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Drexel University 2021 President's Report dragon logo Here, We GrowA Year of Return and Renewal

President's Message


"We take great pride in having been tested and tempered by a global pandemic, emerging stronger, more innovative and poised for return and renewal."

I am tremendously excited to share this Drexel University 2021 President’s Report.

As the Drexel community began the 2021-2022 academic year — enlivening our campus, classrooms and labs in ways not seen for nearly a year and a half — we took great pride in having been tested and tempered by a global pandemic, emerging stronger, more innovative and poised for return and renewal.

Bringing Energy Back to Campus: New and Returning Students

With a growing number of highly accomplished first-year students enrolled, we welcomed a dynamically diverse incoming class of more than 2,830 talented future problem solvers and leaders. One in five are underrepresented students of color — an increase of 6 percent — and fully one-quarter are the first in their family to attend college, as we continue to expand access to a Drexel education.

We were further strengthened and invigorated by the September arrival on campus of last year’s class of first-year students and transfers. While their transition to college life was hardly what they had envisioned at the start of 2020, these remarkable individuals also developed powers of creativity, adaptability and resilience in extraordinary ways.

Transformational Faculty Appointments

For the fall, we welcomed 40 new faculty members bringing impressive experience and strength to Drexel University. Collectively, they enhance cross-disciplinary teaching and research throughout the University. They also bolster the economic and social impact of our colleges and schools through engagement with industry, civic and community partners.

Four areas where we have made strategic appointments include:

  • Health, with a focus on medical sociology and biology;

  • Technology, specifically in artificial intelligence research;

  • Design, with significant appointments to our Music Industry program; and,

  • Africana Studies, with heightened focus on African American literature, visual culture and the African diaspora.

Building a Stronger, More Innovative and Inclusive Drexel

This past year, we launched our new strategic plan, Drexel 2030 — Designing the Future, a bold vision and roadmap for transforming our University into a global leader in research, innovation, experiential learning and civic engagement. I am grateful to so many University colleagues who worked tirelessly on developing the strategic plan, to the members of the Executive Planning Committee for guiding these efforts, and to our chief strategy officer, Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, PhD, for directing implementation of the plan.

Central to our vision to design the future is the innovative integration of education, scholarship, diverse partnerships and our global community. We will achieve this integration by focusing on the imperatives of innovative research, partnerships, student empowerment, equity culture, adaptable curricula and high-quality learning experiences.

To implement the strategic plan, a diverse group of more than 300 University faculty and professional staff are coming together to purposefully design our future through the mindful enactment of foundational principles of broad engagement and communication, collaboration and integration, deep examination and execution of core initiatives, and impactful change and progress that balances short-term goals with long-term success.

These initial implementation efforts are already bearing fruit across several broad areas: driving enrollment success; effectiveness and efficiency in mission delivery; and exploration of new markets for diversifying our revenue streams. For example, an Enrollment Integration Center (EIC) has been created to fully align Drexel’s administrative enrollment management structure with a re-envisioned marketing and communications organization that will unify messaging and branding while enabling individualized recruitment across various populations of students.

Another exciting implementation development: innovative efforts of the Drexel Solutions Institute (DSI) to position the University as a partnership-driven academic institution by expanding comprehensive and mutually beneficial relationships with industry. These partnerships are strengthening curricula, catalyzing groundbreaking research and providing our students with experiential learning opportunities that empower them to become purpose-driven global citizens.

The plan also galvanizes our resolve to advance equity, inclusion and racial justice, with accountability for achieving key measures of success. On that point, based on the tireless year-long work of so many individuals from across the University, the Anti-Racism Task Force released its Final Report in August. This report offers extensive recommendations for confronting and eradicating structural racism and inequality — on our campus and throughout society. Sustaining our commitment to equity and racial justice not only helps make Drexel stronger and better in every sense, but also reinforces and complements our many civic engagement initiatives throughout the city and region.

We have begun the important work of enacting these recommendations throughout all parts of the University. For example, we established an independent Drexel Public Safety Oversight Committee charged with providing vision, guidance and oversight to the delivery of police services to the Drexel community. Establishing this oversight committee supports our ongoing efforts to reimagine public safety by addressing many of the recommendations 21CP Solutions made in its recent external consultant review of the Drexel University Police Department.

Implementation of the strategic plan and anti-racism efforts will touch and strengthen all University operations and endeavors. Indeed, the strong emphasis on fostering a more inclusive and equitable culture is embedded across all the strategic plan initiatives, thereby ensuring that our commitment to anti-racism will prevail throughout the University.

