A month into his new role, Yale’s Vice President for Communications Nate Nickerson is looking to improve the way Yale communicates by analyzing its communication methods and responding swiftly when crises arise.
In January, University President Peter Salovey announced that Nickerson — who was working for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s public affairs office at the time — would serve as Yale’s second Vice President for Communications. Nickerson succeeded Yale’s inaugural Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor, who left the University in summer 2018.
Since arriving to Yale in March, Nickerson has spent most of his time understanding the dynamics of the University administration and adjusting to the new position, he said. He added that he is seeking to improve Yale’s public affairs by better understanding “the digital behavior of audiences [he] is trying to engage with.” In particular, he will encourage his office to analyze how different alumni, potential faculty members and students respond to different modes of communications — such as news articles and videos — and monitor how they perceive the University.
“The best thing I can do is inspiring talent within OPAC … by [giving the staff] relevant insights from studying what our audiences want and how we know what they want,” Nickerson said in an interview with the News. “The magic here … is that you get a lot of excitement when you have a combination of rigor and creativity. Once you have an idea of what kind of things are going to work, you take really creative people and say show me your best work.”
In a statement to the News, University spokesman Tom Conroy said Nickerson “brings a wealth of relevant experience to Yale and has valuable expertise concerning each of the functions that OPAC performs.” The staff is enthusiastically looking forward to continuing discussions on how best to promote Yale’s contributions, Conroy added.
Unlike O’Connor — who previously served as the deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia and senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan — Nickerson came to Yale with prior experience in higher education communications. Before rising to the helm of MIT’s public affairs office, Nickerson spent 15 years in media and communications roles. Nickerson is also a member of the Public Affairs Network Steering Committee of the Association of American Universities.
Last fall, O’Connor told the News that she maybe “had the wrong kind of experience” to be effective as Yale’s Vice President for Communications, because she came from “working in war zones where the stakes are super high.” In an interview with the News on Wednesday, Nickerson said his experience in higher education communications is “without question” helping him adjust into the new role.
“Universities are complicated places, and I have been very lucky to have had some numbers of years of experience to understand the dynamics of the universities and understand what tends of work and what the great opportunities there are in communications,” Nickerson said.
Still, Nickerson added that having O’Connor — who he said “has been on the other side of the desk” — at the helm of OPAC can be helpful in understanding how big media operates.
O’Connor said she helped OPAC streamline communications between Yale administrators and develop internal fact sheets outlining the University’s administrative policies to help manage crises. The office developed a metric to evaluate communications strategies, led media training for faculty members and increased the media’s coverage on research going on at Yale, O’Connor added.
“Whether it’s Eileen or other predecessors, we’ve got a lot that I can build on,” Nickerson said. “A place like Yale is so rich in content and has such amazingly talented community members. I feel incredibly excited and it’s my job to make sure that we communicate all the things happening here and people’s best work.”
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org .