BY Zana Pommier
MSUM boasts many proud titles, including the coldest college in the U.S. and the cheapest tuition in the state. Despite this, the Dragons continue their scorching pride with their proudest achievement: more Minnesota CASE Professors of the Year than any other school in the state. This year, the film department boasts Kjya Kristjansson-Nelson as the 11th holder of the title at MSUM.
Even with her success, her humbleness defines her character.
“I work with extremely talented and really engaging faculty members so I think that any one of them could be a CASE Professor of the Year as well,” said Kristjansson-Nelson.
Despite her title, her achievement is dull compared to her accomplishments, which range from helping students rake leaves in the community to working for the art department on the TV show “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.”
Kristjansson-Nelson’s career with Law and Order “was a really fantastic experience — crazy hours and working on really exciting shows…for me, film is a medium that combines so many different aspects of life…To me it’s a medium that I can never get bored with.”
Although it was exciting, she missed the creative process and doing her own work, so she decided to focus on teaching.
After enrolling in graduate school, she was shocked to be responsible for a class of undergraduate students.
“I kind of assumed that as a teaching assistant you’d be in the background, but they were like ‘okay here’s your class.’”
Despite being planted into a position of authority, this hit-or-miss method helped her decide that teaching was right for her.
“As a kid I think being a professor was too abstract in a way,” said Kristjansson-Nelson, “It’s extremely challenging, but its a challenge that I enjoy. I think the best part of it is getting to work with students. They’re all so different in what they want to do.”
Kristjansson-Nelson currently teaches undergraduates of all levels. Her favorite students to work with, however, are freshmen and seniors.
“Those two groups of students in many ways couldn’t be more different, but oddly they’re kind of similar because they’re both going through a very big life change … I spend a lot of time teaching to transition,” she said.
Kristjansson-Nelson is senior animation major Anthony Ring’s advisor and senior seminar project mentor.
Upon realizing he needed a class to graduate that wasn’t being offered, she offered to set up an independent study to fulfill his requirement.
“I think that she’s really nice to do that in order to help me graduate on time,” Ring said.
Despite the time Kristjansson-Nelson spends in class with students, she still finds time to go above and beyond.
Between mentoring student projects, she visits sets and helps take students on field trips, including the South Dakota Film Festival.
Between helping students, she even has her own projects to work on. She is currently working on a hand-drawn animation, in addition to other projects that are in the planning stages.
Despite helping so much and rarely having time for herself, her future plans remain at MSUM.
In five years, she sees herself “in the basement of the Center of the Arts teaching a new group of amazing filmmakers that will go on to do amazing things.”