By any account, professor of journalism Dr. Dean Nelson is a talented author, outstanding teacher, and keen PLNU advocate. And yet, get Nelson talking about himself, and you will quickly learn that there is more to his story than his many accomplishments. “We’re training students well enough to go on to be significant voices in the culture,” he said. And that, says Nelson, is “the reward for me.”
Don’t be misled. Nelson has received many personal accolades, including winning a Best of Show at the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2008 Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s been published in many leading sources including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego Magazine, and Christianity Today. Nelson was also largely responsible for developing the journalism program at PLNU.
The university retained him as a consultant to help shape the program and then hired him in 1984, the journalism program’s inaugural year. Nelson and his colleagues purposely crafted the journalism program to be part of the literature and modern languages department. “That’s where the liberal arts come in, helping students learn how to appreciate the broad sweep of a story, not just get lost in the details,” said Nelson. “We are training the next generation of storytellers.” Now, many of the stories coming out of the journalism program are about how Nelson bettered the lives of his students.
In addition to energizing students, each year on the Point Loma campus, Nelson hosts one of San Diego’s great events, the Writer’s Symposium by the Sea. Over the years, the event has brought to campus notable authors such as Amy Tan, Donald Miller, Anne Lamott, Bill Moyers, Ray Bradbury, and George Plimpton.
“The symposium wouldn’t exist without Dean,” said professor of literature Dr. Karl Martin. “He created it and continues to be the driving force behind it.”
The quality of the event is heightened by Nelson’s relationships with the participants.
“I always look forward to seeing — and teasing — him and am also always nourished and enlivened by our talks, privately and on stage,” said best-selling author Anne Lamott. She added, “He is a great guy, and I love his spirituality.”
Nelson’s ability to connect on a person-to-person level with the Writer’s Symposium participants allows the Point Loma community to experience famous authors in a uniquely relaxed atmosphere.
According to PLNU’s vice president of external relations, Dr. Joe Watkins, “Nelson’s attitude has helped many people in the community appreciate the quality of Point Loma Nazarene University.”
As for Nelson, like a true journalist, he claims that his favorite story is “whatever one I’m working on at the time.” Well, Dean Nelson is working hard on yet another story. It is a favorite of everyone who knows him. It is not a story he is writing, but one he is living. The plot centers on a university that has gained prominence and voice through his faithful example. And it includes hundreds of main characters — Nelson’s students who have gone on to thoughtfully engage culture. It’s his best work yet.
PLNU's university publication, the Viewpoint, seeks to contribute relevant and vital stories that grapple with life's profound questions from a uniquely Christian perspective. Through features, profiles, and news updates, the Viewpoint highlights stories of university alumni, staff, faculty, and students who are pursuing who they are called to be.