During a whirlwind three days, Dr. Michael V. Drake and his wife, Brenda, immersed themselves on campus and in the community as the newest members of the Buckeye family.
They sang “Carmen Ohio” in a packed Great Hall of the Ohio Union, surrounded by hundreds of students, Brutus and the marching band. They met university and student leaders, mingled with faculty and staff, rode a CABS bus, took their first O-H-I-O photo, visited a community education center, saw a new Brazilian art exhibit at the Wexner Center for the Arts and toured the medical complex.
Through it all, the onCampus staff joined the Drakes for their introduction to Ohio State.
A spirited campus welcome
Hundreds of members of the Ohio State family rolled out the scarlet-and-gray carpet at the Ohio Union to greet the Drakes.
Clad in a scarlet sweater, Ohio State’s 15th president led a procession of top university officials and student leaders down the center staircase to be greeted by students, faculty, staff and community members ringing the balconies and massed on the ground floor.
With the Buckeye marching band playing “Across the Field” on one side of the steps, Dr. and Mrs. Drake bobbed up and down to the music as enthusiastic cheers rang out from the crowd scrambling for a first look at the next president.
“I have had the great blessing of many times in my life to say I was honored for this or that, but I never meant it more than I do at this moment — I have never been more honored than I am today,” Dr. Drake told the crowd.
In his brief remarks, Dr. Drake reminisced about the Ohio roots of his mother, a 1933 graduate from Youngstown East High School, as well as his frequent trips as a boy to visit aunts, uncles and cousins in Ohio.
“To my 3-year-old, 5-year-old, 7-year-old self, Ohio meant home and Ohio meant family,” said the 63-year-old Drake, whose life has been spent almost entirely on the West Coast after being born in New Jersey. An ophthalmologist by training, Dr. Drake rose from an assistant professor position at UC San Francisco to become chancellor of the University of California, Irvine, since 2005.
Dr. Drake also thanked his wife, calling her “the most important person” in the decision to come to Ohio State and “critically important” to him in every way. Michael and Brenda Drake have been married for 37 years and have two grown sons.
Greeting the Drakes on behalf of the student body was Jessica Shanahan, a senior studying agricultural communications, who had them take their first O-H-I-O photo and led them in an “O-H” call and response.
“How about with a little spirit this time?” teased Dr. Drake after hearing a resounding I-O reverberating back to him from the student-dominated crowd in the union.
The Drakes received gifts from Shanahan and other students, including a lantern and a book of Buckeye traditions, as well as artwork fashioned from 225 Buckeyes signed by students whom the Buckeye first couple had met earlier in the day.
April Napier, a third-year student studying social work, said she’s still learning about Dr. Drake but likes what she saw Friday. “He seems like he is experienced, and he was very professional and open to our traditions today,” she said. “I’m excited to see what’s coming next from him.”
Napier, who is African American, said that the fact that Dr. Drake is the first black president to lead Ohio State illustrates the strides being made in higher education by those from diverse backgrounds.
“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s warming to those of us who make up the 5 percent of black students on campus.”
During his tenure at UC Irvine, Dr. Drake had a great deal of success in increasing opportunities for students of all colors. The number of minority undergraduate students increased by nearly 60 percent during the past five years. Sixty percent of freshmen entering UC Irvine were the first in their families to attend a four-year college, and 40 percent came from low-income families. Both those totals are among the highest in the nation.
Academic and core values
From the Union, the Drakes and an entourage headed for the Buckeye Reading Room at Thompson Library for an address aimed at faculty and staff.
“Dr. Drake is a passionate advocate for higher education, diversity and inclusion, demonstrating through his life’s work a commitment to the ideals that lie at the core of this great land-grant institution,” Interim President Joseph A. Alutto told the audience.
“With his deep understanding of university culture and superb leadership skills, he stands ready to build on the great momentum we have enjoyed here at Ohio State,” Alutto said. “As if all that wasn’t enough, I understand that Dr. Drake also plays a pretty mean guitar.”
It was Dr. Drake’s first opportunity to make an impression on many members of faculty and staff who attended the event, and he did not disappoint them. He spent significant time talking about the importance of values — “doing the right things in the right way for the right reasons” — and how staying true to values will “allow us to sail that true course.”
And he said one of his aims was for Ohio State to be an exemplar in “inclusive excellence,” calling the thought that excellence and inclusiveness were somehow mutually exclusive to be a “crazy idea.”
The event was open to all, but members of the University Staff Advisory Committee, University Senate and the President’s and Provost’s Advisory Committee were specifically invited to attend. Dr. Drake let each group know he recognizes the importance of each and those they represent.
After calling out members of USAC, he said, “We appreciate how critically important the work of the people who have dedicated their lives to building, supporting and maintaining the institution is to what we’re doing. I’m talking about all those people in maintenance, groundskeeping, in food service and in plumbing and electricity, the police — all those who work on staff who make it a place where we can come to do our work. We don’t pause enough to thank staff, so we’ll pause and thank the staff now for all they do to build and maintain and support the university on a daily basis.”
He then referred to himself as a “proud practitioner of shared governance” as he recognized University Senators.
“I have had many roles on the Academic Senate in my prior and current institutions, and over many years I have been actively involved as a member on that side. In my current role, I work with the senate on a regular basis. I appreciate the work you do, and I appreciate the principles of shared governance — helping to work together to make the best decisions for the institution and to help advance the academy forward.”
Dr. Drake has built a sterling reputation as both an administrator and an academic. He served for five years as vice president for health affairs for the University of California system, overseeing academic program policy at UC’s 15 health sciences schools. Before that, he spent more than two decades on the faculty of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, ultimately becoming the Steven P. Shearing Professor of Ophthalmology and senior associate dean.
