Neslihan “Nesli” Alps’ education and successful career in science has resulted in several relocations from her native Turkey to various regions of the United States over the years. But her last stop feels like home.
Alp is the new Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost at Pennsylvania College of Technology, the institution’s senior academic officer. Her extensive resume reflects the college’s core mission, education in applied technology.
“I feel at home because of the programs we have here,” smiled Alp, who started work on August 1. “Everything seems similar in terms of my background, my experience, my knowledge. I don’t feel like I’m new here.”
Her office reflects this feeling, adorned with memorabilia from previous employers and numerous family photos showing husband Birol and sons Kaan and Koray at different stages of life. Today, the sons are medical students at Vanderbilt and the University of Miami, respectively. “They are my motivation,” said Alp.
Combining a technical background with a passion for higher education for nearly 30 years, she rose from lecturer to department head to associate dean at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga before serving as dean of Indiana’s College of Technology for the last four years was university.
There she built up a thriving engineering department and expanded the range of online courses. Thanks to her experience as a program evaluator for the Engineering and Technology Accreditation Board, Alp has also led successful accreditation efforts for various degrees.
“I thought I’d stay at Indiana State for a few more years because we’re doing a lot of good things,” she said. “But the recruitment agency for the Penn College position approached me. I told them I wasn’t looking for a job, but they said Penn College was looking for someone like me and it would be a good opportunity.”
Happy with the unknown, Alp decided to apply for the job. In doing so, she followed a principle that has guided her actions for a long time.
“If you don’t take risks, you can’t advance. You need to look at your options,” she explained. “If you always stay in your comfort zone, you won’t grow as much.”
Growing up in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, Alp found comfort and joy in mathematics, compliments of a middle school tutor. She excelled in the subject in high school and identified engineering as a career path because of its mathematical roots. Alps College test scores matched those from Istanbul Technical University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and a master’s degree in industrial engineering.
During college, she took on the role of tutoring, helping middle and high school students explore math and other STEM subjects. Her love of teaching blossomed in graduate school assisting faculty in the classroom and lab. Inspired, Alp decided to graduate to become a professor. Her academic advisor suggested the United States or England because of the limited research opportunities in Turkey. Alp chose Missouri University of Science and Technology.
“It was a good strong school with a technical focus,” she said.
But their location – Rolla, Missouri – caused a culture shock. Alp had spent her life in the 13th most populous city in the world. Istanbul has a population of 15.46 million, slightly more than New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined. Rolla’s population is under 20,000.
“It was a completely different lifestyle for us,” laughs Alp, who considers English to be her third language alongside Turkish and French. “There was no public transport and no shopping. It was the first time I was away from home. I was lucky to have my husband with me. We supported each other. If I had been alone it would have been much more difficult.”
The small town became home for the next few years. Alp earned her Ph.D. in Engineering Management and began doing postdoctoral research at university while her husband pursued an MBA. Alp’s first research assignment – online education – was a trend-setter for professional advancement.
“I was the first to create online courses there and I started teaching people how to do online education,” she said. “When I came to the US, I didn’t even know how to use a computer. That’s why you have to keep learning. If you stop learning, life is over.”
Alp’s professional life was just beginning. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has recruited her to bring their graduate degree in engineering management and other programs online. Additional responsibilities included creating the Industrial Engineering curriculum and teaching several courses in the discipline, as well as Engineering Management.
“I love teaching. I love being in class. But you only affect the students you have in the class. As you advance through the department or college level, you can influence thousands of students,” she said. “Your choices can change so many things for a lot of students.”
This realization led to administrative roles of increasing responsibility during Alp’s 19-year tenure at Chattanooga, culminating as associate dean. Then came the position as dean at Indiana State, which she held when she traveled to Penn College for the Provost interview last May.
“To be honest, when I came here for the interview I thought the odds were 20-80. There was a 20 percent chance that I would accept a job offer and an 80 percent chance that I would stay in the state of Indiana,” she admitted.
Those odds turned around after the visit.
The college’s mission to educate in applied technology, motivated faculty and staff, strong leadership and stable environment convinced her to say yes when she was offered the position a few weeks later.
“This is the environment I want to work in. I like the people, and unlike my other schools, I don’t have to prove the importance of engineering and technical degrees,” she said. “I was shocked walking around on the first day of school. Students were in the lab. They’ve already built things! I see Penn College as the life laboratory where students come and learn by doing.”
Michael J. Reed, who served as provost before succeeding Davie Jane Gilmour as Penn College president in July, called Alp a “tremendous asset” to the college.
“Nesli’s CV is exceptional. She has received awards as a professor, researcher, administrator and STEM advocate,” he said. “Her commitment to applied technology is unwavering and aligns perfectly with Penn College’s unique mission to educate the next generation of industry leaders with practical experience and a spirit of innovation. Nesli is a welcome addition to our senior administration team.”
Alp’s goal for the first few months on the job is “listen, observe and learn”. After that it’s time to act.
“I didn’t come here for the title. I wanted to go somewhere where I can make a difference,” she said. “We have a wonderful university. I’m very impressed with everything I’ve seen. But there may be some changes.”
In particular, Alp hopes to increase diversity among students, faculty and staff; enroll more international students; Expansion of online course offerings; and advance the college and its uniqueness far beyond the borders of Pennsylvania.
“I want to spread the word of Penn College in the US and around the world,” Alp said. “We have to brag about Penn College and share our wonderful stories with everyone.”
She strives to do her part.
“I’m so excited. I’m fired up,” said Alp.
After all, she is “home”.
Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.
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