Office of Institutional Advancement

The PhiladelphiaU Story



Maurice Kanbar ’52, H’03, began his inventive path at a dude ranch in 1964, when he pulled away from a wall and became fascinated with how cleanly the sand crystals in the concrete removed the pills from his sweater. Thus was born the top-selling sweater comb, one of his myriad inventions and successful business enterprises.

As a freshman, Jordan DeCicco ’20 needed a jump-start to get energized for his 5 a.m. practices as a point guard for Philadelphia University’s Rams basketball team. After a futile search for a healthy iced drink to boost his energy, DeCicco—in the true entrepreneurial spirit of PhilaU— did the next best thing: He invented it himself.

Recent grad Renee Kakareka ’17 conceptualized smart glasses that not only equip the hearing impaired with the ability to translate words into readable text, but are also affordable and fashionable.

These are just a few of the thousands of snapshots of PhilaU’s community of designers, healthcare professionals, businesspeople, inventors, architects, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Their bold and innovative spirits resonate today as notably as they did in 1884, when Theodore C. Search established the Philadelphia Textile School to educate America’s textile workers and managers—and revolutionized the industry.

A History of Change and Innovation

It all began in the wake of the 1876 Centennial Exposition, when a group of local textile manufacturers, led by Search, noticed a sizeable gap between the quality, capacity, technology, and variety of American textile products and those displayed by their rival European mills. To address this gap, the group formed the Philadelphia Association of Manufacturers of Textile Fabrics, with

Search as its president, to fight for higher tariffs on imported textiles. Search went one step further and began investigating how to educate local textile leaders. He joined the board of directors of the Philadelphia Museum and the School of Industrial Art (now the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of the Arts, respectively), thinking they were the perfect partners for his plans to establish a school, and began fundraising in 1882.

Two years later, on November 5, the doors opened at 1336 Spring Garden Street for the first textile educational institution in the United States: Philadelphia Textile School. With five students and Search himself teaching classes, the school quickly experienced rapid growth. By 1890, enrollment stood at 268 students from 11 counties and nine states. While this increase was impressive, the school faced the challenge of accommodating an unexpected overflow of students it had to turn away due to lack of space. In 1891, the School moved to Buttonwood Street, which allowed for an expansion of academic offerings and an increased capacity of students.

The school survived the Depression and entered a new period of growth at the outset of World War II. In 1941, Philadelphia Textile School was granted the right to award baccalaureate degrees, and a year later changed its name to the Philadelphia Textile Institute (PTI). Eight years later, having decided to sever its ties with the museum, PTI moved to its present site in the East Falls section of Philadelphia.


In 1961, the school once again changed its name, to Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science. The college’s student population doubled between 1954 and 1964, and again by 1978, with programs in the arts, sciences, and business administration being introduced. The college purchased an adjoining property in 1972, doubling the size of its campus. In 1976, it offered its first graduate degree, the Master of Business Administration. The purchase of additional properties in East Falls in 1980 and 1988 nearly doubled the campus again, adding classrooms, research laboratories, student residences, and athletic facilities.

During the 1990s, the college expanded its undergraduate majors to prepare students for current and emerging fields.. To better reflect the institution’s breadth and depth, the college applied for and was granted university status by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1999. And, in a historic move, the board of trustees voted to change the school’s name to Philadelphia University, making it the only private university to be named after the city of Philadelphia.



In the first part of the 21st century, students from 38 states and 30 countries could choose from more than 70 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Academic programs were housed in the College of Architecture and the Built Environment; the innovative Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce; the College of Science, Health and the Liberal Arts; and the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Courses were also offered via PhilaU Online.

While its locations, size, and programs have grown and changed over its storied history, the university has always remained true to its founders’ mission to foster a culture of market-driven innovation in which students learn to integrate knowledge, develop broader decisionmaking skills, and untangle complex problems.

Redefining Humanly Possible


Active, collaborative, real-world learning that is grounded in the liberal arts is the definition of the University’s signature approach to teaching and learning, Nexus Learning. It’s an approach that mirrors industry and has become renowned for being the model for professional university education.

