Nissley Pushes Through Difficult First Year
January 28, 2021
Photo by Jason Slade
President Nick Nissley, right, presented Manufacturing program student Richard Cluff with his award as NMC Apprentice of the Year in November 2020.
The honeymoon phase lasted exactly 73 days.
Dr. Nick Nissley became NMC’s newest president on Jan. 1, 2020, and immediately got to work integrating himself into the college and broader Grand Traverse community. His first few weeks saw more than 100 events that ranged from board meetings to student art receptions, community open houses to NMC trivia night at the local pub. His Facebook page was filled with these moments, along with pictures of local hiking spots he explored on the weekends and the TC foodie scene he was getting to know.
“It was the truest sense of a honeymoon. I was new to the college and I got to be wide-eyed and take it all in,” Nissley told the White Pine Press.
On March 13, 2020, only 73 days after he started the job, Nissley went from wide-eyed newcomer to president of a college navigating a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. The school moved classes online and closed campus. A self-proclaimed possibilitarian and servant-leader, Nissley placed great importance on getting to know and understand the school and students he had taken on. He encouraged students to stop and introduce themselves if they saw him on campus. But suddenly there were no opportunities for spur-of-the-moment student introductions, no chance of rubbing elbows with faculty or community members while grabbing coffee. That disappeared nearly overnight.
So, barely two months into a new job in a new state, Nissley did what most people had to do last March—he pivoted. “We could barely see a hundred yards in front of us,” he said, referring to the uncertainty that accompanied the virus and subsequent shutdowns last spring. The college needed to focus on short-term goals that could become stepping stones to NMC’s long-term sustainability.
A top priority of student and campus safety made way for a fall semester that, while looking different than in past years, saw only 18 COVID-positive cases from campus exposure. No full-time faculty were laid off and students saw no price increase in tuition, which Nissley credits to NMC’s Board of Trustees. And in a time of great economic uncertainty, the NMC Foundation saw its second highest number of gifts in its history—more than 1,300 gifts were received between April and June of last year.
“That’s when everyone was experiencing the greatest pain and what did our community do? They came out and supported our students more than ever,” Nissley commented, explaining what a morale boost that moment was for him. “I’m getting fueled by the community that is so incredibly kind, generous, supportive. And if I wake up every morning and I have stories like that, of how the community is supporting our students, that gets me waking up every day."
And though he is unlikely to bump into many students on campus this year, that doesn’t mean his level of NMC community interaction has lessened any. “I’m probably doing more engagement now with the students than I did before [the pandemic], but it’s via Zoom,” said Nissley. He regularly visits with classes online or in person, if the situation allows.
He keeps a note taped to his computer, on it written, “Push through it. One step at a time. Take action.” It’s a motivating reminder from a visit he made to Kristen Salathiel’s EDU100 course at the end of 2020. Students presented their final projects in which they laid out their blueprints for succeeding in college, and in them Nissley was struck by the ripple effect they might have. “This is a plan!” Nissley commented, referring to the notes he took during the class and later stuck to his computer. “These are profound lessons! It’s not what we’re going to do after the pandemic, this is what students are doing right now to get through this.”
“Our students have grit and resilience like no students I have ever met,” Nissley said. “I think this generation of students is going to be looked back upon because I think this generation of students is going to do some of the most amazing stuff that we’ve ever seen in our life. Because they have weathered one of the biggest storms of any generation.”
While Nissley is insistent that NMC not wait until the “post-pandemic” timeline to take action, he still eagerly looks toward the future. “I’m looking forward to getting through this so we can see what these students are going to be doing.”