Doug Nelson never intended to go back into academia full time. He had been working in private industry for 12 years, after leaving a 20-year career in teaching. But then his wife showed him a job announcement from MSOE.
“Why am I reading my resume?” he asked himself. But it was the job announcement he was reading. “It was just amazing how well it matched what I had done in my life.”
Nelson took the offer to teach plumbing and fire protection design at MSOE in 2011, as well as coordinate Civil Senior Design for the Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management Department.
Nelson grew up on a small farm in New York state and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural education from Cornell University. He was on sabbatical from teaching at Morrisville State College when he was offered a position with a manufacturer of onsite water treatment systems. That job would lead him to Wisconsin and eventually to another job as a consulting design engineer.
Being able to bring his real-world experience into the classroom is rewarding, said Nelson, but so is managing students in a servant-leadership methodology. Nelson is the Pieper Family Endowed Chair for Servant-Leadership at MSOE, and has also accepted the role of a CREATE Faculty Fellow.
Even if he didn’t know the term servant-leadership before coming to MSOE, it had always been a part of Nelson’s life: as a young member of Future Farmers of America and as a volunteer firefighter at Cornell University, in his ambulance service and church activities, and in the community projects he now leads at MSOE.
“A lot of people accuse me of not being able to say no,” said Nelson.
That willingness to serve and his expertise attracted the attention of the Community Plumbing Challenge. Nelson was asked to lead Team USA in competitions that created clean water and hygiene solutions for impoverished areas of the world. He has traveled with students to competitions in Singapore, India, South Africa and Jamaica.
But one summer as Nelson’s team flew over the Appalachian Mountains, something dawned on him: “We don’t have to fly to India or South Africa to solve serious problems. There were plenty of people below this plane who could use our types of help and assistance.”
Nelson has since focused as much as he can on community building closer to home. He is now working with students to develop an empty lot next to the Tricklebee Café, a pay-as-you-can café run by the Moravian church on Milwaukee’s north side.
When it comes to promoting the aspects of the CREATE Institute, Nelson emphasizes that strong community mindedness and a strong entrepreneurial mindset must go on top of the skill set. “If you don’t have the good technical skills, then the other two are useless,” he said.
Nelson is looking forward to working with the other CREATE Faculty Fellows, with their various backgrounds, opinions and views of the world. “We may have different ideas on how to get to the end result, but we all agree on the basic statement,” he said. “We’re all in it for the students and making our students even better.”
Nelson is an avid bicyclist, logging around 5,000 miles a year. He does three or four charity rides a year, including the Trans New Hampshire bike ride, a 250-mile, three-day ride for muscular dystrophy. He rides for his two grand-nephews who have Duchenne muscular dystrophy.