Philadelphia’s colleges and universities benefit greatly from our urban environment. The city helps foster the professional, research and cultural opportunities that attract our students.
In return, it’s our duty to make the neighborhoods around our campuses stronger, safer, more vibrant places for families, and to make sure that kids growing up in those neighborhoods have a fighting chance to become our students someday. One of our critical responsibilities in that regard is to help improve public education.
In my first year as president of Drexel University, proudly located in the University City section of West Philadelphia, I’ve set a goal for us to become the most civically engaged university in the nation. For Drexel, this engagement starts in our local schools.
To support our efforts, we’re working to leverage our strong relationships with Philadelphia businesses—after all, they have the same interest in good neighborhoods and a well-educated populace as we do.
Last month I had the privilege of announcing the Drexel-PECO Community Education Collaborative, under which the energy company pledged $1 million to help Drexel improve public education for families in the Powelton Village and Mantua neighborhoods near Drexel. The Collaborative will provide much-needed support to the Samuel Powel and Morton McMichael elementary schools. It will engage school and community leaders in creating an educational plan. And it will implement a Drexel-run program to encourage students in grades five through eight to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.
Drexel is also working with philanthropic partners who share our goals of neighborhood improvement.
Since 2008, Drexel’s Lindy Scholars Program has broadened educational opportunities for city children by matching 25 Drexel students with 75 students in three Philadelphia middle schools for after-school tutoring and mentoring sessions throughout middle and high school. The program also offers professional development sessions to teachers at the schools.
This year, benefactor Philip B. Lindy pledged an additional $15 million to support broader initiatives impacting the health and well-being of neighborhood residents. In recognition of his vision and generosity, we’ll be renaming Drexel’s Center for Civic Engagement, which coordinates service opportunities for our students and faculty, in Lindy’s honor.
Lindy’s new gift will help with the important goal of creating an environment conducive to learning. In the same vein, our School of Education’s Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence is an important resource for the city. Led by Dr. Charles A. Williams, an influential youth mentor, the Center’s mission is to create public awareness of the need for youth-focused, evidence-based efforts to prevent youth violence in environments where young people learn, play and grow.
The goal is to help youth gain the social and cognitive skills needed to prevent violence, including conflict resolution and mediation skills. The Center also strives to educate policy leaders and other stakeholders about evidence-based programs to prevent school-aged violence.
The likelihood of success for any school-based initiative increases greatly when children can see opportunities awaiting them after public school. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has called upon local colleges and universities to provide more Philadelphians with the chance to go to college. Heeding the mayor’s call, Drexel established the Liberty Scholars program, a multi-million-dollar initiative to offer full scholarships to up to 250 academically gifted Philadelphia high school students with significant financial need over five years.
I had the opportunity recently to accompany our inaugural class of Liberty Scholars to meet the mayor and celebrate the completion of their first year of college. Seeing the talent and determination of those students, I know that the program will make a huge impact.
If universities like Drexel continue to form new partnerships, we can continue to grow our positive impact on our neighborhoods and create new opportunities for youth. This is a shared responsibility, but one for which higher education is well suited.
John Fry is the president of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Penn.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.