Karen Gil knows a thing or two about dealing with stress and the power of positive emotions.

As a clinical health psychologist, she conducted groundbreaking research that showed high levels of stress can make pain and other health symptoms worse during the course of an illness, whereas positive emotions can promote more effective coping.

The relevance of her research is something she has considered often since becoming dean of the College of Arts and Sciences three months ago.

“We work in a high-demand environment,” Gil said. “There are time pressures, and I feel that my background in stress management really helps me to stay calm and focused, set priorities and take things one step at a time.”

In challenging times, Gil sees her ability to understand human motivation as one of her greatest assets as an administrator. “One of the things that is most important is to listen first,” she said.

Karen Gil talks with Daniel Hall, a Robertson Scholar who wrote his honors thesis with Gil. A May graduate, Hall is working as a research assistant on a project with one of Gil's collaborators and plans to apply to graduate school this fall.

Holden Thorp cited Gil’s capacity to listen and to seek, understand and balance a range of perspectives as one reason he recommended Gil for the job he last held before becoming chancellor in July 2008.

Gil and Thorp first got to know each other while they served as chairs of their respective departments. When Thorp was named dean of the college in 2007, he asked Gil to join the dean’s office as senior associate dean for the social sciences and international programs.

Gil had previously served in the college as senior associate dean of undergraduate education from 2001 to 2004. She pictured herself working with Thorp in the college for five years. When he left after only one year, she applied for his old job with the idea of continuing what he had started, including the push to infuse a global perspective into the entire curriculum.

“Holden’s leadership and the leadership of our previous deans have put us on really solid ground,” Gil said. “I am inspired by what they have done, and my goals are to keep us strong and make us stronger.

“I have always thought that the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences was one of the most important jobs on our campus and in higher education today. It is such a great honor to have this opportunity to lead this college, to work with outstanding world-class faculty and students, and to have the chance to work with a really committed staff.

“I am amazed every day that I have this opportunity.”

(The Fall 2009 issue of Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine, published by UNC's College of Arts and Sciences, includes a related story about Karen Gil. Refer to http://college.unc.edu/features/october2009/article.2009-10-01.8335804143.)