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Nicolet College President Richard Nelson honored with WTCS Eagle Management Award


Citing his ability to serve as a catalyst for innovation, remove barriers for students to higher education, and advance academic achievement, the Wisconsin Technical College System has awarded Nicolet President Richard Nelson with its prestigious 2021 Eagle Management Leadership Award. 

“Dr. Nelson took an early, passionate and productive interest in the ability of technical colleges to serve all students,” said Morna Foy, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System. 

“Because of his unique style and ability to lead from a strengths-based approach, he has fostered collaboration across a wide variety of college and business functions, maximizing resources and accelerating innovation.” 

Foy cited several advancements at Nicolet during his six-year tenure, several serving as a model for other technical colleges across the state to follow. 

photo of Nicolet President Richard Nelson

These include, in part: 

- Nicolet being the first technical college in Wisconsin to implement the Competency-based Education (CBE) model of learning. Under CBE, traditional semester-long classes are broken down into a series of shorter course competencies. When students master one competency, they move on to the next, completing the flexible coursework at their own pace and at times that fit around other life responsibilities. 

- Advancing a textbook savings program started in 2018 that so far has saved students more than $856,200 in textbook costs. Using free online and other free instructional materials known in academic circles as Open Educational Resources (OER) collected by college staff, students no longer need to buy textbooks for many Nicolet classes. All OER material that makes it into Nicolet classes goes through a rigorous review process to ensure it meets high academic standards. 

- With a passion for community and technical colleges as catalysts for entrepreneurship, Nelson made building a regional entrepreneurial network a top priority for the college. Under his leadership, Nicolet took a lead role in the design and early development of The GRID, Guiding Rural Innovation and Development, which is a regional initiative to create an entrepreneurial mindset and build a culture of innovation in the Northwoods. 

Nelson was nominated for the Eagle Award by Kate Ferrel, executive vice president of academic and student affairs at Nicolet. 

“Dr. Nelson remains true to the Nicolet College mission and uses it as his touchstone,” Ferrel said. “He often remarks that our work is constantly changing, but our mission – to transform lives, enrich communities, foster economic development, and expand employment opportunities – is not.” 

Nelson will retire from Nicolet this summer. The Nicolet Board of Trustees selected Ferrel to take over the presidency July 1.