Alyson Gill

Getting to know Alyson Gill, the new provost

Alyson Gill is familiar with the benefits of small institutions, but she knew immediately that Lees-McRae was in a class of its own.  

“I’d been serving as a provost at a similar-sized liberal arts institution in western Arkansas, and I saw this place and thought I understood so much just by reading about it,” she said. “But I didn’t really understand this place until I came here. There was just something about it that I loved.”  

Gill has a BA in Psychology from Trinity University, a master’s degree in Art History from the University of California-Irvine, and a PhD from the University of Memphis. Her life and work have taken her all over the world, and she’s excited for Banner Elk, North Carolina to be her next adventure.  

Get to know more about Gill, her background, and her hopes for the new academic year in this Q&A: 

What is your educational background?  

I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. Much of my early grade school was there, and also off the coast of Maine. When I was in high school, we were all looking for a very warm place to go to college, because it was a really cold winter. I ended up at Trinity University, which is in San Antonio, Texas, and is a four-year liberal arts institution. From there, I went on to grad school and got my master’s degree, then finished my doctorate in Art History at the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee.  

What is your primary field of study?  

Greek Art and Architecture. For me, this meant I was studying Greek art and architecture, but I was also working in archaeology in Greece on and off for 15 years. I actually took my children there growing up and they spent time with me there too.  

I taught for almost 20 years at Arkansas State University, which is a large public state university, and my classes were in Art History and in Greek and Roman Fine Arts.  

What drew you to that field?  

I wasn’t an Art History person in college. I was a Psychology major, but I was really interested in study abroad, and so my senior year of college I went to Greece and spent half of my year there. That planted the seeds for Greek archaeology.  

I think this is my really big message for students, because you can start off in one major and have one idea of where you’d like this to go, and it can turn and go completely differently.  

Why do ancient cultures resonate with you?  

I think for me, the first time I went to Greece, it was as if I was going to a place I’d been to before. Living in the village in Greece, raising my daughters in Greece, it seemed to me that some of the most important lessons about who we are came from there.  

I know that’s kind of a funny answer, but all of the biggest lessons I’ve learned have really come from my time being in Greece with the people that I’ve met there and the connections that I’ve made.  

How will your past career experience benefit the college? 

One of the things I think I bring to this position is my experience, first of all, as an academic. I’ve been in the classroom; I’ve taught for many years. But also, I remember the things that were so meaningful to me when I was a student. That’s a big part of who I am. I’m interested in talking to students about the things that make a difference to them, rather than my just deciding and doing it. 

One of the other things that’s been helpful to me is the past experience I’ve had working in instructional innovation, so working with faculty on how to teach differently in their classrooms and actually fully engage students.  

What has been your favorite thing about moving to the mountains?  

When I interviewed here, I was asked to wear my hiking boots for part of the tour (the Elk Valley Preserve). You had me at hiking boots. I love that the students are so connected to the place where they are. I love that this place is so integrated into the environment. I love that you cannot look out a window without looking at a mountain. I love that I don’t know all the mountains’ names yet—but I will. I go to these places that are so close to here, like Grandfather Mountain, and they’re in our backyard. It’s incredible.  

What are you looking forward to this academic year?  

I’m looking forward to having more conversations with students and building community. Frankly, I’m worried. I’m worried about how COVID has impacted our life here over the past long while at the college. It’s a really difficult thing for students to suddenly have to wear masks in classrooms and be engaged with each other and in class. I’m looking forward to figuring out ways we can build a shared sense of community once more. I know we’ll get there.  

I’m also looking forward to getting to know people, and getting to know people without their masks too, and to a future where we won’t need to take all of these precautions to come together.  

I have a big, long list of things I haven’t done before, and it includes things like half of the sports that the school offers. I bought a mountain bike before I moved here! 

I’m looking forward to growing international programs because I think, based on my own experience, there is nothing like spending a little bit of time in a different country. I’m looking forward to taking students to other countries and hearing about their experiences.  

I’m looking forward to seeing this place grow under the leadership we have. There’s just so much promise.  

Learn more about Alyson Gill

Get to know: Provost Alyson Gill
By Emily WebbAugust 19, 2021