Faces of Vanderbilt Engineering: Gabriel Luis, director of graduate recruiting and assistant dean for graduate education


As the fall recruiting season for graduate students gets underway — from M.S. and M. Eng. to Ph.D. candidates — Gabriel Luis will become a familiar face to prospects hoping to learn more about Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering. Fluent in Spanish, Chinese and English, Gabriel travels to universities and graduate-school fairs around the world sharing information about Vanderbilt’s renowned graduate programs and undergraduate summer research opportunities.

My main responsibility is to recruit students to our graduate programs in engineering, as well as to our undergraduate summer research programs. I was doing this both domestically and internationally. But in 2022, our team expanded when we hired Santavaya Jordan, who now recruits primarily in the United States. That has freed me up to focus almost exclusively on international recruitment. Nearly half of our School of Engineering graduate students come from abroad, so it’s been one of our strategic goals to expand our relationships with schools outside the U.S., as well as government ministries of education and within industry. That not only helps with recruiting students for our programs, but it also helps raise Vanderbilt’s international profile. This past year I spent time recruiting in China, United States, India, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, and Chile. I also plan to recruit in South Korea later this year. In addition, we have a part-time employee, Dongying Tao, who manages our social media outreach for the China region. We also maintain a group of volunteer student ambassadors, as well as faculty and alumni, to help in our recruiting efforts.

I joined Vanderbilt in 2018, but the story started 32 years ago. I was born in New Hampshire, then my family moved to Nashville because my father who is a Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Spanish took a job here, and my mom was the Director of Planned Giving for the Vanderbilt University Medical School for 10 years. She also graduated with an MBA from the university. So, I grew up in Nashville and around Vanderbilt. I went to Emory University in Atlanta for college and then moved to China. After about eight years, my wife and I decided we wanted to move back to the U.S. to be near family. I started looking around for jobs and found this great opportunity at the School of Engineering and have been here ever since. Prior to coming to Vanderbilt, I worked for WorldStrides, the world’s largest educational travel company. It’s based in the U.S. and I was their Regional Business Manager for the Western and Northern China regions.

Photos from Gabriel Luis’ travels.

Obviously, I enjoy the travel aspect. But even more, I like being a first point of contact for Vanderbilt, making that first impression for the school. I spend a lot of time cultivating relationships with people from many different cultural backgrounds, whether they’re in education, government agencies or the private sector. I also enjoy doing this in a way that allows me to use my language skills and to draw on my own multicultural background — my father is Chinese-Cuban and my mother has Eastern and Western European roots. To be able talk about Vanderbilt’s mission in a nuanced way with these groups, I think that’s really what it’s all about.

In addition to traveling — I enjoy traveling outside of work too! — I like practicing martial arts, which I’ve done since I was a kid. I like Wing Chun, a style of Kung Fu. I’ve also recently been studying historical European martial arts like fencing. I enjoy reading and exercise. Hiking is a big hobby of mine, spending time with family and friends.