Deborah Gist Interviewed

Dr. Gist recounts her history in education and excitement for the future.
Armed with a stellar resume and a pristine pair of grey Nike Dunks, Dr. Deborah Gist is ready to make strides in her new position. The former Tulsa Public Schools superintendent began her duties as the senior adviser to President Brad Carson on Jan. 22.
Over the last few years, Gist has worked in education leadership with the US Department of Education and the Rhode Island Department of Education. In 2015, Gist came back home to Tulsa to be the superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, where she spent eight years. Despite all of her time spent in education leadership, Gist said teaching will always be her greatest passion, reminiscing on her time spent in early childhood education: “I’ve taught in higher ed as well over the years in doctoral programs… So for me, it doesn’t matter whether they’re four or 40. I just love being with learners and being a learner. So I hope to keep doing that for the rest of my life.”
Now a month into her new position, Gist and Carson are working on all of the ways The University of Tulsa can continue to be a leader in education. She emphasized how the university can further establish a deep commitment to the city of Tulsa by becoming “Tulsa’s university” in the sense that “TU is deeply engaged in Tulsa in all different kinds of ways.”
Gist and Carson are currently in the process of identifying what projects will be her primary area of focus, but she pointed out that the opportunities are endless. With all of the exciting projects happening around campus, Gist is seeking out an area where there is an opportunity but not much happening and wants to lean into those areas and build something great. One of these areas is the university’s commitment to Tulsa Public Schools, a place where Gist has a vast amount of experience. Carson emphasized this commitment: “One of the things we wanted to do at TU is build deeper ties with the community and public schools, especially Tulsa public schools, which we sit in the middle of. We want to see them be successful. We want to recruit more students from it. We can bring a lot to it.”
Gist’s office sits in the heart of Tyrell Hall, the home of the Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, where she has the opportunity to interact with liberal arts students each day. With degrees in education, Gist has a deep commitment to the liberal arts programs at TU and has been working with Dean Kristen Olds on some new possibilities.
Since her work has just begun, Gist said that February has been a month of exploration and getting to know people. From the cybersecurity program to the education department, Gist is establishing relationships across campus to see where TU can grow its presence and continue to prosper. Gist has also been referencing the five-year strategic plan TU adopted in Jan. 2021 to understand exactly what the university wants to accomplish moving forward.
As for the future of education, Gist is sad to see that fewer people are exploring a career path in education. Although the American education system is being tested nationally, Gist said that does not change the fact that “education is the best job in the world.” She continued, “It is just a beautiful experience, and I think everyone should have the chance to be a part of it at some point in their lives and career.”
Though she has just started in this position, Gist is excited to find new opportunities where she can help TU become deeply engaged with the community that surrounds it. So far, Gist has truly enjoyed working on the staff of a higher education institution for the first time, “Everyone has been incredibly welcoming. There are just so many brilliant and creative human beings here on campus, both students and faculty. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with them.”

Post Author: Isabella Musollino