A Year of Transformative Achievements and Milestones

In addition, six new members were recruited to join the Drexel Board of Trustees, each bringing their unique perspective and phenomenal skill set to ensure Drexel moves forward with these strategic initiatives. Welcome to new trustees Ted Bryce ’93, Della Clark, Jeff Lyash ’84, Maria Renz ’90, Malik Rose ’96 and Corina Lam ’10.

Across many areas of University life, we can take pride in transformative achievements and progress. These include:

  • Leveraging our shift to remote learning during the pandemic in order to enhance Drexel’s effectiveness and global reputation as a leader in digital instruction, research and pedagogy;

  • Conducting more than $130 million in sponsored research while continuing to strengthen our research support infrastructure under the leadership of our Office of Research and Innovation and Executive Vice Provost Aleister Saunders, PhD;

  • Mounting and expanding research efforts that helped combat the greatest health crisis in our lifetime, we increased awards by 24 percent compared to last year;

  • Taking a major step forward in our commitment to support public education with the opening of the Powel Elementary/Science Leadership Academy Middle School next to our campus;

  • Launching a new era for the College of Medicine by enrolling the first class of 40 medical students at our state-of-the-art, four-year regional medical campus in West Reading in collaboration with Tower Health, sustaining one of the nation’s few physician re-entry programs as a U.S. physician shortage loomed, and garnering a record $42 million in research grants in the last fiscal year, a 30 percent increase year over year;

  • Beginning construction on our Health Sciences Building, which will house the College of Nursing and Health Professions and educational programs for the College of Medicine. The Health Sciences Building will bring these two critical programs to the heart of our main campus and our West Philadelphia community, and will be completed in 2022;

  • Heralding the groundbreaking of West Tower, the first new building in Schuylkill Yards, which will bring 570,000 square feet of space for residential rental units, life science and innovation office space, retail, and a mix of indoor and outdoor amenities. The West Tower will join Drexel Square, the city’s newest park;

  • Ending 2021 on a high note with the announcement that Philadelphia-based Spark Therapeutics, a rapidly growing developer of gene therapy treatments, will invest $575 million to build a 500,000-square-foot laboratory and manufacturing center next to Drexel’s Main Building at 30th and Chestnut streets. Besides creating up to 600 new jobs and positioning University City as a global biotech and innovation powerhouse, our partnership with Spark will generate unparalleled opportunities for our students and faculty to participate in groundbreaking research and the development of effective new treatments and cures;

  • Opening the Rush Building at 33rd Street and Lancaster Walk as a new student center on campus. Rush is now home to the Center for Black Culture, the Student Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Student Organization Resource Center and many student organizations;

  • Publishing A Legacy to Share, a collection of more than 50 stories by generations of Black students and alumni who candidly describe their experiences and Drexel’s transformative impact on their lives and careers, along with the obstacles they overcame;

  • Continuing to improve and beautify the Drexel campus by creating the Gateway Garden in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at 32nd and Market streets, while also undertaking a full update of the 2011 Campus Master Plan, with a focus on enhancing research space, creating new public realm development opportunities like the build-out of Lancaster Walk, and improving the student experience and safety at Vidas Field and other recreational spaces;

  • Naming the inaugural executive director of the Environmental Collaboratory, the groundbreaking sustainability effort led by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University — which also boosted its fundraising 21 percent over the last year — the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering, one of numerous advances during Climate Year 2021, as Drexel was added to the Climate Change Coalition; and

  • Celebrating the remarkable personal achievements and team triumphs of Drexel’s student-athletes, including the men’s and women’s basketball and lacrosse teams’ historic entries into the NCAA Tournaments, as well as 11 Drexel team members earning the Colonial Athletic Association Team Academic Excellence Award, the most of any school in the conference.

Maisha Kelly

Speaking of athletics, we were excited to welcome new members of the Drexel community, including: Maisha Kelly, a seasoned collegiate athletics administrator with deep Philadelphia roots who is Drexel’s new director of athletics; Kim Hillier, who joined us as the Mary Semanik Head Coach of Women's Lacrosse following a successful tenure at Stony Brook University; and Katie Jansson, our new Women’s Head Softball Coach, who comes to Drexel from Iona College.

We are also were excited to celebrate the opening of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center in the historic Pennsylvania Armory on the Drexel campus. The Specter Squash Center opened to rave reviews – both for its beautiful design and its welcoming community outreach to local school children and experienced squash players alike.

