The setting was serious. A Drexel University dean and a colleague were brainstorming in 2010 on how to raise money for needy undergraduates.

"How about if I do stand-up?" offered the dean, Gloria Ferraro Donnelly.

The colleague laughed.

The then-68-year-old dean of Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions as the next Rosie O'Donnell? Really?

"Wait a minute, I'm serious," Donnelly insisted. "I believe that a lot of people will pay big money to see a dean make a fool of themselves."

She was right.

Her show, "Quest for Physical Perfection," raised nearly $65,000 for an emergency fund, to be used to help students in her college with books, living expenses, or other needs. Students like the young man Donnelly saw studying every day, all day, in the library because he couldn't afford textbooks. Or the young woman living in her car.

The chunky, white-haired Donnelly trotted on stage that night in a Drexel T-shirt, yoga pants, and sweatbands, a water belt strapped to her waist, and a shoehorn on a stick in hand, to put on her laceless sneakers without having to bend.

"These are the weapons of mass destruction," she declared.

The audience, filled with faculty, trustees, students, and medical school physicians, laughed.

"I also have the phone number in here of my funeral director, in case they find me on the road," she told them.

Now, the 74-year-old dean, who steps down this summer, is ready to raise more money and laughs.

At her 7 p.m. June 22 show on Drexel's Center City campus, the former psychiatric nurse and developmental psychologist will tackle "The Quest for Psychic Perfection."

"I was born and raised in South Philly, where nobody went into therapy," Donnelly said, "because you weren't allowed to talk about your family."

Therapy, however, was a requirement for her training. Her mother warned: Better not mention me. "How could you go into therapy and not mention your mother?" Donnelly quipped, eyes sparkling.

She'll also tell the audience of learning hypnosis - so she could travel on airliners without panic attacks. She still practices it, she said.

"You can experience an administrative meeting in a complete trance and nobody knows," she said.

Her colleagues say her humor is welcome at the college, which she has led since its inception in 2002.

"Our executive faculty meetings are filled with laughter," said Ronald Comer, department chair of behavioral health counseling. "It keeps us down to earth."

A favorite target has been Drexel's new budgeting process, known as RCM - Responsibility Center Management.

"It's overkill," she said.

She sent Drexel's chief financial officer a cartoon of a bunch of suits sitting at a table, with an elephant in the room bearing an RCM emblem. The caption: "OK, that wraps up the budget for next year. Are we missing anything?"

Mary Gallagher Gordon, assistant dean, appreciates her attitude.

"Even though it's a serious topic and we all have to move forward, let's enjoy what we can about it," she said.

Donnelly, a graduate of the former St. Maria Goretti High School in Philadelphia, received her bachelor's in nursing at Villanova University, her master's at the University of Pennsylvania, and her doctorate at Bryn Mawr College. She's the founding dean of nursing at La Salle University, where she worked until she joined MCP Hahnemann in 1996, before it merged with Drexel.

She and her husband, a retired insurance-claims manager, have two grown daughters, one an administrator at Drexel, and two grandsons, one a Drexel sophomore.

For her first venture into stand-up, Donnelly chose fitness - "because I've had absolutely no success" at it.

She said she quit Weight Watchers after the woman in front of her took out her false teeth before weigh-in "to save an ounce."

And she got kicked out of a yoga class in the 1970s, she said, after she said to the instructor who put his head between his legs and rested his chin on his buttocks: "Oh, my God, this is the secret to yoga, to put yourself in a position where you only ever have to kiss your own butt."

Her favorite comic is Mel Brooks. She's studied comic theory and has gone to see comedian Lewis Black. She's in awe.

"You have to be really organized, know the flow," she said, "but then deliver it like you never saw it."

She uses humor in the classroom and during public speaking engagements.

"I learned early on that if you can evoke from students an emotional response to your content, they remember," she said. "Good comedy is no different than good teaching."

She has rules: Nothing off-color or sexual. Or mean.

"My comedy is most often self-effacing," she said.

After her 2010 show, she heard from John A. Fry, who had just become Drexel's president. He wanted her to emcee his inaugural luncheon and invited her to make fun of him.

"Well, John," she told him, "I'm funny. I'm not insane."

But she took the job.

She's been preparing for the forthcoming show for three months. This time, she'll have a sidekick, Stephen DiPietro, another Drexel administrator. In one skit, DiPietro will interview her as she becomes the Eagles' first female coach.

Tickets cost $250. The venue holds up to 230. The fund stands at about $62,000. So far, seven students who had money emergencies have received funds, totaling $7,486. They can spend it on rent, food, books, and other living expenses - but not tuition.

Donnelly is stepping down as dean July 1. She'll continue to teach and make people laugh - she might even do more stand-up.

As for her fitness quest? She flashed her Fitbit.

"Yesterday, I walked 13,000 steps in Washington," she said.

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