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New Tippie Dean Brings Diverse Interests and Leadership Experience

It’s safe to assume that Sarah Gardial is the first rock 'n' roll biker dean of the Tippie College of Business.

“I have to say that I am a big fan of Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks,” says Gardial, who was vice provost at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, former associate dean of its business school, and lead singer of the b-school’s rock ‘n’ roll outfit, Air Supply Chain.

But the singing career will likely be put to rest when she becomes Tippie dean on July 1, formally ending the dream to become the next Chrissie Hynde or Pat Benatar that was, admittedly, unlikely to ever be fulfilled to begin with.

“It would not break my heart to retire from rock ‘n’ roll at this point in life,” she says. “It has been fun, but I truly do my best singing in church choirs and showers these days.”

The biker part, though, will continue.

“The motorcycle riding, I am not ready to give up,” says Gardial, who spent much of her free time at Tennessee cruising the Great Smokies on her Honda 750 Shadow. “I look forward to exploring a new part of the country.”

Gardial, 54, is a native of Hot Springs, Ark. She received her undergraduate and MBA degrees from the University of Arkansas and her Ph.D. from the University of Houston, and joined the marketing faculty in the UTK College of Business in 1986. She later served as assistant dean for the full-time MBA program and associate dean for academic programs. She has been the university’s vice provost for faculty affairs since 2008 and oversees faculty recruitment and development, as well as participating on the planning and implementation teams for the university’s strategic plan. She will replace William "Curt" Hunter and become the first woman to lead the Tippie College of Business.

“The Tippie College of Business is a highly regarded school and I am very proud to have been selected to lead its next chapter,” says Gardial. “The college has outstanding faculty, researchers, and students and I look forward to working with them to develop a plan and a vision that builds on its tradition of excellence and achievement.”

Q. You’ve spent your entire life in the South. What made you decide to come to the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line?

A. Geography was never really an issue in my career. I’ve always been willing to work anywhere. The fit has always been more important than the location. The University of Tennessee gave me some outstanding teaching, research and leadership opportunities over the past 26 years so it made sense for me to stay.

Q. What attracted you to the University of Iowa and the Tippie College of Business?

A. Two things. First, I targeted schools that had a reputation for excellence but were still ambitious. I’m not a keep-the-trains-running kind of person, I want to take something to the next level and Tippie has the potential to achieve that. It has a strong reputation with great faculty, impressive facilities, energetic students, and strong support from the administration. That’s exactly the sort of place I want to lead. It’s also a public institution, and I have a fondness in my heart for public higher education. I’m the product of public universities, and I understand how important they are to our future. They provide the students who are our future leaders and perform the research that is needed to keep the country strong. My DNA is in public education.

Q. What’s first on your agenda?

A. Getting to know people, the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and hearing what they have to say. I’m a very collaborative person and I want to involve as many people as I can in finding solutions to challenges. I’m not going to come in and impose my direction on Tippie. I have my ideas, but the unique solutions to Tippie’s challenges will come from the school itself. I want to start a dialogue and move forward.

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Tippie?

A. It’s the same challenge facing all business schools, the enormous pressures facing business education today. The business world is changing at a breakneck speed and people don’t succeed in business today doing things the way they were done in the past. In the same vein, the way we’ve been teaching business in the past will not work in the future. We have to ask ourselves, what is it our students need to know? How should our pedagogy evolve to reflect the changing learning environment? What kind of research questions do we need to ask? How do we do all of this in the face of dwindling state assistance? The goal must be to properly align our strategies and our portfolio of activities with our resources in order to focus on those things that will make a difference.

Q. Do you have any interesting six-degrees-of-separation stories?

A. I went to high school in Hot Springs with Roger Clinton. His band used to play at all of our high school dances.

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