Northwest names Nickens dean of eLearning

Northwest Mississippi Community College is proud to announce the promotion of Angel Nickens, former assistant dean of eLearning, to dean of the college’s eLearning program.

“ELearning is a big component of the college, and has a big role to play in its continued success as the future education environment continues to change,” said Northwest President, Dr. Michael J. Heindl. “We are excited for Angel Nickens’ leadership in this area of the college.”

A 17-year veteran in higher education with 28 total years of teaching experience, Nickens is excited to lead Northwest’s online efforts following the retirement of eLearning Dean Phyllis Johnson, who led the program since its inception.

The Sarah native is a graduate of Northwest, and noted a number of family members who have either graduated from or been employed by the school. Nickens said she embarked on a teaching career after being inspired by one of her Northwest instructors. She models the “tough but compassionate” style of instruction that she said made an impact on her as a student. 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in biological science from the University of Mississippi and a master’s degree in natural science from Delta State University, Nickens began her career as a science teacher at North Sunflower Academy. She went on to teach science and biology at a number of institutions before becoming an adjunct instructor at Northwest in the fall of 2006. She joined the college as a full-time faculty member in 2007, going on to serve as the eLearning science coordinator in 2012 and assistant dean of eLearning in January of 2022.

Excited about the future of online education, Nickens said eLearning is proud to be making a difference in the lives of students.

“Our students are making critical decisions here on campus, and the community college experience allows for better relationships with students in the classroom,” she said.

One of her goals as dean is to add even more resources for Northwest eLearning students.

“Online education is not a sterile environment where learning happens,” she said. “At Northwest, we strive for a complete college experience. I want our online students to have an experience that resembles on-campus student life by providing elements like events, services, leadership opportunities, and student support that are normally found only for on-campus students.” 

In recent years, the college’s course schedule has been transformed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, transitioning two years ago to a four-day course week, with all Friday classes having an online element.

“The online element allowed the college to continue education services despite the trials of the pandemic,” Nickens said. “Online education is not just an emergency reaction of the institution; because of our COVID response, all of our instructors have become comfortable with online instruction.”

Northwest has experienced continued growth in online course delivery and online program options since the inception of the eLearning program. Athletes, members of performance groups and others who require a more flexible schedule have benefitted from the online course delivery format. 

“Technology has gotten so good with 3-D mapping and simulations that medical doctors use it more in their studies,” Nickens said. “Nothing replicates the clinical or human aspect of the learning experience, but there are many applications for tech to help teach; some of that is connected to online education.”  

A unique opportunity the college has recently piloted is offering synchronistic classes at each of its campuses, meaning that courses can meet at each campus simultaneously with a single instructor rotating through all locations.

“We are actively reviewing the services we provide to online students,” Nickens said. “Our goal is to help make online students more involved in our campus life. Technology has always been important to the school and the learning process, but it is fundamental now. I am excited to lead the eLearning campus and look forward to new things and challenges on the horizon at Northwest.”

For more information about Northwest and its programs, visit northwestms.edu.