Stephen Spinelli, Jr.
October 5, 2008
I am thrilled to be here in Philadelphia, at Philadelphia University with You.
I am humbled by the faith placed in me by the Board, and I pledge to earn their trust everyday.
Celebrations are more vibrant, and challenges more exciting with the love and support of friends and family, especially my wife Carol, daughter Kate and her husband Mark, my son Stephen, sisters Toni-Ann and Joanne, and my brother Sam, and their spouses and children.
I also know that learning best occurs when you step from behind the podium and engage the community.
I first learned that lesson from my college football coach and serial entrepreneur, Jim Hindman, who gathered a group of young people and said: “Let’s start a company that changes the way America does something.”
I learned as much about life as I did about business, and 15 years later we sold our company, which had gone beyond the USA and reached international markets. I also learned to think big and focus my sights on the top of the mountain.
And for many strange and wonderful reasons I found my way to Imperial College in London, and studied for my Ph.D. with the brilliant Professor Sue Birley, internationally recognized as one of the founders of entrepreneurship as a scholarly discipline.
Sue is one of the few people I’ve met who is simultaneously demanding and supportive. Her heart is as big as her IQ. Working on a dissertation, and studying with Sue ignited my belief that thought and action are intimate phenomenon in the pursuit of achievement.
That belief brought me to Babson College and a 15 year engagement working with great leaders like Bill Glavin, Ed Marram, Mike Fetters, Bill Bygrave, Helen Coates and the late, great, Jeff Timmons.
Babson is the best business school in America, and not just in entrepreneurship. It is a shining example of the power of thought and action to enable an organization to achieve greatness when focused on a clear objective.
I fell in love with the Academy while at Babson, and made a decision to make higher education my life’s work.
That decision brought me to Philadelphia University.
I’ve received some good spirited ribbing about having an Inauguration a year after arriving on campus. While it did give the Board a bit of a test drive, the deeper motivation was that we wanted to say something concrete today about the future of Philadelphia University, and say it with thoughtful conviction. That meant I had to do a lot of learning during the first year.
I like to describe myself as an “action oriented multi-tasker.” That, of course, is a euphemism for being hyperactive and disorganized. I propose that the label is less important, I think, than the knowledge of the condition.
So, I impose a set of disciplines on my activities to keep me focused on clear objectives.
The first personal discipline at Philadelphia University was to gather our senior leadership team on the first morning of the first day I arrived on the job and ask each of the leadership team to finish the sentence “Philadelphia University means …” and to articulate how that definition created value for the stakeholder they represented.
From that exercise I learned we have an executive team that is passionate and committed.
The operative word is team. An individual points at a problem and sometimes pokes at it. A team is nimble and strong when it has to be.
What a great start.
The second discipline is what we fondly called: “The First 100 Days Plan.” The goal was to be immersed in a conversation across the entire spectrum of community members; faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, industry leaders, community leaders and politicians.
Almost 200 meals later, and a whirlwind of information, I learned much, but was amazed, even startled, by two things:
First, this university is a cauldron of creativity…visual, tactile, and intellectual stimuli are a natural part of the educational process at Philadelphia University.
Second, collaboration among disciplines, and with industry, is present everywhere, challenging traditional educational boundaries.
Whether it is Occupational Therapy and Industrial Design, or Architecture and Liberal Arts, collaboration is embedded in the DNA of Philadelphia University.
Let me give you an example.
Remember the podium? A part of our Industrial Design curriculum is something our faculty call a “Sprint Project.” Students are given a problem to solve on Tuesday morning. They form teams, “companies”, and work together to solve the problem. They have a week to present their solution.
Two weeks ago a dean proposed a challenge to Professors Leonard and Owen, and their 3rd year class to create a signature Philadelphia University podium to be unveiled at this installation.
Administration talking to faculty and engaging students about curriculum in an effort to enhance University life as well as learning and agreeing on action almost immediately.
