Nichols nominee for WV Professor of the Year

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Most students only appreciate a professor’s course long after the semester is over. However, this is not the case for students of Professor Nichols.

Nichols’ nomination for West Virginia Professor of the Year came as no surprise to his students, but as much surprise to him.

Nichols said the honor of the nomination, along with his recent recognition of being chosen as the commencement speaker for the December ceremony, reminds him of his life motto. While many people use the motto, “at some point you have to say no,” to discipline themselves and narrow a desired focus, Nichols said he used the motto to remind him to say yes. “I have never regretted saying yes; it has always worked out for me,” Nichols said.

Nichols reflected on the times he has said yes to tasks or even honors, such as being the December commencement speaker, as unexpected opportunities that forced him out of his comfort zone. Nichols said that he was nervous as he approached the podium for his commencement speech but said the new experience for him was well worth the nerves.

Nichols’ “saying yes” mentality allowed him to quietly get to this point of high achievement. Nichols said he did not see a finish line before the start of the race but thought of his first steps out of the blocks. “I keep my nose to the ground and focus on what I need to get done,” Nichols said.

When asked how he relates to his students, Nichols said he tries to teach as if he is the student. “I went through the ‘freshman phase’ just like anyone who experiences independence and new freedom,” Nichols said.

Nichols said the biggest obstacle in his college-life equation was time management. Because of this, Nichols said, “consistency is the key to time management.” Nichols works to instill consistency in his teaching methods so that his students can get the most out of their time in his classroom and his expectations.

Nichols said his teaching style and work with the West Virginia Department of Transportation further defined his success in and out of the classroom. Every class, Nichols provides students with an “update slide” that reviews his expectations for where the students should be at that point in the course and semester. Similar to the operating of traffic lights across the state, the update slide serves as a green light to the next destination in class.

The correlation between Nichols’ teaching style and traffic lights should be no shock. Nichols is contracted with a few other engineers to manage over 1200 traffic signals in the state. Nichols said his work with the WVDOT and management of traffic signals was the most impactful project he has worked on to date.

Nichols said the influence of technology on the future of transportation reminds him of his commitment to being a “lifelong student.” Just like the advice he gave to December graduates, Nichols said he encourages all students to remain open to learning long after graduation. “When you walk out of the door, you can’t stop learning,” Nichols said.

Because of his dedication to learning, his students, and saying “yes” a few times when he might have thought otherwise, Nichols constructed a recipe for success that allowed him to be a nominee for the award of WV Professor of the Year. Not many red lights distract Nichols on his route of travel.

Elayna Conard can be contacted at [email protected]

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