Meet the provost: Joan T.A. Gabel

Joan T.A. Gabel began her tenure as the University of South Carolina’s provost this week. She comes to Carolina from the University of Missouri where she has served as dean of the Trulaske College of Business since 2010. We caught up with her to learn a little more about her and her plans for the future.

Why did you want to be a lawyer?

After I graduated from college, I worked in employee benefits. I found that when the challenges my clients or colleagues faced became most interesting to me, they went over to our lawyers to address. I wanted to be on the team solving the problems so after working for a couple of years, I went to law school.

What made you decide to trade in the law for academia and why business?

As a practicing attorney, I had the opportunity to work on a few white papers and found that I really enjoyed exploring the questions behind why we have the laws we have and what we can do to make our legal system better. I discussed this interest with a mentor who was one of my law school professors and he suggested that an academic career would be a great fit – he was right. I have been particularly lucky in that I have been able to take both my business background and law background and bring them together throughout my academic career by teaching classes and exploring research questions related to the legal and ethical environment of business.

What drew you to the provost position at UofSC?

After my somewhat nontraditional entry into my faculty position, I have had a fairly normal path through tenure and administration that ultimately lead to my recent deanship. Part of my work as dean gave me the opportunity to engage in campus leadership in a variety of areas including strategic planning, budgeting, capital improvements, academic programs, international initiatives, programs beyond the classroom and a few other areas. As provost, one can make even deeper positive contributions to such efforts, particularly at a university with a combination of strong tradition and forward-thinking outlook like the University of South Carolina. There is much good work underway and a culture of continuous improvement. Add to that the beauty and opportunities associated with the state and the region and you can see why I found the provostship at UofSC a fantastic opportunity.

Could you discuss your personal views about the value of service learning?

Service learning is one of the most substantive and important ways in which we, as a university family, can contribute to our students' growth and our community at large. Our students gain a tremendous opportunity to do real-time work and bring their learning beyond the classroom while also seeing the power of good work. Additionally, our community partners near and far can not only help us offer this expanded education, but also benefit from the insights and energy that students bring to the table. The increase in service learning interest by our students and community partners here and beyond is a great testament to what we can do when we listen to what our stakeholders want and need and then tie it back to our core strengths.

What are you most looking forward to in your first year?

I am thrilled to meet the team and learn more about all of the things that make it great to be a Gamecock. I want to understand the unique attributes of our research efforts and our student programs in the classroom and beyond and I am delighted to learn about the campus culture. As the introductions evolve into partnerships, I'm very much looking forward to working together to continue to strengthen UofSC traditions while also pushing the envelope on innovative approaches to discovery and learning.

When you are away from the office, what do you like to do for fun?

I love sports – I'm a huge fan. I also work out almost every morning and I'm very active with my children's activities in the evenings, even as they get older and go off to college themselves. I like to read and volunteer and whenever possible, I love to travel. But when I'm home, my husband and I focus on our kids and our community.

What is one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

I think people expect me to be the sort of person who is full of surprises, when in fact, I'd say I'm more of a "what you see is what you get" type.

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