When Gretchen Neisler, the new vice provost for international affairs, got her first work assignment to travel abroad—to Mali—she had to check a map to figure out where she was headed.
But after that trip to west Africa, she was hooked on international adventure.
Neisler said she’s excited to help make UT a place where faculty and students can experience all the world has to offer.
“I want to work with the faculty and students to increase the global presence of the institution, both here on campus and our presence elsewhere in the world,” she said.
Neisler, who started work on August 15, came from Michigan State University, where she was the director of the Center for Global Connections in Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She has a bachelor’s degree in animal science, a master’s degree in agriculture extension education, and a doctorate in higher education administration, all from Michigan State University.
As vice provost, she will oversee the Center for International Education, including international partnerships and exchanges, programs abroad, international support services, the International House, the English Language Institute, and the Confucius Institute.
Neisler and her husband, Mark, a professional chef, live in West Knoxville. They have twin boys, Jakob and Owen, who will turn eight in September.
“I expect my boys to develop a good understanding of the world and understand their place in the world,” she said. “I would have the same expectation of our students here.”
Here’s more about Neisler:
With a background in animal science and agricultural extension education, how did you end up in international education?
“I was working in an agricultural business program at Michigan State University in 1999 when administrators asked me to go to Mali and start a program.
“I didn’t even know where Mali was,” she joked. “That’s where I started onto this international journey. It was sort of like a bug bit me . . . and I couldn’t get enough of the travel and cultural learning.”
She subsequently worked in Egypt for two years and Islamabad, Pakistan, for nine months. She also spent time working in China, Japan, Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Georgia.
Did you study abroad in college?
“I studied in Australia and New Zealand while I was working on my master’s degree. That was my first opportunity to develop a deep appreciation for otherness. I saw that learning about other cultures is important for me to be a better individual and a better American. I learned that the core of all people is good.”
What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited?
“I have a deep, deep–rooted passion for Rwanda. I made strong relationships in Rwanda and really saw what people could accomplish despite hardships.”
What places are still on your bucket list to visit?
“A lot of places: Fiji, South Africa, Iceland . . .”
When you travel, what’s the one item you can’t live without?
“On the airplane, it’s Clorox wipes. My former coworkers will tell you to go into the bathroom after me, because it’s the cleanest it will ever be.
“In a foreign country, it’s a scarf,” she said, adding it seems to add a bit of formality that’s appreciated. “In every other culture, I feel like I’m treated better when I wear a scarf around my neck.”
“The professional opportunity and the fit. When I came for my first interview, I felt connected immediately at all levels. I felt like the people I met could complete my sentences.”
What are your immediate goals for your job here?
“When it comes to faculty and staff, I want to look at what they’re passionate about doing, provide them with the support for interdisciplinary work, give them administrative assistance, help them secure funding for their projects, and help them find more ways to include students in international research.
“I want students to begin to see themselves as global citizens and never hesitate to walk through the door when an opportunity is opened up to them.
“Having said that, I’ll add that not everyone needs to study abroad. I want to increase the global experiences they can have right here on their own campus and in the community.
What do you do in your free time to beat stress?
“I am an avid spinner. Seeing a new Cycle Bar in Bearden helped me know I wanted to move here.”
If you didn’t do this, what would you do?
“I would own the most fantastic greenhouse that serves wine and food—my husband would do the cooking—while you shop for fantastic container gardens for your home.
“I guess I forgot to mention my other hobby—gardening.”
What’s the last book you read?
“Thriveby Ariana Huffington.”
“The Big Chill.”
“Online shopping. It’s also the most dangerous time waster.”
“Fritos and cottage cheese, together. You gotta try it. It’s good.
“When I was in Egypt, the thing I missed most was peanut butter.”
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)