Conversation with Shaily Menon

Shaily Menon believes in the power of universities engaging with local communities. Soon after arriving at Saint Joseph’s University, Menon reached out to connect with community partners in Philadelphia. One such partner was Campus Philly, with whom the university is collaborating on many initiatives and on whose board Menon serves. 

The other was Global Philadelphia, to whom Menon was introduced through a member of her advisory board. Zabeth Teelucksingh, Global Philadelphia Associations executive director, welcomed Menon to the community and invited her to connect with a network of people and organizations in Philadelphia.

Peak Johnson: Congrats on your new position, I know you will have the same title as "Dean," but could you tell me a little about it? What will be some of your duties?

Shaily Menon: Thank you. As Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Joseph’s University, I worked on strategic priorities in the college including curricular and co-curricular initiatives with an eye toward innovation and local and global engagement. We launched new programs in art history, artificial intelligence, computational engineering, cybersecurity, graphic design, GIS, and public policy. We created new experiential learning opportunities for students in areas such as translational medicine, cancer research, and entrepreneurship through an incubator space on campus in partnership with Navrogen, a local biotech startup working on a humoral immuno-oncology discovery platform and preclinical therapy. 

Other areas of my work at Saint Joe’s that were very rewarding include collaborating with the college advisory board on strategic initiatives, working with faculty and staff on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, increasing grant applications and awards in the College of Arts and Sciences, facilitating the SJU-Barnes Partnership, and expanding arts and cultural programming through key partnerships, such as the one with Global Philadelphia.

I have been invited to reimagine a vision for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of New Haven. I look forward to collaborating with key stakeholders from within and beyond the university to develop a strategic vision and launch innovative and interdisciplinary programs.

PJ: Tell me about your involvement with SDG Mural Project?

SM: I learned about the SDG Mural Project when John Smith and I ran into each other at The Art of Sustainability, a Mural Arts sponsored symposium held at Drexel University. He shared with me that the first mural on SDG #5 Gender Equality would be installed at The Friends Select School in Center City, and asked if Saint Joseph’s University would be interested in participating. I was intrigued by the vision of the project and brought together a group of faculty from across the university who agreed with me about the value of having Saint Joseph’s University participate in this project.   

PJ: What is your favorite aspect of the project?  

SM: One of my favorite aspects of the project is that it has been a unifying initiative at Saint Joseph’s University bringing together faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, Haub School of Business, and School of Health Studies and Education who are interested in art, sustainability, and community engagement. The other aspect is the partnership with GPA, Mural Arts, local muralists, and Gompers School. Most importantly, for a Jesuit university, the project aligns with the values of care for the earth, our common home, and walking together with young people, to build a hope-filled future. We chose SDG #4 Quality Education because it is the way we bring learning and hope to our students and communities.

PJ: What does the SDG project bring to the city of Philadelphia?

SM: The SDG project was launched by the United Nations as a framework for sustainability and equity. The city of Philadelphia joined the effort through its SDG Mural Project, whereby a piece of public art will be created to commemorate each goal. As a mural arts campaign, it brings together members of the community and honors Philadelphia’s mural arts tradition to bring attention to sustainability. Each host spotlights a non-governmental organization (NGO) whose work embodies the mission of the SDG being commemorated. Eventually, all the murals will be available for people to view as pieces of public art.  

PJ: In your opinion, what makes Philly a Global city?

SM: Philadelphia has a historic status as the birthplace of US democracy where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed. Global Philadelphia helped with Philadelphia’s designation as the nation’s first World Heritage City, because of the historical building, cultural sites, and national historic landmarks located throughout the city, including Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the historical aspect of what makes Philly a Global City. In addition, Philadelphia has a storied history of activism and social change related to diversity and inclusion and a population, which is more diverse than US cities on average. More recently, Greater Philadelphia has been recognized as an emerging New World City as a leader in healthcare and life sciences innovation, particularly in the areas of cell and gene therapy.