New philosophy for Public Safety ushered in with new director

By Kristin Miller

millerkr@mnstate.edu

On Jan. 30, MSUM welcomed a new director of Public Safety to campus. Christopher Nelson brings to the position a diverse background, as well as plans for a “different philosophy” regarding public safety on campus.

During his first weeks on the job, Nelson has been working to get feedback from his staff and assess areas in which the department can improve. Going forward as director, one of his main goals is for Public Safety as a whole to become more tuned-in and responsive to student concerns.

“I think you’re going to see a different philosophy in how staff interact with students,” Nelson said, with part of that philosophy being a greater emphasis on “customer service.”

Nelson said that in the past there has been a disconnect between the department and the student body, and he hopes to bridge that gap by opening up channels of communication between them.

“I think that one of the things that Public Safety, no matter where it is, struggles with is that fine line between how they value customer service,” Nelson said. “I’m a huge advocate for customer service, and getting that outreach for my customers, to understand what their needs are and what they want.”

With students as customers, Nelson said he plans to work on building stronger relationships between Public Safety and the campus community. Part of that building process, he said, will be meeting with Student Senate to begin figuring out where improvements can be made.

Student relations with Public Safety staff will be high-up on Nelson’s list of priorities during his time as director, as he stated simply: “Without students, there is no Public Safety.”

Nelson also plans to work with staff to get oriented with campus concerns, as well as their own recommendations for the department.

“I want to know what their long-term goals are so that I can help them reach those goals,” Nelson said, adding that he values straightforwardness and honesty in his staff when it comes to making the best decisions for the department and the university.

During the transitional phase into the position, Nelson said he’s going to take time to get his bearings before implementing any major changes.

“I think a good leader comes in and assesses what’s working and leaves it alone, then assesses what’s not working and develops their action plan accordingly,” he said, adding “too much change too fast makes a lot of people uneasy.”

Before making the move to MSUM, Nelson worked in a number of fields including search and rescue, management at a juvenile detention facility, engineering and a role as fire captain. He called his background “eclectic,” adding, “having that diverse background, managing different people in different situations … is very applicable here.”

MSUM staff and administration also have high hopes for what Nelson will bring to campus.

In a release from the university, President Anne Blackhurst said she thought Nelson would be “an active and engaged partner in supporting our educational mission.”

Jan Mahoney, vice president for finance and administration at MSUM, echoed the sentiment.

“Chris has a broad array of experience that fits the knowledge, skills and abilities we need in a director,” she said, adding that his ability to build relationships in communities both on and off campus will make him a valuable member of MSUM’s staff.

Mahoney said Nelson was chosen from three finalist candidates for the position vetted by a search committee. The committee included members from several campus departments and was chaired by Randy Cagle, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Mahoney added Nelson’s “grit, heart and humility” made him the best choice for MSUM.

Just in his first month at the university, Nelson said MSUM has already made a positive impression.

“I love it. You have a wonderful campus, the atmosphere is infectious.”

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