But there is more.
The industrial design students met with textile engineers, textile designers, and fashion designers, deepening this collaboration.
The result is a modern device made primarily of textiles that honors our history. Their brilliance exceeds my capacity to fully absorb it.
The third discipline was the launching of a strategic planning process into which the first two disciplines were subsumed.
I have participated in strategic planning in colleges and commerce, in public and private companies, and in both small and large institutions and I have never seen an organization so completely embrace the process.
Over 160 members of the community, in a dozen committees produced hundreds of pages of output.
Early and overwhelming support for the mission of the institution allowed for a more focused, intense process.
I need to be clear. This strategic plan builds upon, and honors, the achievements of the past.
Former President Hayward said: “We believe that students are best prepared in an institution of higher learning that combines a liberal education with knowledge of the sciences. The product of this education will advance the individual and society.”
Trustees emeriti Harold Ronson and Robert Reichlin, both of whom supported this institution unfailingly for almost 40 years were both tough minded and supportive, insisting on growth and achievement and supporting us with their wisdom and their philanthropy.
And President Emeritus Jim Gallagher’s 23 years of leadership and vision that elevated us to University status.
We build this house upon a rock.
Too many in the Academy believe Professional and Liberal education are distinct and even incompatible. Philadelphia University believes that is a false dichotomy. We offer a four year integration of the liberal and professional curriculum.
Our students have the breadth of liberal education to be problem solvers, and the professional focus to lead in their chosen fields.
We also believe that our students do not separate their lives into student life and academic life. They have one life that requires the 21st century University have coordination, collaboration, and learning outcomes in a holistic approach to educating the individual.
Two pillars of excellence, Architecture, and Health and Science demand our investment. Architecture’s five year program produces students with applied skills who capture job offers at a rate 92% before graduation. This school’s connection to the pulse of industry provides a perfect platform for Philadelphia University to significantly expand our graduate programs.
Health and Science, with a 97% to 100% pass rate on state exams will lead our engagement with the community through expanded clinical sites, on-line learning, and the creation of unique campus laboratory facilities.
And we will boldly combine Design, Engineering, and Commerce into a three-tiered curriculum that is discipline specific, bi-lateral at the second level, and fully integrated at the third.
Philadelphia University brings educational structure and greater meaning to the word Innovation.
The combining of these disciplines is the educational analogy to the creation of a nuclear reactor.
Each discipline within DEC will be encouraged to establish specialized Institutes that house our historical advantages and distinctiveness, such as textiles, industrial design, retail management, and fashion. These Institutes will be charged with outreach responsibilities, special programs, and aggressive applied research agendas.
Liberal arts and problem solving, a professional lens to focus decisions and a research agenda that is consistent with our history and distinctiveness to stretch the boundaries of our curiosity.
Philadelphia University Research has produced the bifurcated aortal replacement for aneurysms, and is developing the next generation of protective clothing for soldiers.
Our Engineering Design Institute is a regional leader in green design, and our recently formed Pennsylvania Advanced Textile Research and Innovation Center received a $1.5 million grant for nano-fiber research.
We will form 3-4 key international relationships that will be multi-dimensional with student and faculty exchange, curriculum development, and agendas for creative output.
Liberal Arts integrated with Professional Studies, challenged by an applied research agenda, driven and evaluated by collaborative, active, real world curriculum and outcomes.
This plan is a good to great strategy. Building on, investing in, and leveraging our strengths in a formal manner that guides the institution and requires accountability. But we don’t seek to be great, or even the best we can be. We will become the best there is.
This is the model Professional University of the 21st century.
It is manifest because our constituencies demand results and proof that a university education creates value.
It will not be easy. The faculty will rise to the occasion. The alumni must be supportive and philanthropic. Industry must engage, and sister institutions must partner.
The strategy is dynamic and bold and necessary.
But history has taught us time and again that with the love and support of family and friends, writ large, we will succeed.