By TAYLOR ROBINSON
A self-described “life-long learner,” Washtenaw Community College’s new Vice President for Instruction Michael Nealon says he’s been going to school every day since pre-school and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think that’s what really keeps us growing as individuals, growing within the communities in which we live, and growing within a broader perspective of what I think our cultural experience is just as human beings,” Nealon said.
His passion for learning blossomed primarily through music. Member of a professional boys choir in New York at age eight, Nealon was recording albums just two years later. At age 11, young Nealon sang with the New York Metropolitan Opera in their Central Park productions.
As a student, he wanted to “unlock” the mysteries of music’s history. Nealon started with obtaining his bachelor’s in humanities and music history from St. Michael’s College in Vermont and worked his way toward a doctorate in musicology from Northwestern. His educational journey not only provided the facts he longed for but also paved his career path.
Although Nealon was the only child out of six in his family to not attend a community college, Lansing Community College is where he held his first full-time teaching position beginning in 1998.
“I experienced at LCC, a transformation,” Nealon said. “Not only in my experience, but in an experience that I knew was transforming the lives of the students that I got to share moments with every day.”
Prior to teaching at LCC, Nealon was an adjunct instructor at three universities. While Nealon enjoyed teaching at the university level, he didn’t feel as though he was impacting his students quite as much as he could for students who were just starting out or looking to fine-tune their skills.
“Meeting with students who realize for the first time were having adult conversation and their whole life was opening up and you saw nothing but raw potential, it’s some of the most exciting moments a teacher can have,” Nealon said. “And it’s the greatest blessing community college students can give, just by being the diverse, inquisitive, learning, loving people that they are.”
During his many years at LCC, Nealon was not only a professor, but also a chair, a dean, and an associate vice president for student learning. President of LCC Brent Knight is in his eighth year of presidency and this will be his first year not working with Nealon.
“I think highly of Dr. Nealon,” Knight said. “He’s very accomplished, works hard and works well with faculty and students.”
Coming to a new college offers the opportunity to not only create a new working relationship with WCC’s President Rose Bellanca but also the students, faculty, staff, and community. At WCC’s July 28 board of trustee meeting, Nealon was introduced and so began another educational journey.
“His commitment to students and student success, his experience in a large academic organization and his ability to maintain strong working relationships,” all contributed to his joining of WCC, according to Bellanca.
WCC has been without a vice president for instruction for two years while Bill Abernethy stood in as interim VPI. Bellanca commented that searching for a replacement has not been an easy process and also a long process. After receiving a warm welcome, Nealon addressed the board and its meeting’s attendees.
“I am very, very impressed by everything I’ve seen,” Nealon said. “This is probably the most exciting time to be in higher education and to be part of reimagining what teaching and learning is all about in America. Congratulations on all of the awards. We all see you as a leader in the state and it’s wonderful to be joining such an exciting and distinguished team.”
A vice president for instruction, in Nealon’s eyes, is someone who creates and maintains an environment that encompasses all the characteristics for the most useful learning possible for students and that nothing less would be a disservice to those students.
“It was really in my interest to join a team that understands what the challenges are that face community colleges in America today who are willing to meet those head on and who will always have at the center of what they do, student success,” Nealon said. “That’s what I think WCC already represents and that’s what I’d like to be able to maintain, nurture, and grow to an even more exciting tomorrow.”