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Dr. Nelsen, who became the eighth president of The University of Texas-Pan American on January 1, 2010, was raised on a small cattle ranch in Montana, just outside of Yellowstone Park, and put himself through college by working as a janitor before classes and by selling fish hooks and western clothing in the evenings.
He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in political science from Brigham Young University and his Ph.D. from the Committee on Social Thought at The University of Chicago. His Ph.D. fields of specialization were modern literature, modern philosophy and modern political theory.
For almost two decades, Dr. Nelsen taught at The University of Texas at Dallas, where he started the creative writing program and nurtured the development of an arts and humanities curriculum. After winning the Chancellor's Council Award for Outstanding Teaching, he was recruited into the Provost's Office and eventually served as vice provost there.
Prior to his arrival at UTPA, Dr. Nelsen served as associate vice president for academic affairs and professor of English at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where his wife, Jody, is executive vice president for finance and administration.
While at UTD, Dr. Nelsen completed a collection of short stories, Orphans, Bums and Angels, as well as a novel, Spirits Colliding, which is currently under review by a publisher.