Remembering Elsie Hillman

Philadelphia University teaches our students to be professionals who exercise personal responsibility, ethical action, and support for the community.  Our good friend Elsie Hillman, who passed away on August 4, epitomized these characteristics.  She was a philanthropist and political activist who remained steadfast to her personal convictions and contributed to the greater good.  Her civic contributions included establishing the Republican Future Fund in support of centrist policies and female politicians, establishing the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, opening the Hillman Cancer Center, outreach to victims of AIDS, and more.

I met Elsie when Philadelphia University first sought partners to support the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service.  Elsie had been Senator Specter’s friend through her time as a member of the Republican National Committee and her prominent role in the Republican Party.  She was enthusiastic about the Arlen Specter Center’s mission to promote nonpartisan public service and civil education.  At the time, PhilaU was looking for a climate-controlled location to store the Arlen Specter Collection, which consists of more than 2,700 containers of papers, photos, audio and video materials, and memorabilia.  Elsie wasted no time in fostering a partnership between PhilaU and the University of Pittsburgh, and now Pitt’s University Library System has organized and will store the collection for 30 years, with much of it being digitized for educational use.

Elsie also made a number of additional key introductions at that time in support of the Arlen Specter Center.  We were introduced to Terry Miller, the director of Pitt’s Institute of Politics, and then-Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, who now also works with the Institute of Politics.  Ms. Miller and Mr. Nordenberg were valuable resources in planning for the Arlen Specter Center.  We also met Dana Brown, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics.  Thanks to this introduction, the Arlen Specter Center and the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics will collaborate on events in 2015 and 2016.  We are thrilled that we will be able to engage with one of Elsie’s most important projects.

When we dedicated the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service in September 2014, Elsie flew in from Pittsburgh for the ceremony.  Following the ribbon-cutting, we presented the Center’s two inaugural public service awards.  Physician assistant studies student Emily Reynolds ’16 received the Elsie H. Hillman Award for Student Public Service for her volunteer work with Relay for Life, Colleges Against Cancer, Habitat for Humanity, and Global Medical Brigades in Honduras. Elsie presented Emily the award, and Emily and Elsie both grew emotional as Emily thanked her.

That was the kind of person Elsie was: an engaged investor and philanthropist who cared deeply about her causes and the people she served, all the while being unfailingly polite, sophisticated, charming, funny, and authentic.  She was the perfect embodiment Philadelphia University’s principles, and we have benefited immeasurably from her friendship.  She will be deeply missed and forever remembered.

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Not ‘The New Liberal Arts’

On March 26, The Chronicle Review published a column called “Is ‘Design Thinking’ the New Liberal Arts?”  Natalie Nixon, Ph.D., director of the Strategic Design M.B.A. program, and I have written a response to that column.  It can be found on the Chronicle site here.


To the Editor:

“Is ‘Design Thinking’ the New Liberal Arts?” (The Chronicle Review, April 3) is substantially correct but misses the nuclear core of design thinking as a revolutionary perspective in education.

Stanford’s is a leader in changing the education paradigm. Housed in a design program, the has to assertively cross disciplinary barriers. The powerful support of John L. Hennessy, president of the university, and the creative genius of David Kelley, head of the, make the school special. But is it replicable? It is noteworthy that the is not degree granting, but only offers classes and executive education. In a sense, the defies the logic of design thinking by being housed in one disciplinary entity, even design. Second, the teaches graduate students how to see and solve problems. That is laudable and effective. The liberal arts as a decision-making foundation should be leveraged at the undergraduate level.

Indeed, the full educational flowering of design thinking occurs at the systems level, i.e. across a university. It is not the new liberal arts, it is the fusion of liberal and professional education. Problem-finding and dynamic solution-making create value and therefore improve the human condition. It’s good and necessary that professionals have this capability and are rewarded for it. Hence, this integrative approach between industry and academe, and breaking down silos in discipline-specific areas is the new university, not the anti-university.

Design thinking validates the importance of a higher level of thinking married to decisive action. That forces an intersection with industry and communities and adds the much-sought-after real world in education. At Philadelphia University’s Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, design thinking is the guiding framework for the core undergraduate transdisciplinary curriculum. Extending this approach, the university also launched the Strategic Design M.B.A. program, which embeds design thinking and systems thinking in M.B.A. content, thereby connecting strategy and creativity.

The advantages of the nonsilo experience, while still receiving deep disciplinary education, prepare students not just for a job, or even a career, but for a life of creating value.

Stephen Spinelli Jr.
Philadelphia University

Natalie Nixon
Associate Professor and Director
Strategic Design M.B.A. Program
Philadelphia University

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PhilaU’s fashion program features student accolades, immersion in New York fashion industry

Philadelphia University now proudly boasts 9 nationally and internationally ranked programs.  Our students’ and faculty’s commitment to innovation has increased the visibility and prestige of these programs and helped make PhilaU a competitor among elite schools.  The programs are: fashion design, fashion merchandising and management, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, physician assistant studies, midwifery, communications online, and business online.

