Get to Know Interim President Dr. Susan Aldridge
Susan Aldridge, PhD, wants to get to know you. Since the interim University president took office, she has met with countless students, faculty, and staff, toured the nooks and crannies of campus, and shaken many, many hands. And with the semester underway, plan to see her cheering on the Rams at games this fall.
Aldridge splits her time between Jefferson's Center City and East Falls campuses. "The student stories are inspirational to me—not just their history, but what they’re working on that excites them.”
Aldridge served on the Jefferson board of trustees and is an accomplished higher education leader, strategist, and futurist. Having held executive leadership positions at some of the country’s largest universities, she recently retired from Drexel University after serving five years as senior vice president for online learning and president of Drexel University Online.
From her Reichlin House office on the East Falls Campus, she spoke about her goals, advice for new students, Jefferson’s strong alumni network, and more.
What excites you the most about starting this position, especially on the eve of Jefferson’s 200th anniversary?
It is an honor to serve this University. We have an extraordinary enterprise with Thomas Jefferson University, a world-class university, Jefferson Health, and Jefferson Health Plans. Every person I’ve met is professionally accomplished, intellectually respected, and passionate about our model for professions-based learning, students, patient care, and research.
What’s a major goal for your tenure?
At Jefferson, we improve lives. Today, students want to know they will receive value for their investment and pathways to jobs at graduation. Professionals are also returning to school to enhance their careers, and we have to show them the trajectory. We must cultivate the synergy between Thomas Jefferson University, Jefferson Health, and Jefferson Health Plans, and provide better opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and research in real-world scenarios. The opportunities for faculty and students at Jefferson are enormous.
What are some of the biggest challenges in higher education today, and how do you plan to address them?
We’re seeing tectonic shifts in higher education. In the past couple of years, over 100 universities and colleges have merged or been acquired. Over 500 universities are on a financial watch list.
These are challenging economic times as universities enter the post-pandemic environment. The federal dollars that financially supported these institutions during the pandemic are gone, so now they’re looking at their real financial situation.
It’s also a challenge for families trying to pay tuition, so we must communicate the value of investment these students will receive for their education. We have worked hard to ensure that there’s no disconnect between what we teach and what the industry expects of our graduates. Jefferson is dedicated to making sure that our students are ready for the future of work.
We must always align our academic programs with the urgent needs of industry, and we must stay on top of this every year.
What advice can you share for new students as they start their Jefferson journey?
There is something very special in Jefferson's DNA. Our students know their faculty and advisors. We have a nurturing, supportive environment that differentiates Jefferson from other universities. We want you to grow and be safe and successful. Be intellectually inquisitive and rely on the people on campus who really care about your future. Get an education you’re proud of, but have some fun while you’re here. Build lasting relationships with fellow students, faculty, and alumni. They will want to hear about your future successes.
In your welcome letter to students, you write how you strive to be readily accessible. Why is it crucial for you to have this regular dialogue with them?
When I spend time with students, I know the world will be a better place. They’re so engaged, intelligent, focused, and hopeful. Our students have phenomenal talent. We try to inspire them, but I think they inspire us. I can’t wait to see what projects they create this year, and I look forward to attending as many presentations as possible. There are seven days in a week and a lot of hours every day. I promise to be visible.
How important is alumni support to the University’s vitality?
I’ve met with many alumni in my role as a trustee and now interim president. We have dedicated, generous alumni from Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University. They’re engaged with our students and want to mentor them. We’re fortunate to have such longevity in our alumni base, and I want to continue to nurture alumni relations with our students and the University.
I’m curious about their successes and how they’ve applied their degrees. Our alumni need to feel engaged and comfortable coming back, but I also want students to know the alumni care about them, contribute toward their education and provide resources. Students should remember that these alumni become part of their broader network in their careers and can be wonderful professional advisers.
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I’ve spent decades working on international partnerships and launching academic programs overseas, traveling to over 150 countries and islands. I have a keen interest in this global environment our students will enter. Regardless of their career paths, our students will work in diverse teams, frequently from many countries and cultures.
I also will be spending time with our international students, making sure they’re comfortable. They will return to their countries to make revolutionary changes, and I want to hear about their global trajectory and how we can best support them.