Charles Isbell has begun his new role as the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s provost, serving as the chief academic officer and the second-ranking leader after Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin. Isbell officially began his role on Aug. 1, taking over for Eric Wilcots, who served as interim provost after the recent departure of Karl Scholz to the University of Oregon.
Originally from Chattanooga, Tenn., Isbell has spent the last 21 years of his career at Georgia Tech where he was the John P. Imlay Jr. Dean of the College of Computing, according to a press release from UW, which is a position directly related to Isbell’s passion in machine learning and artificial intelligence, building his first robot when he was in high school. Although AI has unknowns in the developments the technology may bring, Ibell assures that his work is about centering humans first.
“I try to build machines and systems that are really smart — and not just smart in a room, but smart in a social context with human beings,” Isbell told UW News. “It’s all about modeling and understanding human behavior and building systems that are part of a person or a group of people, as opposed to something that is just faster or smarter at whatever little thing it does.”
The work Isbell has done in his field has led to his recognition through the 2023 Richard Tapia Award to celebrate leadership and diversity in computing which he will be traveling to Texas to receive.
Isbell not only hails from Georgia Tech as an educator and employee, but also as an alum as he earned his bachelor’s degree in information and computer science from the school. Isbell earned his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Isbell’s interest in the opportunities and possibilities in higher education led him to pursue the position with UW-Madison and its reputation for breadth and depth of research and study, according to a press release from the university. He has already gotten to work in both touring the campus and fulfilling duties such as welcoming a delegation from Louisiana State University including LSU President William Tate IV.
Isbell hopes to continue finding ways to work with students and knows that his position can sometimes include making decisions that may not be popular.
“In those instances, I hope people will know me well enough to know who I am, that I listened to them and made the best decision I could given all the things I had to balance,” said Isbell in the release. “I hope it becomes clear as time goes on that I have a strong set of values that guides me — a North Star that I’m traveling toward — and that those values include honesty, fairness and transparency.”