An eagerness to learn and a willingness to lead seem to come naturally to President Kim Schatzel.

Maybe it began when she aspired to be an astrophysicist after watching “Star Trek” as a child. Her sense of curiosity grew as she attended college, eventually earning multiple degrees in a variety of fields. Her drive to know more became an asset as she worked her way through the business world, starting out in factories and eventually becoming an entrepreneur.

So it certainly makes sense that someone who genuinely enjoys learning how everything works would be an excellent choice to lead an institution of higher learning.

President Schatzel visiting the Speed Engineering Garage

Schatzel was named the 19th president of the University of Louisville in November, starting officially Feb. 1, 2023. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her first objective as president is to learn more.

To get a feeling for UofL’s future, she wants to ask questions, to gain a sense of UofL from students, faculty, staff, alumni, business and community partners and elected officials.

Through a series of listening tours during this spring semester, she’s doing her homework to better understand how she can support UofL and its community in expanding its already significant impact – locally, nationally and globally.

“The listening tours will mean a lot in terms of understanding our collective vision. I want to get a better sense of the culture of UofL and what I can do to help marry the strategy, the culture and the future together,” she said.


Schatzel’s focus on the future was likely evident even as a child, when she set her first career goal – astrophysicist – because she “really thought ‘Star Trek’ was going to happen.”

Schatzel grew up in the New York City suburbs in a middle-class family that placed an emphasis on learning. “Education was really important to my parents because they didn’t have the opportunity to go to college,” she said. “When she was 12 years old, my mother had to drop out of school to help my grandmother, a single mother, support their family.”

While Schatzel’s childhood dream of going into space waned around age 10, her interest in technology continued as she attended  Washington University in St. Louis, studied engineering and earned degrees in economics and biology. Her varied academic interests were a benefit when she entered her first job after college: making Ford Pintos on the second shift at an assembly plant in New Jersey.

Whether she was part of Ford’s management trainee program or in other positions, she “was often, for a long time, kind of used to being the first or the only woman in the job or part of the team,” she said.

She followed her time at Ford with more than two decades in the automotive industry, working for established corporations and serving as the founder and CEO of a multinational advanced manufacturing firm. She learned how the gears turn, literally and figuratively.

“I love complex organizations and complex challenges because you get a bunch of people together, then they work and collaborate together to sort it all out,” she said. “I enjoy innovation. I like working with groups of people to be able to support them to problem-solve and innovate.”


Her interest in understanding the complex translated easily into higher education. After she and her husband, Trevor Iles, started their family and welcomed their two children, Matthew and Katie, Schatzel decided to return to school. She earned a doctorate in business administration, specializing in marketing, specifically new product development and innovation. 

President Schatzel chats with students at the Engineering Garage

While she admits she “fell into” higher education administration after serving as a professor, she has spent 20 years in academia – equaling the time she spent in the corporate world. She is one of fewer than 2% of today’s university presidents who have significant private sector C-suite experience. That blend was critical in her selection as UofL’s president.

“Dr. Schatzel brings the best of many worlds to the UofL community,” Mary  Nixon, UofL Board of Trustees chair, said while announcing Schatzel’s appointment. “Her impressive climb through the academic ranks, as well as her extensive experience both in the business community and in health care, make her uniquely qualified to lead the university into our next chapter as Kentucky’s premier metropolitan research university.”

Schatzel feels strongly about the mission of universities and the ability to make an impact. But ultimately, she still gets excited about learning from the students she sees each day.

“The part I enjoy more than anything else is just being around students,” she said. “One of the gifts that universities give you is the opportunity to see the talents of students.”

Previously serving in administrative roles at University of Michigan-Dearborn, Eastern Michigan University and Towson University, she found UofL intriguing because of the population of students, (including that one-third are  first-generation college students as she was), the research and creative activity opportunities provided and its leadership role as an anchor institution for Louisville and Kentucky.

“One of the things that really speaks to me is the community that UofL serves – the student community it serves, as well as the Louisville community and the Kentucky community,” she said. “Accessibility and excellence are something UofL commits to, and student success is at the core of what we believe. We’re an R1 university engaged at the highest levels of research. That provides our students with an opportunity to work with world-class faculty and engage in incredible research opportunities. Those rich experiences add so much to their lives as they move forward as adults.

“Then just take a look at our positioning within the city of Louisville and commonwealth of Kentucky. You see all the impactful community and business partnerships we have – in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties – and how we’re able to support their success. The reach and the impact this university has is local, statewide, national and global, and that’s really exciting to be a part of.”


Schatzel is no stranger to Louisville, having traveled here several times during her career in the automotive industry. “People have said to me ‘you know how to say Louisville and you say it well!’,” she said, pronouncing the city’s name like a local. The city has changed since her initial visits, so she is looking forward to exploring new neighborhoods, trying out local coffee shops recommended by students, exploring the music and arts scene and, yes, attending her first Kentucky Derby.

But she is also intrigued to learn more about local industry and what role the university can play in advancing technology. She easily lists off the next topics she plans to investigate: the EV (electric vehicle) industry in Kentucky, especially with a battery plant under construction in nearby Glendale and battery recycling putting the commonwealth at the field’s forefront; health care and the impact UofL and its partnership with UofL Health can have on local and regional communities; manufacturing supply chains; cybersecurity; and even drone technology.

It’s no surprise the lifelong learner wants to know more. Schatzel lights up when she talks about ideas and innovation. It’s clear what gets her own gears turning is thinking about what there is yet to discover and what differences can be made. It’s a sense of curiosity that should serve the Cardinal Community well.

“I’m a student every single day of learning why certain organizations succeed and excel, and what those teams do to innovate and excel,” she said. “I am so excited to support the entire community in working together toward transformational goals. It’s great when people really feel strongly committed but also fulfilled knowing they are part of the mission. They see they make impact.” 

Erica Walsh
Erica Walsh is the marketing director for the Office of Communications and Marketing. Her job lets her share UofL’s good news in all avenues of communications including UofL Magazine, advertising, content marketing and branding. Walsh joined UofL in 2014 after previously serving as the public relations specialist at Indiana University Southeast. Prior to her career in higher education communications she was an award-winning newspaper reporter. Red is one of her favorite colors and it’s a good thing, too, because she earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Western Kentucky University and her master’s in communication from UofL.