Nelson Armstrong '71, director of the Office of Alumni Relations, has accepted a yearlong appointment to serve as assistant to President Wright for special projects at Dartmouth College.
The president made the announcement last week. As part of several initiatives launched since the recent review by management consultants McKinsey & Company, the president said, “it is vital that we improve and better coordinate our diversity efforts. We need to gain a better understanding of the steps we can take to advance this priority, not only through the work of the Offices of Human Resources and Institutional Diversity and Equity but through all of our individual efforts.” Asked to take on the assignment to help move this work forward. Armstrong will begin his work on July 1.
“People who've known me a long time—and I think the dinosaurs were just leaving when I came to campus,” says Nels, as he's known throughout the Dartmouth community, “—will say this kind of work is just something I've always done.”
Nels has been part of the Office of Alumni Relations since 1995. He was the associate director of the Alumni Fund from 1988 to 1990 and, immediately after graduating in 1971, worked for three years as a counselor in the Office of the Dean of the College. He's also worked in alumni affairs at Case Western Reserve University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Nels is a cofounder of the Black Alumni of Dartmouth Association, serves as the College liaison to the Dartmouth Alumni Association of New York City, is a former president of the Black Caucus and advisor to Afro-American Society, and has been an active member of the Boston Club. Along the way, he's served on many panels that have addressed issues related to diversity.
“As we look at diversity as a whole—as communities and peoples coming together—I hope it'll be of benefit that my perspective goes back a long time,” says Nels. “What I'll bring to the table are skills, relationships, and institutional memory that will let me share with the president a sense of perspective that we need more of at Dartmouth: the perspective of difference. So the president can hear any and all sides of an issue.
“For me, community at Dartmouth isn't an agenda item that ends at 5 pm. I take it as something personal,” Nels says with firm emphasis. “It goes with me everywhere I go. I'd love it if we could all take it as something personal.”
Nels will advise the president on a range of issues related to minority affairs, studying models other institutions have used to advance diversity and serving on the President's Executive Committee and on the Communications and Culture Committee, newly established in response to the McKinsey report. He'll advise Provost Barry Scherr's new committee studying the hiring, mentoring, and retention of minority employees. And he'll work closely with Michelle Meyers, the interim director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, on diversity educational programs, such as ways for senior administrators to engage in outreach activities to bridge gaps between the administration and students, faculty, and alumni.
“I am delighted that Nels has agreed to take on this important task,” President Wright said. “I intend to work very closely with him on this critical assignment . . . as we seek to strengthen Dartmouth as an inclusive and diverse community.”
For now, Nels's schedule is full with the many events in May and June that will bring alumni to campus, including the Alumni Council meeting, the campus pow-wow of the Native American Program, and reunions. “My head is still very much in Alumni Relations,” he says.
“I've been saying ever since I came back to Dartmouth in 1995,” Nels notes, “that I've got the best job on this campus. The opportunity to bring folks home, physically and emotionally—it's been more fun than I know how to tell you.”