this world,” Bayer said.

The crowd streaming through the new café might have been focused on lattes and iced coffees, but the future of the space is just as much about the doors it will open for students ready to learn how to operate a business.

“Experiential learning, in John’s words to me, is the future of education,” Bayer said. “It’s about giving young people the opportunity to learn by doing.”

Learn more about mixing espresso and education.

Research & Innovation

Founding the nation’s only freestanding school of entrepreneurship, supporting student researchers building a futuristic "hyperloop" transportation pod, securing an all-time school record new patents, imagining a new innovation district that functions as a crucible for invention, business startups and inclusive growth — that’s the spirit of research and innovation that courses through everything we do at Drexel. This year, and every year.

Collecting Data That Could Save Children’s Lives in Crashes

Biomedical engineering researcher Sri Balasubramanian is conducting a first-of-its-kind study on the effect of impact collisions on pediatric subjects — data which has never before been available and will help vehicle restraint manufacturers build safer devices for children.

Imagine you’re driving down the highway at a high speed with your child buckled in the back seat. Another car cuts you off, and you swerve to avoid a collision. In that moment, your body moves sharply to the side, throwing you out of the best position for a seatbelt to protect you. The same dynamic happens to your child.

Would you both survive?

“These conditions have never been studied before,” says Sriram Balasubramanian, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems at Drexel. “We want to understand what happens during this crash-avoidance phase. Even with the best restraint system, if you’re sub-optimally positioned, it’s not going to work for you.”

His research, conducted in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, is the first to study human test subjects that include children as young as 9 years in a human oscillator sled. The goal is to collect data on what exactly happens to a person’s bodily movements in the seconds before an accident. Think in-car collision-avoidance cameras and autonomous breaking systems.

His work will provide makers of vehicle restraint systems with data, previously unavailable, on live child subjects.

“Crashes are the leading cause of death and acquired disability for children,” says Kristy Arbogast, the project’s principal investigator and co-director of CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention. On average in 2015, three children were killed and nearly 500 injured every day in the United States in traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “This type of work is necessary to chip away at these numbers until we have zero,” she says.

The oscillator sled Balasubramanian built in his lab is based on bumper cars. Balasubramanian actually spent a day at New Jersey’s Six Flags amusement park in the name of science, instrumenting and collecting data as the cars banged around. That translated into a safe human accelerator made up of an automobile’s front driver seat on a platform that, for this study, moves six feet from side to side at about 1g. “It’s a good poke,” Balasubramanian says.

Takata, the Japanese automotive company that makes seatbelts and airbags, has awarded the researchers about $5.4 million in grants, including $2 million for the current project. University of Virginia researchers also are collaborators, conducting cadaver tests at higher speeds.

Ultimately, the data they collect will result in better-designed restraints to account for out-of-position scenarios. “It’s going to save somebody’s life,” says Balasubramanian.

Civic Engagement

Founded more than 125 years ago in Philadelphia — a city of neighborhoods — Drexel University is proving that its goal of becoming the nation’s most civically engaged university can change lives both on campus and beyond.

Engagement Starts in School

Drexel’s partnership with the Philadelphia School District to support neighborhood public schools is part of a broader effort to bolster education and create more opportunities for area residents and their families.

When Lucy Kerman stepped inside Science Leadership Academy Middle School for the first time, she was moved by what she saw.

Kerman, Drexel University’s senior vice provost for University and Community Partnerships, knows a thing or two about university-assisted neighborhood schooling, from having previously helped to establish the highly-regarded Penn Alexander School at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001. 

But her visit to SLA-MS, Drexel’s newly launched partner public school in West Philadelphia, felt different. 

“I have never seen a classroom that engaged,” says Kerman.

Drexel helped to launch SLA-MS with the School District of Philadelphia and the school’s nonprofit educational partner, Inquiry Schools, in September 2016. It opened inside a temporary location in Drexel’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships with a mission to provide hands-on, project-based education to 88 fifth-graders, most of them from the surrounding Mantua and Powelton neighborhoods. As the school matures, it is projected to hold 360 students in grades 5–8 and will allow nearby Samuel Powel Elementary to expand grades and classrooms. 

Its arrival is an example of Drexel’s long-standing commitment to provide support — both curricular and material — to neighborhood public schools, led by staff and faculty including Kerman and School of Education Dean Nancy Songer. 