Since its inception in 2008, Nexus Learning has provided students with a thinking-and-doing education where the stakes are real and the outcomes rewarding. It is a key factor in the University’s achievement of a 95 percent job and graduate school success rate. The student academic experiences go beyond four walls, out into the real world where practical, integrative experiences make an ideal ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation. As professionals from their first day on campus, students work across disciplines and with industry partners to identify and solve problems, and experience what’s happening in industry and the greater world.

Last spring, industrial design, occupational therapy, and JeffDESIGN SKMC students took part in the novel Medicine + Industrial Design course—the first course enrolling both PhilaU and Thomas Jefferson University students.

Their coursework focused on creating a new set of standards that would reduce anxiety in patients undergoing “awake” surgery, procedures that allow them to opt for localized and/or regional anesthesia instead of general anesthesia. Their system incorporated modifications to the operating room environment, better pre-op communication

Going Beyond the Classroom

PhilaU has consistently been a leader in establishing programs in emerging fields that more effectively meet the challenges and expectations of today’s workforce. This year alone, four new programs and a specialization were introduced: PhD in midwifery, MS in real estate development, MS in global fashion design management, an online MS in construction management, and an art therapy specialization MS in community and trauma counseling.


Existing programs continue to receive accolades. Top national and international rankings have been designated to the physician assistant, landscape architecture, disaster medicine and management, graphic design, industrial, interior design, fashion, sustainable design, interior design, architecture, and interior architecture programs.

Community outreach is also part of the experiential learning experience, supporting and partnering with the Philadelphia community in which it thrives. One such outreach effort focuses on building a trauma-informed workforce within the District of Philadelphia’s public and private schools by equipping municipal workers with the knowledge and tools they need to innovate in their jobs and promote positive change in city government. Landscape architecture students worked with residents of the city’s Kingsessing section to design a common space that fully reflects the neighborhood’s assets, while providing a meaningful ecological value for native birds and pollinators, and a vibrant green space for residents to relax in and enjoy.

Last fall, graduate industrial design students worked with Center City medical students to develop solutions to maximize then-18-year-old Lariq Byrd’s limited use of his left wrist and hand, the result of a stray bullet that left him mostly paralyzed from the neck down. Using digital fabrication technology, 3-D printing, and patient-centered design, the students worked in teams, collaborating on problem definition, idea refinement, and prototyping. One team devised a remote-control system that would allow Byrd to use micromovements of his hand to change the channel on his television and play video games; another group designed a glove to improve Byrd’s handgrip.

Healthy Minds & Bodies


With 17 NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s sports, athletic and fitness programs are integral parts of the student experience. More than 50 percent of the university’s students are involved in some form of fitness activities, whether it’s an NCAA team, intramural sports, or the Fitness Center.

The university is well known for its strong athletics programs, particularly in basketball. Herb Magee ’63 is celebrating his 51st season as head coach of the men’s team this year and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. One of the most decorated coaches in the history of basketball, Magee has won 1,053 games—the most in NCAA Division II men’s basketball history and the second-highest total across all three divisions. The 1970 team was the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball National Champions.

Assistant Vice President of Athletics and Women’s Basketball Coach Tom Shirley was named the 2015–16 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) Athletic Director of the Year for the second year in a row. He is the third women’s basketball coach in NCAA Division II history to earn 700 career wins.

Overall, the Rams boast the most-ever CACC championships for women’s cross country, women’s tennis, women’s basketball, men’s basketball, men’s tennis, and women’s lacrosse.

Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University

No matter where they focus their talents, PhilaU alumni know how to lead and achieve. For generations, they have been among the world’s chiefs, champions, innovators, influencers, athletes, and researchers. Now, PhilaU’s fashion designers, textile designers, architects, financial planners, engineers, entrepreneurs, and inventors— together with Thomas Jefferson University’s equally distinguished faculty, students, and alumni—are the faces of the new Jefferson, who dream big, create trends, and redefine humanly possible.