New VP starts his tenure

It’s a year of new faces and even new positions.

Brian Nichols will begin his work as Gannon University’s new vice president of student development and engagement.

Nichols’ key responsibility is to be the student’s advocate to the university’s administration.

Departments ranging from campus ministry to athletics report to his office. Previously, the job’s duties belonged to the office of the provost and vice president of academic affairs.

In a February interview, President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., said that the provost’s workload was too immense, and that was unfavorable to the position’s intended focus on academics.

“We’re just trying to restructure the administrative responsibilities of the vice presidents and determine what the best structure and allocation of people’s time and energy would be,” Taylor said.

Nichols aims to take care of that. After completing his undergraduate degrees in biology and psychology at the University of Cincinnati, Nichols went on to earn a Master’s certificate in teaching at Vanderbilt University.

He has worked in higher education for 25 years and most recently completed a 12-year stint at Texas A&M-Commerce; his last position there was dean of students.

Several things attracted Nichols to the new vice president’s position, including Gannon’s commitment to developing its students spiritually as well as academically.

“When you look at the pieces all being combined in with student development, it’s really an exciting position and opportunity,” Nichols said.

“But then you put mission and ministries on top of it, and now you’re talking about the holistic development of students, the opportunity to weave the mission and ministry — the spiritual development  of students — in through everything we do.”

Despite his title being new in itself, Nichols has no anxiety and sees nothing but promise in the new position.

“I see it as just a grand opportunity to help move the university forward,” Nichols said. “There is already a lot of excellence here.

“It’s really a matter of how do we take the vision for this new area and just expand that excellence?”

According to Nichols, he has a few ideas circulating his thoughts, but for the time being he’s more keen to listen to the Gannon community first, whether that’s faculty, staff, coaches or students.

“I think it’s very important that I find out where we are already really good,” Nichols said. “What successes are we having? As I begin putting together some of the initial thoughts, I need to listen to people first.

“Then after I’ve heard what they’ve had to say, then we’ll begin creating those goals to bring that vision to life.”

The Rev. Michael Kesicki, vice president of Mission and Minsitry, was part of the search committee that ultimately chose Nichols for the position.

Kesicki said he knew right away that Nichols would be a great fit at Gannon.

“Not only does he have a wide skill set, but also a passion for the work,” Kesicki said. “We were all very excited about this new position, and [Nichols] adds to that.”

Nichols said his primary goal is to be the students’ advocate, whether that’s in his daily work or in discussions in the president’s council.

“This position is the primary advocate for students,” Nichols said. “So if there is something they have on their mind, I want to know about it.”

John Root, a sophomore pharmacy major, said he would like the opportunity to attend a forum introducing Nichols so he can get to know the new vice president, as well as voice his opinions about what the ideal student-advocate administrator would look like.

“I would hope he would be understanding and respectful of people’s ideas,” Root said. “Even if they’re not very good, they usually always have a point and are worth listening to.”

Nichols’ most observable quality is his enthusiasm and belief in others, namely, that he believes “the human potential is unlimited.”

“We all create our own destiny through the choices we make,” he said. “Make choices that allow you to live an amazing life.”

After hearing that, Root said he felt encouraged that the new vice president held such positive thinking.

“I’d agree with him,” Root said. “There’s a lot of people out there who are intelligent, but not motivated. But those people who keep putting in that effort and keep trying, they generally do better.”

The bottom line is Nichols is here as a resource for students.

“I want [students] to understand that we’re here to help them, but it’s going to be helping them make the choices that allow them to have that amazing life.”

 

DAN KUBACKI

[email protected]