Hampshire College's seventh president is Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, a prominent health and nutrition scholar, scientist, university professor, higher education administrator, and government policy adviser. Hampshire’s Board of Trustees made the appointment in April 2018 after receiving a formal recommendation from a presidential search committee comprised of faculty, students, staff, and trustees, and following an extensive, yearlong national search.
Based at Tufts University for more than three decades where she served in a series of roles with increasing research, management, and fundraising responsibilities, Nelson is an academic and public-scholar activist, earning national recognition for her expertise as a scientist and the author of groundbreaking studies on public health, nutrition, and civic engagement. She began her tenure at Hampshire on July 1.
Among her accomplishments at Tufts, Nelson:
Nelson, who goes by “Mim,” comes to Hampshire College from the University of New Hampshire, where since 2016 she has served as deputy director of the Sustainability Institute, the oldest endowed institute of its kind in higher education. In her writings, she has called sustainability “a collective commitment to human dignity for all people and ecological integrity in all places. It is rooted in an intergenerational, ethical obligation to social justice, collaboration, and inclusive prosperity.” During her time at the University of New Hampshire, Nelson, building on a 20-year foundation at the institute, led the Pathway to Platinum effort, engaging the entire campus to reach the highest rating of sustainability for any university or college in the country.
Nelson serves on the Board of Directors of Newman’s Own Inc., the food company that donates all profits to philanthropic causes; Management Sciences for Health, an international NGO focused on improving public health and saving lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in more than 50 developing nations; and the American Alpine Club.
Committed to Active Citizenship, Diversity, and Inclusion
In her most recent role at Tufts University, from 2014-16, Nelson held positions of associate dean and chair of the faculty at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, devoted to building a culture of active citizenship across the university and the world. The college helps to prepare students for a lifetime of engagement in civic and democratic life, to study civic life and its intersections with public and private institutions, and to promote practices that strengthen civic life in the United States and around the world. She helped grow the endowment, managed partnerships and student programs to strengthen the curriculum around civic literacy, and founded and chaired a Committee on Diversity and Inclusion to support campus climate by focusing on staff and faculty training, the campus environment, student engagement, and increasing diversity through active recruitment. She led efforts to hire more women and people of color in senior leadership positions throughout Tufts University by being the catalyst in the formation of the Women and People of Color in Senior Leadership Committee within the Provost’s Office.
Builder of National Programs in Scholarship, Science, Wellness, and Service
Nelson has been a member of the Tufts faculty since 1990 (now emerita), and last served as professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She also served concurrently for 15 years as the founding director of Tufts’ John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention. As the Center’s director, she secured more than $43 million in funding and grew the organization from its initial staff of two to a diverse workforce of 55, growing the annual budget from $300,000 to $7.9 million. She and the associate director built a team of faculty and staff that mentored students, conducted original research, and influenced national policy to improve nutrition and fitness. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign highlighted one of the Center’s initiatives as a national model of community best practices. During her tenure, the Center trained thousands of allied health professionals and partners to provide community-based health services and programs.
In 2009, she cofounded ChildObesity180 with Peter Dolan, chairman of the Tufts University Board of Trustees and former CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Dr. Christina Economos, Tufts professor and international childhood obesity prevention expert, backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The organization developed initiatives such as the New Balance Foundation Billion Mile Race, which aims to reverse the trend of childhood obesity by uniting the resources of national leaders across public and private sectors.
Adviser to the White House and Federal Agencies
As a public health researcher, Nelson held appointments for more than 10 years advising the U.S. government on health, nutrition, fitness, and child obesity. During the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, she helped develop the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines as a member of the 2010 and 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committees for the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture. In 2015, she spearheaded the influential work connecting the dietary guidelines to sustainability. She and her committee colleagues showed how a diet higher in plant-based food and lower in animal-based foods is not only healthier, but also has less environmental impact on energy, land, and water use. The resulting work was the catalyst for the My Plate, My Planet grassroots campaign, which recently influenced the Canadian government to embed sustainability in their national dietary guidelines. From 2011 to 2014, Nelson served on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. In 2008 she served as vice chair of the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Public Scholarship and Activism
Among her groundbreaking clinical research trials as a scientist for 30 years, Nelson demonstrated that physical activity and good nutrition dramatically reduce the risk of a number of chronic diseases. She is lead author and coauthor on over 100 scholarly papers, including original research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, on such subjects as the impact of nutrition and exercise on the prevention of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and arthritis.
Based on her seminal study on the benefits of strength-training for older women, Nelson published her first book, Strong Women Stay Young, in what would become her bestselling Strong Women book series, comprised of ten titles selling more than a million copies in 14 languages. Five New York Times bestsellers among them, the series inspired Nelson to found the StrongWomen public health community program, currently operating in 30 states. The series enabled Nelson to publish a monthly column in Prevention magazine, reaching millions of readers. As a recognized expert on health and nutrition, Nelson is often interviewed by national media. She has appeared in her own PBS special titled Strong Women Live Well and has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC Nightly News, CNN, Time, Fresh Air, Discovery Channel, and others. In 2006 and 2007, Nelson worked as the lead scientific adviser with PBS NOVA to produce a documentary titled Marathon Challenge, seen by more than six million viewers in its first year.
Fundraising and Securing Investment
At Tufts, Nelson supported and worked with senior leadership on major fundraising initiatives, including a nine-year, comprehensive campaign that raised $1.2 billion for the university. At John Hancock Research Center, she oversaw the fundraising effort that attracted more than $43 million to the Center. She helped secure a $15 million gift for Tisch College; $27.5 million for ChildObesity180; $4.5 million through the Tufts Marathon Team; $1.7 million for her Strong Women health initiative; and millions of dollars for student fellowship and research grants from federal and private sources.
Nelson is married to Kinloch Earle, a classical violinist. They have three grown children, Mason, Eliza, and Alexandra. Mason is a professional rock climber, Eliza an adventure photographer, and Alexandra a global public health professional. As a family, they love the outdoors, especially back country skiing, rock climbing, hiking, and trail running.
Nelson succeeds Jonathan Lash, who retired in June 2018 after completing his seventh year as Hampshire College president.