Graduate Alumna Astrid Sheil Awarded Fulbright Scholarship
When Astrid Sheil (’01, ’04) started the master’s program at the College of Communication and Information, she brought with her a wealth of experience and knowledge earned through working in the business world, including at two Fortune 500 companies and Knoxville’s own Busch Brothers. Her expertise has always been communication, but she has an ability to step back and see connections and opportunities in a way that makes her a natural leader.
“She will talk about herself as a teacher first, and I don’t see her as a teacher first, though her teaching is excellent. She’s a builder. She’ll go into a situation that doesn’t make a lot of sense to other people and she has a vision that is five to ten years out, and she’ll spend her time building up something and then she’ll leave it for them to take over,” said School of Communication Studies Associate Professor Michelle Violanti, who was Sheil’s advisor and chair of her doctoral dissertation committee.
This ability to build and lead, as well as her openness to listen to the suggestions of others, is how Sheil earned a Fulbright Scholarship to teach at the Bled School of Management in Bled, Slovenia, in 2024. There, she’ll be teaching about how to incorporate ChatGPT into business education, and she hopes to create a memorandum of understanding between that school and the one she is dean of, the School of Business at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.
Sheil studied organizational communication when she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Though she studied foreign service at Georgetown University as an undergraduate, she followed her gut and opportunities as they arose and found herself doing communications in business before she pursued her graduate work.
“It’s very hard to pigeonhole me. What I learned at the University of Tennessee was phenomenal in terms of management, in terms of strategic planning, in terms of crisis communication, relationship management, and public relations. All of these I use in business every single day,” she said. “The way I look at it is, I approach business from communication. Business people approach business from business, and I think that relationship management is so much more important to effective business collaboration than anything else.”
Her unique approach has landed her in a variety of positions since she became a UT alumni. She first worked one year doing business development at a company before settling into academia. She then took a position at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff building their public relations program, then she moved onto California State University in San Bernadino, where she managed international public relations.
“It was about my sixth year at Cal State when the provost asked me to move to the business school, and I took over as chair of accounting and finance in the College of Business. Why did I get asked to go over there? Because I had worked for major corporations, I know how to manage people. The provost knew that and knew that I could handle the accounting and finance department over there, and that they needed somebody who really understood management and HR and communication to manage that department,” she said.
After proving the provost right with her management skills, the president of the university, Tomas Morales, told Sheil she’d be a great candidate for the American Council on Education (ACE) fellowship. This fellowship allows participants to apprentice for a year with a president, provost, and other senior leadership at a different university. Sheil was accepted as a fellow and for one year learned the ins-and-outs of academic leadership at Chapman University in Los Angeles.
In that fellowship, she learned all about alumni relations, recruitment and retention, budgeting, and anything one needs to know about how to run a university. She traveled to India and visited eight universities there to learn more about how to conduct fundraising for a university. Overall, she’s relished the opportunities her career has provided to expand her knowledge.
“It shows you that it’s kind of, come here and go anywhere—that’s what I think of my education,” Sheil said.
She’s also continued her academic research since her doctoral program days, including publishing a book with Violanti and current research they’re conducting together on nursing ratios in relation to bottom line issues and the communication satisfaction scores from patients. Violanti said Sheil has been a great collaborator and also was a student who pushed Violanti to understand the career goals of students once they graduated.
“Astrid is the one person in my career that keeps me focused on, ‘What are students going to do with this?’ and that has helped me in my teaching,” she said.
For her part, Sheil said Violanti was the most influential professor she had at UT, as they both had a background in business and understood how important communication is in the business world.
“Communication is buried so deeply in everything. Let’s face it, here’s what I tell my business friends all the time: you can communicate and not do business, but you cannot do business without communicating,” she said.
After doing that long-term building Violanti said is Sheil’s forte, she was recruited by Shenandoah University into her current position. Again, she was approached by a senior leader at her institution—this time the provost—about an opportunity, the Fulbright Scholarship. And once again, her stellar credentials won out. Sheil said she’s thrilled for the opportunity to go to Bled for a semester, as she’s already visited the city that is situated above Slovenia’s capitol and below the Julian Alps and on a picturesque lake.
“It’s like something out of a fairytale, it is so gorgeous there,” she said.