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FROM THE EDITOR: How to build a #brainmagnet

Mary Claire Cruz for Campus Philly

Keynote Speaker Doug Lederman

Every table at Campus Philly's annual meeting featured a small card with some vital information for attendees: "@campus_philly" and "#phillybrainmagnet." This told us two things: feel free to live tweet and take note of this phrase. You'll be hearing it. A lot.

That we did. All the speakers at last Thursday's event emphasized a concerted effort to shift Philadelphia from a city with a reputation for "brain drain" to a nationally-recognized "brain magnet": a place where young, smart, passionate people decide to build a life. For years, Philadelphia has attracted some of the world's most talented young people to its universities and other institutions, only to end up a stop along their road to business-starting, child-raising and money-spending in more glamourous metro areas.

Campus Philly is working to change that. A nonprofit organization (and Flying Kite partner) that encourages college students to study, live and work in the Greater Philadelphia region, they provide a tremendous service to the city's new economy, luring fodder for our tech, education, health care and creative industries, among others.

Fortunately for them, the carrot has gotten significantly sweeter in recent years. Philadelphia has a lot of offer—great housing stock, stupendous food scene, decent public transit (we're working on it), plentiful parks and a city government aiming to be more agile and welcoming to innovators and startups.

Speakers included Deborah Diamond, president of Campus Philly; Joan T. McDonald, Campus Philly Board Chair and Senior VP of Enrollment Management at Drexel University (pictured above); and Tara L. Weiner, managing partner at Deloitte LLP, a Campus Philly partner (read: committed employer of recent grads). They laid out the demographic picture for young people in the area. The Greater Philadelphia Region boasts 29 colleges and universities educating 300,000 students. Philadelphia is No. 8 in population growth when it comes to 25 to 34-year-olds with college degrees—and No. 1 when it comes to metro areas with more than 5 million residents.
There was also a lot of talk—including from keynote speaker Doug Lederman, co-founder and editor of Inside Higher Ed—about how institutions can evolve to create the right kind of graduates for both the city and the country's rapidly-changing economy. To give an example: 16 percent of new jobs are in the fields of computer science, engineering and math; only 7 percent of degrees are awarded in those subjects.

So what are all us humanities majors supposed to do? Fortunately, Lederman (who's son is a math major at Haverford College) pushed back a little on those numbers. He argued that a liberal arts degree can be incredibly useful—most workers these days (outside highly specialized fields) can expect to work in a variety of jobs throughout their careers, often in radically different professions. Gone are the days of starting with a company after college and leaving 40 years later with a gold watch. Our world is moving very fast, and if institutions focus too narrowly on vocational training, they might end up producing graduates for jobs that quickly become obsolete. Meanwhile, those ole liberal arts standbys of critical thinking, language skills and creativity are essential to workers across the board.

I know that when I think about the Philadelphia of the future, I want all types—passionate scientists in West Philly cracking the code on cancer; patient, innovative government employees dreaming up new ways for citizens to connect with their leaders; and talented chefs employing a passion for sustainable, accessible food to help grow our local economy for tourists, transplants and lifers alike.

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, precocious brat that I was, I thought of it as a stepping stone to somewhere else: New York City, San Francisco, maybe even a life abroad. The exciting place to be certainly wasn't here. Now, I'm back. Not only that, but I'm a cheerleader, a proselytizer, a writer of odes and, apparently, an attender of meetings about how to lure people to this endlessly-engaging city.

@stabert is personally adding her strength to the #phillybrainmagnet. Thanks @campus_philly for providing the pull.

Another exciting announcement from the Campus Philly Annual Meeting: The city will host CEOs for Cities' 2013 National Talent Dividend Meeting, April 8-9, 2013. Mark your calendar.  

LEE STABERT is the managing editor of Flying Kite.

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