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Dr. Diana McGill
For Dr. Diana McGill, being the provost at Northern Kentucky University isn’t just a job title. 

“It’s my entire being,” she says. 

NKU has been in her blood since she was a double major in chemistry and biology here. Some of her favorite memories, as a student and faculty member, were making discoveries in the lab and chasing down answers. 

Dr. McGill, who was a first-generation student, looks at her own journey and recalls how important it is for students to have a support system. 

“Find the people in your life who will help you never forget that you can,” she says. “It’s easy to get into a place where you believe ‘I don’t belong here’ or ‘I’m not going to be successful here.’ But if you always find the people who will remind you that you can do this, you’ll find out that you can. I wouldn’t have tried in my own life if not for people telling me to do it. I am here right now because people in my life convinced me to try. Surrounding yourself with people who will challenge your own perceptions of unworthiness to remind you that you are worthy, no matter what you’re doing, has been life changing for me.” 

Having those people in her life pushed her, despite her doubts, to apply to Harvard—where she earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry—and then complete a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. In 1993, she returned to NKU as an assistant professor of chemistry.

"It’s almost like I’m an orchestra leader. I think my role is to see how we can work on the strengths of each person, and that’s where my contributions lie. My vision is to find ways to be more integrated with each other."

In the last three decades, Dr. McGill has served as an associate professor, professor, chair of the Department of Chemistry and, until recently, the dean of NKU’s College of Arts and Sciences

After years working as a faculty member and spending time in her research lab, it’s no surprise that the scientist-turned-provost is always thinking with the analytical side of her brain. 

“I can be annoying. I can ask a lot of questions—that’s how my brain works. I need to do a deep dive, get information and come back up for air,” she says. “I draw a lot of Venn diagrams. There’s so many talented people in so many units across campus. Sometimes people see themselves as circles, but those circles overlap. It’s almost like I’m an orchestra leader. I think my role is to see how we can work on the strengths of each person, and that’s where my contributions lie. My vision is to find ways to be more integrated with each other. I want to be able to help orchestrate where everyone fits together.” 

When she’s not using the windows in her office as a whiteboard or spending time running around Loch Norse, there’s one thing she loves the most: spending time with her family. 

“Family is really important to me,” she says. “In my office, you’ll see photos of me with my husband, children, sister, brother, friends. I think, no matter how important our work, and it is eternally important to me, that my family does come first.”

Dr. McGill has also been lucky enough in her professional career to create family-like relationships at NKU. And even though the lab will always have her heart, now she’s focused on making those connections and helping others. 

“It’s all about the connections you make between people here. My favorite thing about working for NKU is feeling like I’m making a difference in what I do,” she says. “It used to be that as, a faculty member, I was watching students grow—in the classroom and the lab—and helping them be successful. That was my world. I was helping them be successful in whatever way that meant, even it was helping them find a new major. Now, I’m watching the people I mentor and seeing them succeed. I get really excited about watching growth. That’s a passion that grew out of helping students.” 

While the growth has been exciting, an administrator role is not without its challenges. 

“The empathetic side of me helps me be a better leader and helps me make better decisions,” she says. “I’ve had to evolve as a person myself to learn how to dive deep into the human condition, as opposed to being in a lab and working on an experiment. Once you become an admin, you have to think about people as individuals and also as groups. How can you help them? How can you mitigate tensions? How do you support people who are struggling? The more people you’re helping to lead and motivate, the more you have to understand human condition and human behavior.” 

Those challenges don’t stop Dr. McGill from putting all of her energy into focusing on growth, which is something she has seen a lot of since she returned to campus in 1993. 

As she looks ahead, she knows higher education is changing. But she’s hopeful that NKU continues its mission of putting students first. 

“We know higher education is different now and will be different in 10 years. We will change. All universities are changing,” she says. “When I think about the future of NKU, we are heading down a path but the rest is really blurry. It’s hard to see exactly what we will be farther down the road. I hope, as we change, that we don’t become an engine. I hope we never lose our connection to the region and our core being. I don’t want us to lose the DNA of who we are.” 

About This Article

March 2024

Written by
Jayna Morris ('22)
Assistant Director, University Communications