After nearly 20 years at her previous institution, Nesli Alp decided it was time for a new challenge. Meet the new dean of State’s College of Technology.
Nesli Alp spent 19 years at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, working her way from a professor to Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and department head of Engineering Management and Technology.
Mother to a senior in high school and a freshman in college, Alp was looking to make a career change last year when a search company called inquiring about a dean’s position in the College of Technology at Indiana State University, a position for which they called her a perfect fit.
“They said the university has a strong College of Technology and was looking for someone to grow their new engineering program,” Alp said. “I had never been to Terre Haute and didn’t know much about ISU, but I did my homework and learned more about the college. There were so many things similar to my background, so I felt good about the college. The new engineering program really attracted me to the position.”
Alp relayed the conversation to her husband, a fellow engineer, and he encouraged her to apply last fall. She did and promptly put the search out of her mind.
“We went on Christmas break and I didn’t think about or apply to any other places, because I wasn’t really looking for a job,” Alp said.
After the holidays, she was contacted again to schedule a Skype interview with the search committee.
“We had some technical problems during the interview because my camera didn’t work, but we had a great conversation,” she said. “When you are not really anxious since you don’t have to go somewhere, you are much more relaxed.”
When Alp was invited for a campus visit, she was picked up at the Indianapolis International Airport by a faculty member from the College of Technology. They spent the 60-mile trek back to Terre Haute chatting about the college and university.
“I realized that there were many things I had accomplished and that I was doing in Chattanooga, which could be beneficial for students and faculty at ISU, and I got even more excited about the position,” said Alp, who was the first of the candidates to visit campus. “When I talked with the provost that night and he told me his plans for the college, I was really impressed with his initiatives and everything he told me about the college.” The next day was a full day of meetings with faculty, advisory board members, students and others, plus attending a class. “I think everybody was excited about the dean search.”
Alp returned home and promptly put the search out of her mind in order to focus on writing a proposal to establish a new academic program, mechatronics engineering technology, at UT-Chattanooga. (Mechatronics is an interdisciplinary field that combines electronics, robotics, mechanical engineering and other specialties.) A month later, the search firm called her for permission to conduct a reference check.
“I provided my dean’s name, my chancellor’s name, my provost’s name and told them they could call any of them. If someone on the list asked me, then I’d tell them I applied,” she said. “Well, I was at a big faculty awards dinner after that, and the chancellor came to me and said he got a call from ISU. He was so happy for me. I didn’t want to tell too many people, but I was soon told the provost at ISU was going to call me and offer the job.”
Alp accepted the dean’s position at Indiana State but delayed her start until Aug. 1 because of a prior commitment to travel to China to teach a course and attend meetings related to UT Chattanooga’s relationship with a technology university there.
“I learned so many things in my 19 years at UT-Chattanooga,” Alp said. “It was a great place to begin my professional life. It was a learning lab for me — I started as an assistant professor who didn’t have much experience and moved up to the interim dean position. I had the responsibility of developing new programs, which greatly expanded enrollment while also meeting pressing needs in the community. For example, the construction management and the online master’s program in engineering management, which is perennially ranked in the nation’s top 10 programs.
“But when you realize there isn’t much left for you to do, you either accept that reality or move forward. I still have years to work and two kids to go to college, so I don’t want to get bored or regret that I didn’t accept a new challenge and opportunity.”
Alp is taking every opportunity since arriving at State to meet with administrators, faculty, staff, alumni and students.
“I think everyone’s anxious to meet with me and to learn about my vision for the college,” she said. “I’ve told everyone I want to observe and learn first, and I have many ideas that will be good for the university and college. However, right now I want to listen, learn, understand and then prioritize goals before taking actions.”
One thing Alp is sure of is that college campuses are here for one reason: to serve students. She’s eager to do her part at State.
“Students are always first for me,” she said. “Our first and most important job is to educate them and prepare them for the real world. That’s my goal, always. And I don’t want to sit in my office. I’m here to move things forward, so I want to talk with the community partners, alumni, visit companies and talk with them about our college. I want to bring more visibility to the college, not just for recruitment, but to also tell people what we are doing. ISU is a great institution positioned for an even greater future,” Alp said.
Alp is more than capable for the task of leading the college into that future. Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there, at Istanbul Technical University, where college-bound students are required take a test similar to ACT and SAT and list their majors of interest. Students are then matched with programs based on their test score. Students can only take the test once a year, and only 10 percent of students could progress to public university placements at that time.
“When I applied, I was interested in math, so I put all of the engineering university programs in Istanbul at the top,” she said. “No one in my family was in engineering, and I chose it because I love math. My score ended up matching with industrial engineering, which was and still is very popular in Turkey.”
Four years later, Alp graduated with her bachelor’s degree in the top five of her class. She pursued a master’s degree while working, then decided her heart was in teaching.
“I was tutoring middle school and high school students in math, physics and chemistry in French, and I was really good at it. I always enjoy giving whatever I have to the students, so they can be even better students than I was,” Alp said.
When Alp began looking for Ph.D. programs, her advisor encouraged her to go to the U.S. or the United Kingdom for a Ph.D. After she married in 1994, she and her husband moved to the U.S., so Alp could attend the University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR) — the nation’s top engineering management Ph.D. program.
“After I finished my Ph.D., UMR asked me to pursue my post-doctorate,” she said. “My first task as a post-doc was to help a female minority student write her dissertation. I had just finished mine, so what was needed was fresh in my brain, and we worked closely together. I feel like I finished two Ph.Ds. That student became the first female African-American Ph.D. recipient from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1997, so I’m really proud of her and lucky to have been a part of her success.”
At Indiana State, Alp is the College of Technology’s first female dean and the first dean of the college with an engineering background. She is a registered professional engineer in the state of Tennessee and a program evaluator for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
“I think the previous deans did a wonderful job building this college, which is now celebrating its 50th year,” she said. “This is a diverse college with more than technology and engineering programs. However, in those programs the number of female students is low. You don’t see many deans in these fields who are female — I was the first one in Tennessee. My goal is to increase the number of female and minority students in our college. I want to be a role model for them.”
“With the support of dedicated faculty in this college, there is much that we can achieve together. As an educator who came up through the ranks, I know how demanding it is to be an effective teacher, researcher, mentor and university service provider. I am here to assist my faculty colleagues and to support their work in each of those key areas,” Alp said.
While Alp is in Terre Haute, her husband, Birol, and their youngest son, Koray, will remain in Chattanooga for the year, so he can finish high school, and their oldest son, Kaan, will be in Georgia attending Emory University. The Alp family is making the best of the situation with weekend visits that allow Dean Alp the weekdays to meet with constituents and learn more about her position and campus.
“This is a welcomed new chapter in my professional life,” Alp said. “I appreciate my husband’s support and encouragement. After being in one place for 19 years and changing my life, my job, my comfort zone, is not easy, but I’m glad I did it. As an educator, community activist, mother, wife, engineer and leader, I have always set high goals for myself and for every effort to which I apply my talents and energy.
“I want to make a positive impact on ISU. I had to look at opportunities and options and take risks to accept this position. I took the same kind of risk when I came to the U.S. for my Ph.D., which made me stronger. I always recommend my students and my kids to aim high, take risks, don’t be scared of challenges and never give up. Anything is possible if you work hard and if you really want it.”