I am also pleased to report that our dean of the College of Engineering, Sharon Walker, PhD, took on the additional role of executive director of ELATES at Drexel, a national leadership development program designed to advance senior women faculty that is now a joint effort between the College of Engineering and the LeBow College of Business.

Sharon Walker, PhD

Loretta Sweet Jemmott, PhD, vice president of health and health equity and professor of graduate nursing, College of Nursing and Health Professions, also received the Lazarex Cancer Foundation Disruptor Award, which is presented to individuals who have responded with urgency, taking action to combat low minority participation in cancer clinical trials.

Strengthening Our Financial Position

Despite substantial fiscal challenges posed by the pandemic, the University remains on solid financial footing: Thanks in large part to our collective efforts to reduce expenses and find efficiencies and innovative solutions, we were able to negotiate the pandemic without any layoffs or furloughs, and we restored the employee merit pool and retirement savings benefits. At the same time, we can now direct more investments toward faculty, educational and research spaces, and improving the student experience.

Loretta Sweet Jemmott, PhD

Meanwhile, our alumni and many other friends rallied over the past year to help propel our great teaching and research enterprise to ever greater heights. Their generous support powered The Campaign for Drexel past its $750 million fundraising goal in support of scholarships, faculty chairs and other academic enhancements and initiatives. Through the Campaign, we have established more than 175 endowed scholarships and more than a dozen endowed professorships. We also launched many important initiatives and centers, including The Ubuntu Center on Racism, Global Movements and Population Health Equity with a significant gift from alumna Dana Dornsife and her husband, David. Two important gifts, from the Charles and Barbara Close Foundation and the family of the late Philip B. Lindy, added upon previous commitments to Drexel, continuing a legacy of support to the University and demonstrating confidence and trust in our mission and leadership. These and other significant gifts are outlined below in the Fundraising & Financials section. And thanks to prudent stewardship, the University’s endowment grew over the past year by more than 21 percent, hitting the $1 billion mark for the first time in Drexel’s history on Aug. 31.

Protecting Our Physical and Mental Health

Marla J. Gold, MD

While happy to be back on campus, we nonetheless need to maintain our defenses against the coronavirus. In the newly created role of chief wellness officer, Marla J. Gold, MD, continues to lead the University’s response to COVID-19, while building and sustaining a comprehensive and proactive approach to reducing risk to our Drexel community and neighbors.

Drexel United, Drexel Strong

Embarking on this extraordinary year, I believe that we gained a new appreciation for the importance of our physical campus. While we found new ways to connect remotely — and will continue to take advantage of digital efficiencies — the benefits of personal interaction and engagement are priceless.

The 2021 President’s Report is titled “Here, We Grow” because this year — perhaps more than any other — we are seeing the fruits of a decade-long effort to build a platform for the future upon a compelling sense of place. New facilities and amenities erected on campus over the past year and a half enhance our standing as a major urban research university, create a vibrant presence in and around University City, and deliver on Drexel’s public purpose as an anchor institution for Philadelphia.

People matter. Place matters. And this year we wholeheartedly celebrate their reunion here, in our home in West Philadelphia.

I am proud to share this report with the Drexel campus community, alumni, and the University’s many friends and supporters in the wider community.

With gratitude,

John Fry's signature

John Fry

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Pictured: In July, Drexel welcomed first-year medical students at the newly built Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health in West Reading. Photo by Lauren Little.

While the world went quiet, Drexel proceeded with transformations that altered the landscape, skyline and culture — readying campus for the return to classrooms and collegiate life experiences.


Pictured: Construction is wrapping up on Drexel University Health Sciences Building, the future home of the College of Nursing and Health Professions and the educational programs of the College of Medicine. Photo by Wexford.

Drexel researchers set new records this year for sponsored research in the midst of a public health emergency and new calls to examine the social costs of racial injustice.

Experience & Partnerships

Pictured: This year saw the opening of Drexel Square, a gateway to the fast developing Schuylkill Yards district where universities and industry will work side by side to solve complex problems. Photo by Brandywine Realty Trust.

Drexel partnerships inside and outside academia connect the University to the world and give our students and faculty a front-row seat on the next big thing.

Engagement & Equity

Pictured: In the spring, a modern public school facility constructed by Drexel and its partners debuted within the fast-rising uCity Square development. Photo by Jeff Fusco.

