A Tradition of Transformative Leadership

 3 min read
Elizabeth A. Dale, EdD, MPA

Dr. Stephen Klasko’s historic run at the helm of Jefferson got me thinking about, well, history. In particular, the parallels between our “reimagineer-in-chief” and Jefferson’s founder, George McClellan.

In his magisterial history of the school, Thomas Jefferson University: Tradition and Heritage, Frederick B. Wagner, Jr., MD ’41, describes McClellan thus:

"'Little Mac,' as George McClellan was called in boyhood because of his short stature, early displayed the traits that were galvanized throughout his life—tireless energy, positive character that emanated as leader, excellence in mathematics and language, instant comprehension, quick movements, promptness of opinion, and enthusiasm for whatever cause he espoused."

That picture is like a mirror of our relentlessly optimistic “Little Stevie K,” as Dr. Klasko was known during his days as a DJ in Philadelphia.

When he arrived in 2013, Dr. Klasko urged our nearly 200-year-old institution to “act like a start-up.” He could have easily advised us to “act like how we started.”

McClellan had, in Dr. Wagner’s words, “the outrageous temerity to found Jefferson Medical College.” What McClellan accomplished was a feat of vision, creativity, and gumption. He overcame lawsuits, legislative machinations, and an in-town competitor angling to squash the upstart competitor. Legend has it there was even a Paul Revere-style midnight horse ride to the capital to save the school.

Dr. Klasko took a “no limits” approach to start optimistic revolutions in healthcare, education, and health equity. He established a Four Pillar model for a sustainable financial future, embracing philanthropy and innovation as vital streams of revenue and impact. He greatly expanded the health system, from three to 18 hospitals, making Jefferson indispensable in the region, and was among the first to embrace telehealth, which would prove prescient during the pandemic. He added a top-10 design school to our medical powerhouse, creating a comprehensive university focused on the professions.  

McClellan imagined a better, more human way to train doctors. So, he rewrote the book for healthcare education, bringing medical students to the bedside to learn while helping real people.

Dr. Klasko reimagined that book, calling for medical schools to train more creative, empathetic, and communicative physicians. During his tenure, SKMC launched the JeffMD curriculum, replacing lecture-based courses with hands-on medicine combined with basic science, interactive seminars, scholarly inquiry, and communication training.

At its founding, McClellan and his colleagues enshrined financial aid into Jefferson's charter, writing that “ten indigent young men of talents… shall receive instructions and be entitled to its honors without any charge.”

Dr. Klasko took up the same mantle when he launched the Reimagine Campaign, setting endowed scholarship—Reimagine Scholarship—at the heart of the effort. During his tenure, alumni and benefactors established 156 scholarships (including 80 for the medical college). The overall campaign has raised over $924 million—and counting.

Almost 200 years ago, McClellan founded Jefferson on a platform of transformation. For the last eight years, Dr. Klasko carried on that tradition, and we’re stronger for it.

But he’s not gone just yet! Until June 30, 2022, Dr. Klasko will be assisting Jefferson with philanthropy and innovation initiatives. During that time, he’ll be making stops across the country to visit alumni, as well as connecting via Zoom. Watch Jefferson.edu/Alumni and our alumni newsletter for upcoming events.

Elizabeth A. Dale, EdD, MPA, NACD.DC
Executive Vice President and Chief Advancement Officer 
Office of Institutional Advancement


Please contact me if you’d like to learn more about the doors you can open and lives you can change. I’d love to hear from you.