At the heart of it all is Christian Edge (shown above), Drexel’s director of K–12 school work, who serves as a full-time liaison between the University and the middle school. Edge is an education specialist who came to Drexel with experience running the after-school program at nearby Lea Elementary. He spends every day inside SLA-MS and Drexel’s other local partner public schools, which include Powel Elementary and Morton McMichael School.

A new Promise Neighborhood Grant for the area, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, recently expanded Drexel’s list of partner schools to include Alain Locke, Belmont Charter, West Philadelphia High and Martha Washington. When a school needs prizes for Math Night, or a reading specialist, or a field trip to a museum, he’s who they ask for help.

Science Leadership Academy is just one example of Drexel’s goal to be the most civically engaged university in the country.

Fundraising & Financials

Academics, Co-op, Research are the Focus as Drexel’s Most Ambitious Campaign Goes Public

On a crisp autumn day, students, faculty and professional staff joined dedicated Drexel volunteers, donors and leaders in the Great Court of the Main Building to launch the public phase of the University’s most ambitious fundraising campaign. This $750 million effort offers an unprecedented opportunity to catalyze a new era of impact at Drexel.

The theme of our campaign, The Future Is a Place We Make, reflects Drexel’s history as a proving ground for talent that can creatively address emerging societal needs and our growth as a catalytic university — one that will fundamentally determine what tomorrow looks like.

Every day, we are creating breakthroughs and technologies that yield tangible solutions to pressing issues like air and water quality; cybersecurity; energy use; and inclusive economic development. Through our unique model of experiential education, which is founded on co-op but also includes myriad research and entrepreneurial opportunities, we teach our students to turn their ideas into action and go on to become the trailblazers of their generation. And we forge partnerships with neighbors and civic and industry leaders to build a stronger Philadelphia — and in the process, create models for cities and societies everywhere.

This campaign will focus on securing the resources our students and faculty need to continue this vital work and take it to the next level. Priorities include endowed scholarships and professorships; stipends for unpaid co-ops in nonprofit, arts and cultural sectors; interdisciplinary teaching and research; academic advising and student support services; state-of-the-art learning environments; and academically driven civic engagement opportunities.

We have also set non-financial goals, particularly increasing alumni engagement with Drexel and fostering a lasting culture of philanthropy at the University. These efforts will help build a pipeline of donors who can support Drexel’s ambitions in the decades to come.

Since the campaign’s foundational quiet phase, which began on December 1, 2013, more than 31,000 donors have committed more than $410 million — nearly equal to the closing total of our previous campaign, Dream It. Do It. This includes naming gifts for the Dornsife School of Public Health and the Thomas R. Kline School of Law, which are two of the largest gifts in Drexel history. In addition, donor investments have established more than 100 new endowed scholarship and fellowship funds and 10 named, endowed professorships.

We also raised nearly $4 million to support cultural-sector and global co-ops; $7.5 million for athletics and recreation; approximately $13 million for research centers and institutes; and more than $18 million to create vibrant spaces that facilitate social, spiritual and cultural life on campus.

This campaign’s public phase, which is projected to conclude on June 30, 2021, will further this momentum, leveraging the confidence that foundations and corporations have in Drexel as well as the pride of alumni, parents and friends.

We are at a critical juncture in our evolution as a global urban research university. The investments we make today in our people and programs will determine how we rise to the challenges and opportunities before us. Given the talent of our students, faculty and professional staff, I know we will make the most of this campaign and the opportunities it affords to strengthen Drexel academically and financially for years to come.

Pictured above, first photo: Campaign launch emcee Chris McKendry ’90
Second photo: David and Dana Dornsife with Thomas R. Kline
Third photo: Leonard Korman, Steve Korman, Bert Korman
Fourth photo: Ben LeBow

About the 2017 President’s Report

The President’s Report highlights the endeavors undertaken by Drexel faculty, professional staff, and students during the past year — work that distinguishes the University as a place for leadership in student success, academics, experiential learning, research, and community engagement.

Office of The President
3141 Chestnut Street
Main Building, Suite 103
Philadelphia, PA 19104-2875
Phone: 215.895.2100
Fax: 215.895.1714

Produced by University Communications
3141 Chestnut Street
Main Building, Suite 309
Philadelphia, PA 19104-2875
Phone: 215.895.1530
Fax: 215.895.6157


Russell Cooke
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Art Direction

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