Nelson, who has served more than 20 years as a university leader, administrator, and instructor, will join Colgate after seven years at Harvard University.
In 2009, Nelson assumed the role of dean of student life at Harvard when the Office of Residential Life and the Office of Student Life and Activities merged into the Office of Student Life. She has overseen residential and student life, including the residential house system for 6,500 undergraduates, one non-residential house for off-campus students, housing operations, student activities, the Harvard College Women’s Center, the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, BGLTQ Programs, Public Service, and other programs integral to the residential university experience.
“Suzy brings an important set of skills and experiences to Colgate,” said Herbst, who credited the search committee, led by psychology professor Carrie Keating, for conducting a professional and collaborative process. “Student life is a critical part of the Colgate experience. Suzy will play a vital role in fostering a rich set of living experiences, promoting discussions across differences, developing service opportunities, and helping to ensure that Colgate students live vibrant and healthy lives. I have complete confidence that Suzy will partner with faculty and other leaders on campus to further distinguish Colgate while serving our accomplished and diverse student body.”
At Harvard, Nelson supervised five senior managers and 13 academic deans in an organization of 100 staff. She led a review of Harvard’s residential system, partnered with faculty to improve advising and support services for students, addressed high-risk drinking, and clarified crisis protocols.
“I’m excited to begin working with President Herbst and with the outstanding students, faculty, and staff throughout the Colgate University community,” said Nelson. “Given Colgate’s proven reputation as an exceptional liberal arts college, with an enriching and complementary student life program, I am eager to embrace this new professional opportunity. Personally, this move will also allow our family to return to the beautiful Upstate New York region, where my husband, our four children, and I have roots.”
Nelson also thanked her colleagues and friends at Harvard for the impact they had on her personal and professional life. “I have learned so much in my role as dean of student life, and I will always have a special affinity for the college, the house system, and the wonderful students and colleagues at Harvard,” she said.
Before joining Harvard, Nelson was the Robert G. Engel Associate Dean of students at Cornell University (1998-2005), responsible for advising and evaluating of 67 Greek-letter organizations. During that time, the university underwent a plan for new residential colleges that would function as parallel living-learning environments. She also co-taught a leadership seminar for undergraduates.
From 1993–1998, Nelson served as assistant director for leadership and student organizations, and director of Greek life at Syracuse University. A native of Oxford, NY, she taught English in both the Sherburne-Earlville and Camden Central school districts before beginning her higher education career at Siena College in 1984.
Nelson earned a doctorate in higher education administration from Syracuse University in 2010. She holds a bachelor of arts from Potsdam College, State University of New York, and a master of arts in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, OH. She has published and presented widely on the complex issues and practices related to student life on college campuses.
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