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Q&A With UAlbany's New Provost

Carol Kim, an Albany-born molecular virologist, returns to her roots

Carol Kim is set to become UAlbany's new provost on Aug. 1. (Photo by Patrick Dodson) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 30, 2019) — Carol Kim has spent the past two decades at the University of Maine as a professor, researcher, dean and associate vice provost of the UMaine System.

This week she joins UAlbany as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. She’s spent some time on campus this summer getting ready for her next big challenge, and she also took some time to answer some questions about the journey that led her from molecular biologist to academic leader.

What drew you to the University at Albany?

I was drawn to UAlbany because it is poised for tremendous growth and prepared to move to the next level of prominence, but is not willing to sacrifice its commitment to engagement, service, diversity and inclusion.

UAlbany is already a great university, with R1 Carnegie classification, a highly diverse student body, and a committed and talented faculty. A forward-thinking and innovative strategic plan is already being implemented under the leadership of President Rodríguez. I am eager to begin my partnership with President Rodríguez, his leadership team, faculty, students and staff, to effect transformational change for UAlbany.

To step back further, what led you to a career in higher education?

What first lured me to graduate school and ultimately into higher education was research. I loved working in the laboratory and pursuing scientific inquiry, and developing new ways to solve complex puzzles. Once I became a postdoctoral fellow, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, I found that I truly enjoyed interacting with the students and engaging with them in scientific discovery.

Pursuing a career in higher education was a natural progression. For me, research and teaching are synergistic. Didactic learning is essential to understanding and performing experiments in the lab, while hands-on research underscores and reinforces classroom learning.

What do you see as the most important aspects of the job of a provost?

I think that one of the most important aspects of the job of the provost is supporting a culture of academic excellence on campus. For faculty and staff, this means encouraging advancement and providing the infrastructure and support that they need, such as professional and leadership development, instructional support and workshops. For students, this translates into providing comprehensive advising and mentoring, academic scholarship opportunities, tutoring and co-curricular support such as internships, as well as the ability to graduate in a timely fashion.

What are the biggest challenges facing higher education, and how should UAlbany address these?

There are a number of important challenges facing public higher education today. For example, there has been a decline in both confidence in higher education and in state support for public research universities. Nationally, the cost of higher education, and resulting student debt, continues to rise. An increasing number of students are facing food and housing insecurity, and levels of college completion are unacceptably low.

UAlbany’s recently adopted Strategic Plan addresses these and other challenges and proposes novel solutions. One example is the implementation of student success initiatives designed to increase retention and college completion, resulting in a reduction in student debt. Another initiative specific to UAlbany, is the Purple Pantry, the campus food pantry that demonstrates how the campus community can come together to support the challenges students face.

I strongly believe that the priorities within the University’s Strategic Plan – Student Success, Research Excellence, Diversity and Inclusion, International Education and Engagement and Service – all will help the university address contemporary challenges in higher education. As Provost you can expect me to provide leadership and movement toward progress in all these areas.

What are some of your primary goals as provost at UAlbany, both for your first year and for the long term?

My primary goal in the first year will be to learn as much as possible about the campus community, the colleges, research centers and our regional partners, through informal and formal conversations with faculty, students and staff so that I can best serve UAlbany.

In addition, implementing the Strategic Plan will be a priority for me. In particular, addressing enrollment through retention initiatives, and through the development of new avenues for enrollment growth, will be critical.

For the long term, my priorities will be set in collaboration with President Rodríguez, in alignment with the Strategic Plan, and will be informed by conversations from the first year.

Is there a person – in your life or in history – who has influenced you, the way your think or the way you tackle challenges?

I have been fortunate to have had many people positively influence my life, from my parents to many of my teachers and professors along the way.

In terms of leadership and the way I tackle challenges, I would have to say that my doctoral and postdoctoral advisors have had the most foundational influence on me. Dr. James Casey, my graduate advisor, cared deeply about the science and what the lab could contribute to the body of scientific knowledge. Jim valued collaboration and shared his data freely to move the science forward as effectively as possible. He instilled in me the importance of believing in and maintaining professional and personal integrity and values.

Later, as a new postdoctoral associate fresh from graduate school, I was fortunate enough to have the guidance of Dr. Joanne Leong, a strong, experienced mentor in a male-dominated scientific field. She demonstrated her leadership skills in her lab, and later as the chair of her department, and shared with me the importance of good communication, transparency and fairness.

What advice do you have for students just starting out in college?

My son just graduated this May, but before heading to college, I tried to emphasize to him that the university would be a place to explore myriad subject areas and experience personal growth. It could be a time to push himself to try new things: interests, activities, student organizations or clubs, meet new people and go outside his comfort zone. Working with people having different backgrounds, thoughts and ideas would allow him to grow in ways that would help him to identify and develop his passions – what really excited him and would make him want to learn more and understand more about his community and the world.

I would give exactly the same advice to any student as they started out in college: Explore new subject areas, go outside your comfort zone, meet new people, so that you can identify your passion. As a student, it is essential to find and follow your unique passion, and a critical component in finishing your degree.

What do you like to do in your free time?

My family is very important to me, so in the free time that I have I enjoy spending time with my daughter, son and spouse traveling, camping and kayaking. I also like reading, cooking and helping my own children find and develop their passions.

You mentioned that you like to cook. What is your favorite recipe to make?

I enjoy cooking a range of things, but I’d probably have to say what I enjoy most is baking desserts – cakes, tarts etc. This is because I like the precision of baking, probably because it brings out my lab skills, but I also love the creativity and artistry of decorating the final product in baking. One of my favorite recipes is the Dobos torte. It has nine layers of thin vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel.

What’s one thing that would surprise people to know about you?

It surprises most people that I was born in Albany, at Albany Medical Center. My mother and father met in Albany in the 1960s while my father was a graduate student at RPI and my mother was working in the pharmacy department at Albany Medical Center. So, moving to Albany is in many ways like coming home!


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