Suzy Nelson, dean of Colgate College, will be vice president of student life

Suzy M. Nelson will become the vice president of student life starting July 1, 2016. Nelson succeeds Chris Colombo who announced his retirement last July.

Nelson currently serves as vice president and dean of the college at Colgate University. She has held positions at Syracuse and Cornell, and was dean of student life at Harvard until 2012.

She has served at Colgate since 2012, where she oversees residential life for a student body of 2,800. Her office also directs Counseling and Psychological Services, LGBT initiatives, and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.

At Colgate, Nelson worked with students to address complaints that their residential system caused a divide between upper and underclassmen. In an article describing her plan to address these complaints, Nelson emphasized building a sense of belonging, breaking down barriers, and connecting academic and co-curricular life. Nelson’s plan, which was set to be implemented for the class of 2019, laid out steps to include classroom space in dorms for first-year seminars, help living groups develop traditions and plan social outings, and facilitate connections between upperclassmen and underclassmen.

At Harvard, where she was employed from 2005 to 2012, she served as associate dean of student life before being promoted to dean of student life. There, she launched the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, led a housing renovations initiative, and revised alcohol policies.

While at Cornell, from 1998 to 2005, Nelson served as the Robert G. Engel Associate Dean of students where she managed 3,500 students in 67 Greek organizations as associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs. Prior to this, from 1993 to 1998, Nelson served at Syracuse University as assistant director for leadership and student organizations, and director of Greek life at Syracuse University.

As the vice president of student life, Nelson will lead the DSL, which includes DAPER, the Department of Athletics and the offices of housing; dining; fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups; residential life programs; student citizenship; student outreach and support; student development; and religious life.

Last October, following the announcement of Dean Colombo’s retirement, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 appointed a search committee, chaired by Professor of Physics and Faculty Chair Krishna Rajagopal, to find candidates to lead DSL. The search committee included professors, head campus administrators, housemasters, Graduate Resident Tutors, and student leaders from the Undergraduate Association, Interfraternity Council, DormCon, and the Graduate Student Council. After narrowing the search down to three final candidates, Nelson was selected to succeed Dean Colombo.

“I am excited to begin this new opportunity: MIT is such a special place, with many creative and dedicated people who are thinking about new ways to better support students,” Nelson told the MIT News Office. “Having now met several MIT faculty, staff, and students who care deeply about the quality of student life, I am eager to partner with others in creating a campus community where all students will thrive personally and intellectually.”

“Through her 32-year career in higher education, Suzy has served campus communities — Colgate, Harvard, Cornell, and Syracuse — as different from each other as they are from MIT,” Barnhart wrote in an email to the MIT community. “Yet in each setting, she has built open, effective, lasting partnerships with students, faculty, and staff; used campus planning efforts to improve the quality of student life; and implemented student support systems that emphasize health, wellness, and safety.”

“She comes to this new position with a keen appreciation for MIT’s unique cultures, traditions, and values, and an inspiring sense of how communities can flourish by working on hard problems together.”

“In Suzy Nelson, we have found someone who enjoys the qualities that make MIT different, and who demonstrates the kind of collaborative leadership and creative thinking that will help our community grow even stronger,” President L. Rafael Reif said to the MIT News Office.