Our fashion program, ranked as one of the top 50 fashion schools in the world by Fashionista magazine, is a wonderful example of how PhilaU’s Nexus Learning signature educational philosophy gives our students a dramatic competitive advantage.  We embed opportunities to work in collaborative teams and professionally engage with companies and organizations as a part of our internships and coursework.  Our students flourish when facing the diverse challenges that the fashion program’s industry and organization collaborations provide.  Fashion students have collaborated with Target; Laura Geller cosmetics; Johnson & Johnson; Nicole Miller; and the Philadelphia Art Museum, and many, many others.

Our fashion students’ professional excellence in external competitions against fashion students from all over the country underscores the value of a Philadelphia University education.  This year, six Philadelphia University fashion students won prestigious YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund scholarships.  Our remarkable fashion program is a wonderful testament to our school’s textile history. Philadelphia University has a long history of understanding fashion and the business of fashion.

Five of our YMA scholarship winners won $5,000 scholarships.  They are:

  • Madeline Bill ’17, fashion merchandising and management
  • Maria D’Agostino ’16, fashion design
  • May He ’15, fashion design
  • Kristen Heun ’15, fashion design
  • Courtney Hunter ’16, fashion merchandising and management

Our sixth winner, Tia Pion, won a $10,000 scholarship as one of eight national finalists in the Geoffrey Beene scholarship competition.  She also won a $5,000 scholarship in 2013.

Courtney Hunter also recently won a $10,000 National Retail Foundation scholarship as one of five finalists in the Next Generation scholarship competition.

Accolades such as these are indicators of our students’ professional commitment to their disciplines and their desire to become leaders in their industries.  Past YMA scholarship winners have been very successful in their careers.  Casey Saccomanno ’08 is a designer for wovens and knits at SoulStar Creations LLC; Anfisa Sokolova ’11 is a color design assistant at Eileen Fisher and a YMA Scholar and Mentor; Terniqua Osborne ’11 worked for PVH and is now a production coordinator at LF USA.


But we will not rest on our laurels. PhilaU’s fashion program has also launched the New York Immersion Program.  The program is coordinated by Sheila Connelly, director of the fashion design program; Beth Mariotz, director of the fashion merchandising and management program; and Nioka Wyatt, assistant professor of fashion merchandising and management.  Once a week, sophomore fashion design and fashion merchandising and management students travel to New York to study the work of design studios, manufacturers, and retailers.  They will also meet with PhilaU fashion alumni.  This program exemplifies Nexus Learning: it gives students real-world experience in the spaces where fashion professionals do their work every day.

20150123_140351(photos courtesy of Vivian Cooper ’17, Fashion Design)

Later in the semester, the students will attend New York Fashion Week.  Fashion design students Tia Pion and Dana Jackson ‘14 have been chosen to show their collection in the New York Fashion Week Emerging Designers Collective.  They were chosen from an international pool of talented young design students. New York Immersion students will work behind the scenes at the show to give them vital experience in America’s largest fashion show.

Last Friday, the students went to Xcel Brands, the parent company of Isaac Mizrahi, Liz Claiborne New York, and Judith Ripka; Mood, the fabric store made famous by Project Runway (which PhilaU alum Jay McCarroll won in its first season); and Tiger J, a clothing manufacturer that licenses for many celebrities and designers.  Tiger J has developed brands for Carson Kressley H’13, PhilaU trustee; Rachel Zoe; Serena Williams; Liz Lange; Giuliana Rancic; and Queen Latifah.


For Isaac Mizrahi, students will tackle a semester-long group project: they will design, merchandise, and market a home improvement business that is targeted toward women in a Home Depot and/or Lowes, establishing Isaac Mizrahi as a brand that allows women to live with style.

At Tiger J, students took a look at some of the fabric designs that the brand uses in their clothing; Tiger J is the force behind the proliferation of faux fur.


PhilaU students are effusive with their praise of the program and the opportunities it will provide.  Fashion merchandising and management major Alyssa Tomaseck said, “All the excitement built up for this course was definitely worth the wait because this is an experience of a lifetime… not many students will be able to say they had this kind of amazing opportunity.”  Kimberly Hill, a fashion merchandising and management major, said, “I learned a great amount from our visit to Tiger J… I got to see the designers, graphic designers, sewers, and the head of the department that would work with the fashion labels. This helped me to understand the various aspects of the value chain that makes up a company… This visit to Tiger J got me extremely excited for this industry.”

We treat our students as professionals from the very beginning, so even as sophomores, they possess the maturity and industry knowledge that lets them fully appreciate the significance of the New York Immersion experience.  The hands-on aspects of this program, plus the visit to New York Fashion Week, will give our students an edge over their peers in the industry.

You can follow the PhilaU fashion design program on social media:

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