Office of Institutional Advancement

The Dean's Column

Legacy + Transformation


This September, Jefferson, home to one of the nation’s distinguished medical colleges, signed a first-of-its-kind agreement to combine with a very different type of academic institution, one deeply rooted in the fields of business, design, health, architecture and engineering — Philadelphia University (founded in 1884 as Philadelphia Textile School).

In so doing, we are bringing together two iconic Philadelphia institutions, with storied 192- and 132-year histories, respectively. We have given birth to a comprehensive university that will continue to serve our communities and society in a richer way, from two campus hubs just a short drive apart.

To explain this most unusual combination, a few words about its origins. One of my showcase initiatives, started soon after arriving here almost eight years ago as Dean of the medical college, was the College-within-the-College (CwiC) program. We saw this creative co-curricular offering as part of a larger Medicine+ concept, wherein we would cultivate new ways of thinking, merging knowledge domains in our students. We initially launched CwiC-Population Health and CwiC-Clinical Translational Research, and two years ago, CwiCDesign was added to the mix.

Two visionary individuals emerged on the scene — both passionate advocates for linking medicine with design. First, Peter Lloyd Jones, PhD, rooted in fundamental science, joined us to give life to MEDstudio, a multi-faceted initiative for connecting students and faculty to human-centered design thinking, with an emphasis on spatial thinking. And then Bon Ku, MD, joined the team to launch the CwiC-Design track, along with Innovation & Design Application (IDeA), a program that invites Princeton University sophomores pursuing non-traditional pre-med majors or concentrations to apply for early admission to SKMC. Suddenly the campus was abuzz with talk of design thinking — a way for our medical college to cultivate the most imaginative MDs.

Looking for a regional academic partner with a strong focus in the design space, it became apparent that Philadelphia University, under the leadership of Stephen Spinelli Jr., PhD, was the clear choice. Quickly, presidents and provosts convened, and a new kind of comprehensive university was born.

From the Jefferson perspective, leadership saw the unique opportunity to become comprehensive — no longer a graduate-predominant institution — and far more diverse — freed from traditional healthcare silos. In turn, this would allow for tailoring unique educational experiences, and for linking disciplines in unthought-of ways.

On the surface Jefferson and Philadelphia University would appear to operate in different worlds, but we share a core vision and values. We link disciplines through the Jefferson Center for Interprofessional Education; they do it through Nexus Learning. We are both intimately involved in our common community — Jefferson, through a panoply of student-run programs, like JeffHOPE and Refugee Health Partners; and Philadelphia University, through robust experiential learning opportunities that embed students on the frontlines of difference-making with some of the area’s premier social and commercial enterprises. We share the belief that professional education should be tailored to real world demands, where students can shape their degree programs and educational pathways. Our desire to integrate is based on our commitment to addressing and reimagining the future of work, the future of health and the future of education for the benefit of our students, alumni, employers and society.

An added “bonus” is space. Instantly, we will go from having 13 urban acres in Center City touching nine city blocks, to a dual hub configuration, including Philadelphia University’s East Falls campus, which is comprised of 105 suburban-like acres and upwards of 50 buildings. This combination will further enable unfettered experimentation pioneering educational pathways and exploring entirely new ways to bridge disciplines.

Over the years, my message to alumni has been one of Legacy + Transformation. Yes, we will continue to cherish Jefferson’s legacy, and all the core values embodied in our illustrious history. But at the same time, to remain relevant, we are open to transformation and bold steps. And transforming we are. Propelled by the boundless drive of our president and CEO, Stephen Klasko, MD, MBA, the clinical enterprise has been growing by leaps and bounds, making healthcare innovation a centerpiece, and assuring our success in one of the nation’s most competitive healthcare markets. And now, it’s the academic pillar’s turn — not just to grow our faculty, student and alumni base, but to do so in a most strategic way that opens limitless vistas.

Philadelphia University, founded in 1884, is a private university with 3,750 students enrolled in more than 70 undergraduate and graduate programs. With nationally-ranked programs in physician assistant studies, architecture, interior design, fashion design, graphic design, strategic leadership and occupational therapy, along with opportunities for partnerships and internships with top companies, PhilaU graduates have achieved a job success and graduate school placement rate of 95 percent.

By forming a comprehensive university, students will have access to

  • more state-of-the-art programs and facilities
  • increased Nexus Learning, interprofessional and transdisciplinary opportunities
  • more internship and experiential learning opportunities
  • programs designed for emerging professions
  • multiple campuses that will provide students with suburban-like and Center City experiences
  • more studio, clinical and activelearning spaces
  • more opportunities for undergraduate scientific and applied research
  • a combined alumni base of 78,000
  • a student base of more than 7,800
  • nearly 4,000 combined faculty