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From Gretchen’s Desk: A Summer Update from the Vice Provost for International Affairs

Greetings Vols!

Welcome to the 2023–24 academic year. I hope your summer provided you time to rest, recharge and relax! I love this time of year. The start of a new school year, knowing that crisper days are not too far in our future and buying new school supplies (ok, so I am a big nerd, this is likely not a surprise to anyone).

I always loved coming back to my English classes in secondary school where our first assignment was to reflect on our summer vacation. It felt like a competition to listen to my classmates describe their elaborate vacations and hear who got the most ‘oohs and ahhs.’ For me, this summer was less about vacation and more about networking with UT rockstars.

I was in a plane for 93 hours between June 25July 19. Travel by plane may be the most challenging mode of transportation available in the civilized world. However, those flights brought me to Rwanda, Kenya, Nova Scotia and Tanzania. Yep, in that exact order! So now you know I’m both a nerd and a poor geographer.

In June, I had the good fortune of traveling to Rwanda and Kenya with 20 UT faculty and administrators. In all the years that I have been involved in higher education internationalization work, I have never worked with such an amazing group of scientists and humans! Together we learned about the great potential for UT partnerships and initiatives in East Africa. We also learned about each other as professionals and truly lived what it means to do multidisciplinary research. The time together at universities, foundations, NGOs, research centers and gardens provided a change in our perspective and the space to see the intersectionality of our work in very innovative ways. So much is already happening from this short program! I cannot wait to bring you the details of the impact and ROI of this work.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia, I joined my international engagement peers from other North American universities for an Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities conference. In my role as an executive committee member for the Commission on International Initiatives, I was asked to present on models and strategies to sustain the international talent pipeline. The origin of this session is the increased emphasis on research security and concerns of foreign influence on knowledge generation in the university. I was honored to present on this topic, and it is always a dream to be shoulder-to-shoulder with 100 other leaders in the international education field.

Early July found me in ‘nation’s mitten’—Michigan—for a quick trip to my parents for the fourth of July and to pick up my twin boys after their coming-of-age road trip across the western US with my father.

After Michigan, I flew from Detroit to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I was invited to be the keynote speaker of the Association for African Universities and did some organizational development work for the US Embassy. While there, I engaged with six Tanzanian universities about establishing sustainable partnerships with universities in the US. As you can imagine, the conversations spanned a broad spectrum and I learned so much about the future partnership opportunities between Tanzania and UT.

Now, as I settle in for the fall semester, I am working toward cultivating all those relationships built this summer to connect faculty, staff and students from UT for amazing collaborations that create impact for both Tennessee and Africa.

On a separate note, there are a few things about summer that no global adventure can replace—here are mine:

  • Peach season: this is my absolute joy from our move to Tennessee from Michigan. I bet I eat 100 pounds of peaches between May and July. I love to stand at the kitchen sink and let the juice roll down my hands and arms.
  • Hot afternoons reading and napping on the back patio. This summer the Center for Global Engagement directors and I read Lead from Outside by Stacy Abrams; I also read Will To Wild by Shelby Stanger.
  • On clear nights my family and I lay on the warm concrete of our driveway and look up at the stars trying to identify the constellations and noticing how much heat has been retained by our driveway.

I hope you have taken time to reflect on your summer. Thankful that you made the time to laugh longer, run farther or languish with your friends—no agenda, no urgent meetings, no traffic jams on I-40. The days are getting shorter, and the calendars are filling up but you still have lots of time to take that swing, read that book or just simply relax.

Enjoy the new excitement that fall brings to Rocky Top.

Go Vols!

Gretchen Neisler
Vice Provost, International Affairs
Director, Center for Global Engagement​