Pulse: Sam Katz’s Power Lunch: Quick Study

Between meetings, Drexel president Taki Papadakis schools Sam Katz (over salads) on creating an A-list university

You have the highest retention of graduates to the Philadelphia area. How are you making that happen? One thing we do is to require our freshmen to use their cultural passport to visit about 30 different places — the Zoo, Bartram Gardens, museums, theater, etc. They have to get them stamped when they go. So our kids get out and get to know Philadelphia right away. They become citizens of Philadelphia. Many come from here but don’t know anything about their hometown. They do by the time the complete the first year at Drexel. I’ve been amazed that even after five years of our running this requirement, none of the other schools have picked up on it. The cultural passport contributes to our effort to make good citizens. Our students are given a camera and tokens and are told to get pictures and bring them back, so during orientation they’re all over the city. They’re building the same attachment and connection to Philadelphia that Drexel University has long had.

What surprises you most? Nobody copies Drexel. We go to conferences around the country and explain our methods and approaches. We get kudos but not copycats. Our business is working and steady now. We do things to keep our customers happy, to give ourselves challenges and to create a fun and stimulating environment. We will discover new mountains to climb. We don’t want to stand still. We have to embrace change. We might feel comfortable and say let’s not do crazy things anymore. Let’s not go to California, let’s not acquire another school or start a new business. Then you become a traditional run-of-the mill university that isn’t too exciting a place to be the president of.

I don’t think you have to worry about that happening, Taki. I don’t plan to!