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Strategic Plan Embraces Experience-Based Learning, Transdisciplinary and Applied Research, Deeper Collaboration with External Partners

December 2020

President John A. Fry, Drexel University

As we reflect at the end of a tumultuous and challenging year, I want to share the broad outlines of “Drexel 2030: Designing the Future,” the new strategic plan unanimously approved by the Drexel Board of Trustees earlier this month. The context under which the plan was created was extraordinary and matches its level of aspiration.

First, I want to thank and salute the members of the Executive Planning Committee for their extraordinary efforts in leading the development of Drexel 2030. Under the leadership of Paul Jensen, Nina Henderson Provost, and Helen Bowman, executive vice president, the EPC established a deliberative and inclusive process for engaging our faculty and professional staff in thinking deeply about our path forward.

That collaborative process has been further enriched by the work of the Anti-Racism Task Force established in June. The task force has itself engaged hundreds of members of the Drexel community and is now preparing its recommendations for ensuring that Drexel lives up to its founding promise as a place of opportunity for young people of diverse backgrounds to excel as engaged citizens and educated professionals. To do that, we must be an inclusive institution where all students, faculty and professional staff — regardless of their race, culture, religion, gender identity or orientation — feel equally welcome, valued and supported. So, the work of the task force will provide important benchmarks for how we judge our progress in fulfilling the larger vision of Drexel 2030.

As we build a successful future rooted in our University’s distinctive character, we can also imagine a dynamic new era of academic innovation and creativity through smart, strategically-driven and fiscally prudent choices about how we organize ourselves in moving forward. As you will see in the strategic plan overview, we have an opportunity to position ourselves among the nation’s most innovative urban research universities by building on our model of experience-based learning, while deepening our active collaboration with partners in the public, private and civic sectors. At the same time, we can strengthen Drexel’s R1 position with innovative, use-inspired research to solve society’s most pressing problems.

As the EPC concludes its charge, Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, PhD, professor of pharmacology and physiology in the College of Medicine, has been designated as Drexel’s Chief Strategy Officer to provide university-wide leadership in the implementation of the strategic plan by forging new synergies across the institution and establishing greater transparency and accountability for the strategy. She has served on the EPC for the past 18 months, initially co-chairing the analytics sub-committee and then serving as a member of the integration sub-committee. She will continue her roles as senior vice president of Graduate and Online Education and dean of the Graduate College and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies in the College of Medicine.

Under the plan, our priorities will include:

  • Fostering deeper connections between academics, research and external partnerships across disciplines.
  • Optimizing student growth, experience and opportunity through the benefit of smartly balanced core competencies through academics and experiential learning.
  • Producing innovative research and scholarship that strengthens Drexel’s R1 position.
  • Ensuring access to everyone from traditional students to life-long learners, by providing program options and delivery models responsive to students in a rapidly changing world.
  • Creating a campus community and culture that is antiracist with an ethic of equity that permeates decision-making, matched by an unparalleled civic engagement platform.

Because today’s frontiers of new knowledge and practical solutions depend on the capacity to transcend traditional academic boundaries, central to the strategic plan will be redesigning structures, operations and culture to establish multiple new, knowledge-based clusters that bring together transdisciplinary theory and practice with actively engaged outside partners. That kind of structural transformation takes work to achieve, but we know it can be done because we have already built successful home-grown models at Drexel. Two good examples include:

  • The Drexel Center for Functional Fabrics, which has been working to develop a new generation of advanced products and processes for textile and garment manufacturing industries, promptly took the lead this year in responding to the critical need to develop and produce new COVID-19 masks and respirators to protect front line health professionals.
  • The Drexel Solutions Institute, which serves as a gateway connecting outside organizations to expertise available across the University to develop interdisciplinary research-based solutions that generate long-term growth for both our industry partners and Drexel students, alumni, and faculty alike.

In both cases, we have students and faculty from across multiple colleges and disciplines — from medicine to computing and informatics, engineering and business, public health and biomedical engineering, art and design and arts and sciences — coming together to brainstorm, develop and implement real-world solutions to urgent problems confronting society.

To be sure, we are not alone in seeing the importance of this transformation in how research universities pursue new knowledge and solve problems beyond our campuses. But we believe Drexel’s distinctive learning model and practical mind-set position us to be a leader in the decades ahead, especially as more and more students recognize the unique value of the hands-on workplace experiences, critical thinking skills and empathetic perspective that are essential to successful careers in an ever-changing workplace. 

In doing this we will build on our widely respected strengths in fast-growing fields, including health, technology and design, that position the University to have an even greater impact on the quality of people’s lives, and play a vital leadership role in a region that is a national and global hub for biomedical research and clinical care.

While we are a national and international university, our strategic plan also recognizes that Drexel’s civic engagement in Philadelphia is central not only to our founding values, but also to our academic future. We have the chance to further enhance the quality of our teaching and learning by applying practical knowledge and creativity to addressing the deep economic and racial divides that continue to hold our city back. Serving as a source of innovation, education and opportunity locally as well as globally is a core public service mission, especially for an urban research university dedicated to experiential learning across disciplinary boundaries, and we proudly embrace it.

Over this past year, much has been expected of Drexel students, faculty and professional staff, and I'm filled with gratitude and pride at the myriad of ways our community has come together and responded to unprecedented challenges.  We look forward to a year when we can begin to return to the collective living and learning that’s the true genius of a Drexel education, both on campus and off. In our Drexel 2030 strategic plan, we also have a roadmap to reimagining that genius in the decade to come.  There will be much work to do in implementing this bold vision across the University.  I look forward to working with every member of the Drexel community, our valued partners and friends in turning this exciting vision into a reality.

I wish you a safe and happy holiday season and a new year filled with good health and  discovery.


John Fry