Dr. Marian Nelson received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 1992 for her dedication to her students. Out of all the possibilities available to her, she chose to teach history because history is a rich story she felt compelled to share (Interview Nov. 16). A combination of enthusiasm and attention to details made her classes popular and inspiring. Kurt Austin, a former student, describes Marian’s class:
I remember her as pretty no-nonsense, but with a good, dry sense of humor, and she was a terrific lecturer. It’s funny, but much of the professional literature about teaching these days (such as the material I work on for National Council of Teachers of English) emphasizes the value of student-centered group work and discussion, and it frowns on classes where the teacher just holds forth from the front of the room. But I always enjoyed taking classes from smart folks who were as much performers as teachers.
Another previous student, Dave Manning, who took seven of her classes, described her teaching this way:
Her courses were 100 percent lecture-based. She always had notes, but I rarely got the impression she was reading from them, and deftly fielded questions about the content while only occasionally being sidetracked. She was one of two professors I can recall that was always dressed professorially and professionally, hair and makeup just right … I have a B.S in history because of the way she taught. Had I not had her for the entry level World Civilizations class, I doubt I would have kept with it!
Finally, Anne Shavlik, another student, had this to say about her experience with Dr. Marian Nelson:
I took three classes—Ancient History of Greece, Ancient History of Rome, and Special Topics: Queens and Mistresses in History… All three classes were memorable for me—I loved all of them … I feel Dr. Nelson’s command of the classroom, her breadth of knowledge of the subject matter, and her presentation of the subject matter lifted the classes above the norm. You paid attention because you wanted to. This may sound trite, but Dr. Nelson truly did make history feel “alive.” She skillfully managed to interweave facts with intriguing little stories and besides that kept us wanting to learn more … The only assignment that I can recall is a special project each of us had to complete one semester. I decided to put together a “magazine” of Ancient Greece and Rome. I wasn’t sure how Dr. Nelson would like it, but I got the okay to go forward on it. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I still have the magazine, New Centurion Times, in my files. In retrospect, I realize a lot of professors would not have accepted such an assignment because it was “outside the academic box”; yet, I never felt that she dismissed it as a joke … Perhaps I’ve always had a bit of love for history, but since Dr. Nelson’s classes, I read a lot more historical fiction and nonfiction.
Judging by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from her students, one cannot deny her role as an inspiring teacher. Marian was open to new ideas while doing what she did best—encouraging her students to look beyond the names and numbers and focusing on the importance of details.
In 2000, Dr. Marian Purrier Nelson retired from UNO due to chronic illness. Having to leave UNO was hard for her because of she loved teaching, which she has missed the most. Marian has had little to no involvement with the University or AAUP since her departure. However, many of her former students continue to pursue their love for history, some becoming teachers as well. Marian fought inequality within UNO and helped gain the AAUP’s first wage agreement and contract, which would close the wage gender gap. Like her mother, Erna, Marian encouraged her two daughters, Danielle and Nicole, to graduate from college, which they both did. Danielle graduated from UNO with a Business major and Psychology minor. Nicole graduated from UNL with an English and Psychology major and would later get a master’s degree in Forensic Science.