INA, IL (KFVS) - Chris Nielsen, Dean of Applied Science and Technology, is retiring after 25 years with the college next week; only months shy of 40 years roaming RLC's hallways as a student.
The Herrin native and a former coal miner, he first came to RLC's campus in July of 1978 as an employee of Old Ben Coal Company looking for coal miner training.
Every year afterward to August of 1990, he revisited campus for additional training.
Then, in 1991, Nielsen came into the hallways of the Applied Technology Center (ATC) like many others at the time who were laid off by local coal companies to use the opportunity to go back and work on his graduate degree.
This, in turn, led to an internship in mine electrical retraining for RLC's Chuck Foster, then Coordinator of Electricity for the Mining Department.
"Every year I worked at Old Ben, I came back to RLC to have to retrain – for 12 years – I was back every year. After I was laid off, I substitute taught for about four months, but then I was back here as an intern," said Nielsen. "I've been around this corner in this building a long time."
It wasn't long before Nielsen found plenty of classes to teach outside of mine electrical training – a move that would prolong his stay with the college.
About a year and a half later Nielsen became a full-time faculty member.
That same month, he graduated from SIU Carbondale with a Master's Degree in Workforce Education.
Nielsen feels the development and evolution of the Industrial Electronics and Maintenance program was one of his biggest accomplishments, in addition to the number of apprenticeship programs created with his assistance for local students.
Nielsen has represented RLC in partnerships with Continental Tire, Technicolor-Universal Media Services of Pinckneyville and Independent Electrical Contractors.
Nielsen was also a contributor to two of the largest grants RLC has ever received.
The first was a $1.07 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to design, engineer, and construct the 20,000 square-foot Coal Mine Training Center, which opened in the Fall of 2009.
Soon after, RLC learned of the second grant, an award of $1.6 million from the U. S. Department of Labor as a part of then-President George Bush's Community-Based Job Training initiative.
This grant was to train the region's future coal mining workforce – right up Nielsen's alley.
With the funding from these two grants, RLC built a new facility and revamped and purchased equipment for several programs on campus, including welding, hydraulics, motor controls, mining, and more.
Neilson said, "Now we have a great facility and equipment, and we still do retraining and firefighter training. We've won three Brookwood-Sago grants, totaling over $275,000, to promote mine rescue and mine firefighting."
In his last few years of teaching, Nielsen worked under the guidance of then-Division Chair Terry Wilkerson.
He took over the role when Wilkerson became RLC's seventh president in 2012.
As dean of the Applied Science and Technology Division, Nielsen is in charge of 16 different programs on campus, ranging from architecture and graphic design to agriculture and heavy equipment to criminal justice, and everything in between.
"I've got a lot of stuff I want to do, the question is, will I run out of things? It'll be interesting to see how the time will fill up," Nielsen said. "I know I'm going to travel. My daughter (Liz Nielsen, a 2007 RLC engineering graduate) has bought a place in Chicago, and I've already got my first project up there."
Nielsen said he's also looking forward to traveling to see a group of high school friends. He said his "old football friends" will be nice to see again.
Nielsen joined many of those friends and coaches in the creation of the Herrin Tiger Football Alumni Association, a 501C3 tax-exempt organization that raises money to give away as scholarships to Herrin High School students and to local charities.
The organization also gives to Nielsen's RLC Foundation scholarship, the Rachel R. Nielsen Engineering Scholarship, in honor of his late wife Raylene.
In his two and a half decades at RLC, Nielsen received the 2010 Faculty Excellence Award for his outstanding work in the classroom.
He also served as president of the faculty union for a decade.