He has served as an administrative leader, teacher and physician-scientist, conducting clinical research on glaucoma and maintaining an active referral practice. He has written scores of scholarly articles, abstracts and chapters, and his fifth textbook was published in 2009. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine (National Academies) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received numerous honors and awards for teaching, public service and research.
Innovative neighborhood partnership
Artwork created by children, scarlet-and-gray balloons and fresh flowers greeted the Drakes during a tour of the Schoenbaum Family Center at Weinland Park.
A group of excited students from the center’s early childhood and elementary school programs welcomed the Drakes. Asked if he saw any potential Ohio State students in the group, Dr. Drake quipped: “I think they all should be Buckeyes in the future.”
During an hourlong visit, the Drakes learned about the programs offered at the nationally recognized center, established in 2007. It’s a partnership of Ohio State, the neighborhood, Columbus City Schools, the city of Columbus, private industry, donors led by Betty Schoenbaum and more than 20 local service providers.
Programs at the center include Simple Suppers, where families cook and eat together as they learn about nutrition; family literacy programs; and an on-site health clinic. More than 700 students in Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology receive training and conduct research at the center.
Cheryl Achterberg, dean of the college, described the center’s multifaceted approach to learning and research as Dr. Drake watched children busily creating art with markers, glue, glitter and watercolors.
Dr. and Mrs. Drake joined the children at their art tables, complimenting their creations. “Did you draw a fish?” Dr. Drake asked one boy. “It’s a very nice fish.”
During the informal tour, the Drakes talked casually with neighborhood residents and Schoenbaum Center staff. Dr. Drake stopped to chat with Darren Delimond, a freshman at Columbus State Community College whose mother, Diane Dixon, is vice president of the Weinland Park Civic Association. “This is a historic moment,” a beaming Delimond said afterward. “As a student, I want to go to Ohio State next year.”
Delimond, who plans to major in neuroscience, couldn’t believe his good fortune in meeting Ohio State’s next president. “I just wanted to see him but never thought I’d get to talk with him. This is something you savor.”
Dr. Drake’s focus on engaged scholarship, community partnerships and diversity and inclusion have impressed Dr. Valerie Lee, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and vice president for outreach and development.
“I think he is the right man at the right moment” to lead Ohio State, said Lee, the university’s chief diversity officer. “I think he and his wife will be a great team to help move the university forward.”
Medical community connections
There was a palpable buzz in the room as the Drakes made their final public stop at the Ross Heart Hospital on Saturday. The Ohio State medical community was welcoming one of its own as university president, and a slightly louder “whoop” could be heard from the ophthalmologists in attendance as the Drakes were introduced.
“That (being a physician) gives all of our faculty and all of our staff a connection to you that we believe is so important in this period of dynamic change in health care,” said Dr. Steven Gabbe, senior vice president for health sciences and CEO of the Wexner Medical Center. “Dr. Drake, we welcome your wisdom, your insight and your support, and we know you understand our mission to improve people’s lives every day through innovation, patient care, research and education.”
With his upbringing, Dr. Drake said the choice to become a physician was a natural one. His father practiced medicine until he was 99 years old, seeing patients up until his death last year. Dr. Drake recalled childhood memories of a locked room in his home where his father welcomed patients and of injection needles boiling in the kitchen, both of which left a powerful imprint.
Doctors are common in his and Mrs. Drake’s families, too: his older brother and brother-in-law still practice, and his father-in-law was a general surgeon.
During the visit, Dr. Drake heard from Bernadette Melnyk, chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing, about Ohio State’s goal to become the planet’s healthiest university. As an avid bicyclist, Dr. Drake applauded the approach, and, in general, medicine’s desire to encourage healthful habits rather than just treat an ailment or condition.
Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Drake biked 25 miles to raise money for scholarships at UC Irvine. Dr. Michael Caligiuri, director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, politely informed Dr. Drake he took the liberty of registering him for this summer’s sixth Pelotonia, Ohio State’s bicycling cancer fundraiser. He then presented the Drakes their own Team Buckeye peloton jerseys, which Dr. Drake promptly donned, and scarlet-and-gray bike helmets. (Mrs. Drake, who walks for exercise, will be a virtual rider.)
Dr. Drake noted his bicycle currently has UC Irvine’s colors but will be transformed soon into Buckeye colors.
In publicizing the event, Dr. Drake asked that all medical center faculty and staff be invited, from the neurosurgeons to the food line servers, and those who came eagerly lined up to shake his hand and pose for pictures.
Chris Smith, resident regional manager for environmental services at the Wexner Medical Center, said he was thrilled to see how quickly Dr. Drake, who seemed an immediate, excellent fit for Ohio State’s culture, enthralled the diverse crowd with his wit and charm.
“I understand his mother is an Ohioan, too,” Smith said. “Anyone who has a vested interest in the community is definitely going to do their best to make sure they move that community forward.”
In health care, that means confronting a swiftly changing landscape, said Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief medical officer of the Wexner Medical Center and senior associate vice president of health sciences, who was on the Presidential Search Committee. Securing Dr. Drake, in that sense, was a boon for Ohio State.
“It’s great to have someone sitting in that chair who understands the complexity of our world,” Dr. Thomas said. “He’ll be able to help us in what are going to be interesting times moving forward. There are some decisions we’re going to have to make in the next three, to six, to nine months with the changing health care system, and from Day One he’ll be ready to move forward with us.”
Reported by Doug Haddix, Adam King, Aaron Marshall and Jeff McCallister