Tom Nielsen to retire after 34 years at BC

Bellevue College’s Vice President of Instruction Tom Nielsen plans to retire from his position later this year after working at BC for 34 years.

“Tom has been at Bellevue College for so many years and has experienced it on more levels than most of our administration,” said Donna Sullivan, director of the department of instruction. “He has so much institutional knowledge to draw on when making decisions, but he is also very fair, flexible and open minded. He is interested in what makes sense and what is best for everyone,” Sullivan said.

Nielsen earned his AA at BC and began his career working for the college in 1982. He started off as a part-time interior design instructor then became a tenured instructor. He has worked as the program chair of the interior design department and division chair of the arts and humanities department and interim executive dean of instruction. He has been serving in his current position since 2009, which was first called executive dean of instruction then titled vice president of instruction. He is a member of the Faculty Commons Council, and he said his job involves “a lot of getting together with people, and strategizing and problem solving.”

“I’ve known Tom for 30 years,” said Kyra Olson, administrative assistant to the vice president of economic and workforce development. When Olson first met Nielsen in 1986, he was her drafting instructor within the interior design program. “I moved from being his student to his coworker,” she said, “and I’ve had the pleasure of working with him for many years.”

Nielsen is involved in all curriculum changes at the school, and reads proposals from all departments to make his decisions. “It’s amazing to see how much information he keeps in his mind,” said Iulia Zavodov, program manager for the Department of Instruction.

“Tom is a thoughtful and tactical individual and it is my experience that he approaches all of his work at the institution through that lens. His vision and his leadership have been irrefutably beneficial to the institution in many, many ways, both large and small,” said Joyce Carroll, associate dean of the department of instruction.

Tom Nielsen
Tom Nielsen

Through holding his various positions at Bellevue College, Nielsen has gained a unique perspective on BC as a school and a community. “What makes this a great place is the people here,” said Nielsen.

The demographic makeup of Bellevue College during Nielsen’s early teaching days was what he described as a “suburban majority culture.” He said he would call the art and music programs at BC magnets that draw students from areas beyond Bellevue. “We have great art faculty,” said Nielsen.

One of the things he finds enjoyable about his current position is that it takes him off campus to visit places and learn new strategies and about new technology. When he returns to the school from those trips, he’s able to share this knowledge with the rest of the faculty. “We’re always looking for how we can improve,” Nielsen said.

Zavodov said that she has enjoyed learning from Nielsen. “He has a very friendly attitude and treats everyone equally,” she added.

Carroll said that Nielsen gave her opportunities to work on projects that allowed her to express and develop her potential. “I appreciate his trust in me and his guidance in helping me grow professionally.”

“Instruction is the heart of our college,” said Sullivan, “We are continually at the leading edge, particularly with baccalaureate degree development, and I think he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
“Community colleges help a lot of people with minimal resources,” Nielsen said. “We do a lot of work for a lot fewer dollars.” He added that this sometimes can come at the cost of individualized student support.

“I would like to see us figure out how to give each student what they need to succeed,” Nielsen said. “Things get in their way, barriers pop up.”

Nielsen’s departure is occurring amidst a change in the design of governance at the college, and during this process Nielsen has agreed to “be available within reason until a replacement takes my place.”

“I would say it’s something expected,” Zavodov said of Nielsen’s decision to retire. She mentioned that he made an announcement to the department directly, before it went public to all staff and students. “He cares about his closest coworkers,” said Zavodov.

“I’m happy that he is able to retire and enjoy life with his family, but we will miss him tremendously,” said Sullivan.