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New vice president/provost finds a home at Penn College

Neslihan “Nesli” Alp’s education and decorated career in academia have prompted several moves over the years, from her native Turkey to various regions in the United States. But her latest stop feels like home.

Alp is the new vice president for academic affairs and provost at Pennsylvania College of Technology, the institution’s highest-ranking academic officer. Her extensive resume aligns with the college’s core mission of applied technology education.

“I feel like I’m back home because of the programs that we have here,” smiled Alp, who began her duties on Aug. 1. “Everything seems similar to my background, my experience, my knowledge. I don’t feel that I’m a new person here.”

Neslihan “Nesli” AlpHer office reflects that sentiment, decorated with mementos from past employers and numerous family photos featuring husband Birol and sons Kaan and Koray at various stages of life. Today, the sons are pre-med students at Vanderbilt and the University of Miami, respectively. “They are my motivation,” Alp said.

For nearly 30 years, she has paired an engineering background with a passion for higher education, advancing from instructor to department head to associate dean at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga before serving the past four years as dean of the College of Technology at Indiana State University.

There she grew a nascent engineering department and enhanced online course offerings. Alp also shepherded successful accreditation efforts for various degrees, thanks to her experience as a program evaluator for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

“I was thinking that I would stay a few more years at Indiana State because we were doing many good things,” she said. “But the search firm 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.”                                                     

Weighing contentment with the unknown, Alp decided to apply for the position. In doing so, she followed a principle that has long guided her actions.

“If you don’t take risks, you cannot move up. You must look at your options,” she explained. “If you always stay in your comfort zone, you’re not going to grow that much.”

Growing up in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, Alp found comfort and enjoyment in math, compliments of a tutor in middle school. By high school, she excelled in the subject and identified engineering as a career path because of its math roots. Alp’s college test scores matched her with Istanbul Technical University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering management and a master’s in industrial engineering.

While in college, she assumed the role of tutor, helping middle and high school kids tackle math and other STEM subjects. Her love for teaching blossomed in graduate school when she assisted faculty in the classroom and lab. Inspired, Alp decided to pursue a terminal degree to become a professor. Her academic adviser suggested the United States or England because of Turkey’s limited research opportunities. Alp chose the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

“It was a good strong school with a technical focus,” she said.

But its location – Rolla, Missouri – provided culture shock. Alp had spent her life in the world’s 13th most populous city. Istanbul has 15.46 million residents, slightly more than New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined. Rolla’s population is under 20,000.

“It was a very different lifestyle for us,” laughed Alp, who considers English her third language after Turkish and French. “There was no public transportation and no place to shop. It was my first time away from home. I was lucky to have my husband with me. We supported each other. If I was by myself, it would have been much harder.”

The tiny town became home for the next few years. Alp earned her Ph.D. in engineering management and embarked on postdoctoral research for the university as her husband pursued an MBA. Alp’s first research assignment – online education – spearheaded career advancement.

“I was the first one to create online courses there, and I started to teach people how to do online education,” she said. “When I came to the U.S., I didn’t even know how to use a computer. That is why you must keep learning. If you stop learning, life is done.”

Alp’s professional life was just beginning. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga recruited her to move its engineering management graduate degree and other programs online. Additional duties called for creating the industrial engineering curriculum and teaching multiple courses in that discipline, as well as engineering management.

“I love teaching. I love being in class. But you impact only the students that you have in class. If you move up at the department level or the college level, you can impact thousands of students,” she said. “Your decisions can change so many things for many students.”

That realization led to administrative roles of increasing responsibility during Alp’s 19-year tenure in Chattanooga, culminating as associate dean. Then came the dean position at Indiana State, the job she held when traveling to Penn College last May for the provost interview.

“To be honest, when I was coming here for the interview, I was thinking the odds were 20-80. There was a 20% chance I would accept a job offer and an 80% chance I would stay at Indiana State,” she admitted.

Those odds flipped after the visit.

The college’s applied technology education mission, motivated faculty and staff, strong leadership, and stable environment persuaded her to say, “Yes,” when offered the job several 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 programs,” she said. “I was shocked when I was walking around on the first day of school. Students were in the lab. They were already building things! I see Penn College as the life lab 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, referred to Alp as a “tremendous asset” for the college.

“Nesli’s resume is exceptional. She’s earned accolades as a professor, researcher, administrator and STEM advocate,” he said. “Her dedication to applied technology is unwavering and is a perfect match for Penn College’s unique mission of preparing the next generation of industry leaders with real-world experience and innovative spirit. Nesli is a welcome addition to our senior administrative team.”

Alp’s goal for her first few months on the job is to “listen, observe and learn.” After that, it’s time for action.

“I didn’t come here for the title. I wanted to go to a place where I can have an impact,” she stressed. “We have a wonderful college. I am very impressed with everything that I have seen. But there can be some changes.”

Specifically, Alp hopes to increase diversity among students, faculty and staff; enroll more international students; augment online course offerings; and promote the college and its uniqueness well beyond Pennsylvania’s borders.

“I want to spread the word of Penn College throughout the U.S. and the world,” Alp said. “We have to brag about Penn College and share our wonderful stories with everyone.”

She is eager to do her part.

“I’m so excited. I’m fired up,” Alp said.

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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