Provost and Executive Vice President Carol Fierke is in her second semester leading academics at Texas A&M. Provost Fierke came to us from the University of Michigan where she was Dean of the Rackham Graduate School and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs-Graduate Studies, and holder of the Jerome and Isabella Karle Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry.
I sat down with Provost Fierke so she can share with the university community her love of higher education, her impressions of our campus so far, her areas of focus for her first year as Provost, as well as her unique take on the Aggie tradition of “Gig ‘Em.”
MKY: Since your arrival in College Station last summer, what have been your impressions of Texas A&M so far?
CF: I’ve been overwhelmed by how incredibly helpful and friendly everyone has been. From the administrative leadership and deans, to the faculty and staff, the kindness shown made my first semester, and learning about the university, so pleasurable. I’m also very impressed with all the progress made over the past 30 years in teaching and education at Texas A&M. We are on a great trajectory and I’m excited to work to move the campus forward even more.
MKY: How have you been spending your time on campus these last few months?
CF: I have visited most of the colleges, with a few left to go. These visits have been very interesting and informative. I watched a horse evaluation at Vet Med, explored the bowels of a boat at Texas A&M-Galveston and viewed the observatory on top of the Geosciences building. It has been so enjoyable visiting these and other venues, and meeting with college leaders and faculty members. I’ve gotten a great feel for the campus and the amazing work that is being done here. I’ve done quite a bit of talking but also listening. I think listening is an important part of my job.
MKY: What do you find unique about Texas A&M?
CF: This campus is a place where values really matter. It’s a school where you can ask the question “What is the right thing to do?” and “How do our decisions fit with our values?” I love being at an institution where values are so seriously considered in decision-making.
MKY: What are your primary areas of focus for your first year here?
CF: One of my goals for the first year is to assess how things are done at Texas A&M. I have many ideas, but I want to ensure that my ideas fit and make sense with what’s already being done, and then provide my feedback regarding direction. One of my top priorities is to support faculty and leaders. I want to provide mentoring and support for department chairs to vice presidents. We are all working to understand where there may be road blocks for our students and clearing the way for them to learn and succeed. I want our four-year graduation rates to increase and ensure we increase diversity at the student and faculty levels. And it is critical to support our research agenda. I am looking at how to support Texas A&M in our goal to become a top 10 public research institution.
MKY: What do you love about higher education?
CF: As a researcher myself, I like the discovery process; you make a discovery and for a little while, only you know this fact and that is so exciting. On the education side, I love watching students and faculty grow and develop their talents and views. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the light in students’ eyes when they learn and understand something new. Being able to help shape their futures, their careers – that is so thrilling. And the same is true from an administrative point of view. What can we do to facilitate growth and support the faculty, staff and students so they can succeed? How can we ensure higher education is of the highest quality and still affordable? Those are challenges I find so motivating.
MKY: I know you have experienced some of the traditions at Texas A&M already, but I heard you might be hesitant to use the phrase “Gig ‘Em.” Why is that?
CF: I grew up near a lake in Minnesota and we had fish, turtles and frogs. I happen to be very fond of frogs and I know what it means to “gig” a frog. So I’m a bit wary of that phrase even though I know the true meaning behind it. And to be clear, I like actual frogs – the amphibians – not the football team! I sat in the stands at an Aggie football game last season and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. It was truly heartening to witness the amazing spirit of our students and supporters and it’s impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. The Yell Leaders, the Corps March-in, Reveille – what a unique and exciting environment I have the pleasure of experiencing. But yes, as far as “Gig ‘Em,” I’m working on it!
MKY: Do you have any parting thoughts?
CF: I’m essentially doing on-the-job training so I want to pass my sincere thanks to the leadership and staff who are all so willing and eager to help me. This level of support and this welcoming and friendly environment, it’s not normal and I am so very grateful for it.