Traverse City News and Events

NMC's Nelson, Announcing Retirement, Looks Back, Forward

By Luke Haase | Nov. 2, 2018

Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) President Tim Nelson held an impromptu “town hall” late Thursday with all faculty and staff to announce he will retire effective December 31, 2019, marking 18 years in the post, the longest tenure of any NMC president. The Ticker sat down with him to hear about his decision, his accomplishments and regrets, and some “rapid-fire” thoughts.

Ticker: Why now?
Nelson: Part of it is personal and part of it is because the college is in good shape, with systems, an executive staff that’s committed. I think about this all the time, whether or not I’m the person for the next run. So 14 months from now, it’ll be time for someone else. I’ll be 67 at that time, and will have spent fully one half of my professional career serving this institution and the community.

Ticker: Are there any health issues that factored in?
Nelson: No, I’m not sick. Some people have asked. We have things we’d like to do, and I don’t know what they’ll be yet. But we’re going to stay here; this is my home. So I’m going to do interesting things. I don't know that those will be yet.

Ticker: When did you decide?
Nelson: [Looking at calendar] I made the decision the week of (October) eighth. As I said, my whole life I’ve asked pretty frequently is it time for me or somebody else. Part of it is related to the events of the fall, people who have overstayed their welcome at certain places or passed away unexpectedly. But nothing specific on that day. Nancy and I had talked off and on for two years, and I just said, “I think it’s time.”

Ticker: You’re about to go talk to the faculty and employees. What is the biggest point you want to make to them?
Nelson: That the college is well positioned to go forward, keeping learning at the center of what we do, there are systems in place, the plan we’ve been following is the college’s plan, not the president’s.

Ticker: Compare the college today versus when you first took the job 18 years ago.
Nelson: We have many more systems in place, we’re more financially sound than we were. We’ve completely renovated or added to the physical infrastructure. The tech campus was built out in that time, and the West Bay campus was completely redone. Also there’s been significant change in how we do funding, and an increase in professional development. And we’ve developed programs that, prior to this, people would say, “That’s not what community colleges do,” like our study abroad program. Some programs that were in jeopardy when I got here now are not, like aviation and maritime; both are now more than profitable. Maritime graduated maybe nine people then, and now we have 40-plus per year graduating. We built connections people didn’t even think about, like with China, Great Britain, and Costa Rica. Most people 20 years ago thought community colleges were just there for this region only, but as you and I have talked before, we’re not going to service this community well if we aren’t looking at the whole world. We’ve built a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. We built on what was here; it’s always been a great college and done innovative things, but we structured them a little more.

Ticker: OK, rapid fire. Grade the school today. On its facilities?
Nelson: A

Ticker: Academics?
Nelson: A-

Ticker: Implementation of your strategic plan?
Nelson: B

Ticker: Leadership/staff/faculty?
Nelson: B+

Ticker: Financial stability?
Nelson: A-

Ticker: Community reputation?
Nelson: A-

Ticker: What will you look back on as your biggest accomplishment?
Nelson: Creating an environment where people can innovate into a future that’s very uncertain.

Ticker: Biggest frustration?
Nelson: There’s never enough time.

Ticker: What will you most look forward to being able to do?
Nelson: Being able to reflect and take advantage of opportunities I couldn’t as long as I’m working full-time.

Ticker: Your office shared a long list of milestones during your tenure. The unionization vote was not on that list. What one thing might you have handled differently in that entire process?
Nelson: I would have tried to communicate differently beforehand, forced some communication that didn’t occur.

Ticker: Biggest skill or trait needed in your successor?
Nelson: {Pause} It’s going to be the ability to innovate and help people face uncertain futures.

Ticker: So a risk taker?
Nelson: Yep. But one that is inclusive and involves people inside and outside the institution.

Ticker: Any final thoughts?
Nelson: I’m an Eagle Scout, so I’m supposed to leave my campsite better than I found it. And I believe I have done that.

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