During a year that tested many of the bonds that unite us as a nation, Drexel rededicated itself to cultivating a sense of community and a culture of respect.


Pictured: Drexel’s student-athletes were triumphant during the 2020-2021 season, earning historic entries into the NCAA Tournaments and a bevy of personal awards.

Drexel student-athletes and coaches faced many obstacles to competing this year, but they succeeded in safeguarding their health and ended up turning in some of their best performances.

& Financials

Drexel Supporters Carry Campaign Toward Goal

Drexel alumni, community members and friends were not about to let a global pandemic dim their enthusiasm for the University, as they rallied behind the Campaign for Drexel and pushed it past its goal of $750 million.

When you can raise more than $1 million in a single day of giving from the largest number of Drexel donors ever — as the University did in May 2021 for the first time — you must be doing something right.

In fact, every year since its launch, the Campaign for Drexel has fueled the University’s capacity to prepare students for academic and professional success, create solutions to urgent societal challenges, and affect positive change for communities in Philadelphia and beyond. And our donors’ incredible generosity helps sustain a University whose mission is critically needed in a challenged and changing world, and helps secure Drexel’s future as an innovative leader in higher education.

Dana and David Dornsife posing together.
Dana and David Dornsife

Especially in the last year, our alumni and many other friends propelled our great teaching and research enterprise to new heights. Their generous support powered the Campaign for Drexel past its $750 million fundraising goal – six months prior to the Campaign’s close – in support of scholarships, faculty chairs and other academic enhancements and initiatives.

Through the Campaign, we have established more than 175 endowed scholarships and more than a dozen endowed professorships. We also launched many important initiatives and centers, including The Ubuntu Center on Racism, Global Movements and Population Health Equity with a significant gift from alumna Dana Dornsife and her husband, David. At Drexel’s new Center for Black Culture, supporters are funding scholarships, stipends, new spaces for social activities, art installations and events, as well as a library. Gifts from two anonymous donors will establish an artist-in-residence program at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and support exhibitions and research and curatorial fellowships at the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection. And a dozen students will be chosen each year through the new Nina Henderson Provost Scholars Program, made possible by support from Nina Henderson, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and a Drexel alumna.

More recently, two major gifts built on previous commitments to Drexel, continuing a legacy of support to the University and demonstrating confidence and trust in our mission and leadership. The Charles and Barbara Close Foundation, which made a naming gift creating the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship nine years ago, is providing additional funding to the school. And through a gift to the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, Alan, Elaine and Frank Lindy are furthering the philanthropic vision of their late father, Philip B. Lindy.

Thanks to prudent stewardship, the University’s endowment grew over the past year by more than 21 percent, hitting the $1 billion mark for the first time in Drexel’s history on Aug. 31.

More than 40,000 alumni have shown their support through donations, volunteering, mentoring students and attending events, exceeding our original goal of 35,000 engaged alumni.

Running the numbers, the Campaign provided the following for select priorities: $163 million for research initiatives; $157 million for scholarships and co-ops; $139 million for academic support; $65 million for the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University — which celebrated its 10th year affiliated with Drexel; $46 million for civic engagement; $32 million for learning spaces; and $32 million for professorships and chairs.

We are grateful to everyone who has supported our dynamic community of innovators that strives both to ensure that talented students from all backgrounds have access to a transformational educational experience, and to put our knowledge to work in service to society.

Weathering a global pandemic while managing to strengthen the University’s balance sheet was made possible by collective effort, sacrifice and careful stewardship.

Despite a wealth of economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Drexel closed out fiscal year 2021 solidly in the black. In addition, we set aside a sizeable amount to offset advances related to the University’s joint support of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. Thanks in large part to the collective efforts of deans, faculty and professional staff to reduce expenses and find efficiencies and innovative solutions, we were able to avoid any layoffs or furloughs, and we restored an employee merit pool and retirement savings benefits for fiscal year 2022. At the same time, we continued our investments in improving the student experience.

Meanwhile, the University’s consolidated endowment had a banner year, growing by more than 21 percent to $983 million, and at the end of August, the University’s and Academy of Natural Sciences’ combined endowment crested over the $1 billion level for the first time, an historic moment for Drexel. The endowment delivered impressive performance, bringing five-year annualized returns to more than 11.7 percent, which places Drexel in the top 19 percent of endowments and foundations within the Wilshire TUCS Universe.

Being on strong financial footing during such a uniquely challenging year positions Drexel well for the future — and for whatever new challenges lie ahead.