Meet the new associate VP for University Communications

Central Valley native and Fresno State alumnus Lauren Nickerson graduated from the Media, Communications and Journalism (MCJ), with an emphasis in public relations. (Courtesy of Lauren Nickerson)

Lauren Nickerson came into the position of associate vice president for University Communications in January with a lot to unpack, with her first events moderating open forums for faculty, staff and students to discuss university issues, controversies and the Title IX task force.

“I understand that there were hard topics being brought up, but I think, as a campus, being able to come together and to speak about those honestly and even more importantly to support each other…is really important,” Nickerson said.

As a Central Valley native and Bulldog alumna, Nickerson said she is familiar with the community, and as a result understood the importance of the open forums despite only working just two months officially at Fresno State. 

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Media, Communications and Journalism (MCJ), with an emphasis in public relations. 

Nickerson lived in Clovis most of her life but her life was heavily impacted by Fresno State, with both of her parents  being Fresno State alumni and her dad working as a faculty member for years on campus.

“I have a love for this university. I have a love for what it does. I’m from the Valley, so I understand it intimately; how important this campus is to everything in our community,” she added.

Completing her first event in her position and seeing her name on the screen as a Fresno State administrator was “humbling,” Nickerson said.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity… I spent most of my career in healthcare and graduate medical education, so for me, working in a mission-driven environment is really important,” she said.

 It became full-circle for Nickerson when she came back to work at her alma mater. The most important lesson Nickerson said she learned during her time as a Fresno State student was “transparency and honesty.”

Nickerson described her job as “telling the story of the university” through research or news about the campus community, as well as being a “transparent and honest” place for people to receive information.

During her time at Fresno State, she was involved in Fresno State’s TALK, a student-run public relations firm, when it was in its beginning stages, as well as the campus’ branch of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) organization, which is also student-run.

Now, Nickerson is a sitting member on the board of PRSA and credits Fresno State for giving her those opportunities. As a student, she remembered how guest speakers would come to her class, showing what a career in her major was like. 

“When I was a student, one of the things that I wanted to know is, when I graduate and I get a job…what would that look like? What will that feel like?” she said. “MCJ did a fantastic job for me at connecting me with professional opportunities.”

One guest speaker who came to her class was a local public relations practitioner, who she got an internship with. She was even involved in The Collegian as a contributor on an article about the importance of voting in 2008.

Nickerson said she remembered when Betsy Hays, chair of the MCJ department, was her college adviser. Now, Hays is her coworker and was her co-moderator in the open forums.

“[Hays] was very much a mentor and later a friend,” Nickerson said.

“I remember sitting in her class and thinking when I grow up, I want to be Betsy. She’s effervescent and kind and smart and capable. So I learned a lot about professionalism and how to say hard things [without being] unkind when you say it [from her].”

Hays remembered Nickerson as a great student and said she “had the blessing of having her in class as well,” as a student.

“I absolutely remember that she just has always been a star,” Hays said.

She said she was thrilled when Nickerson got the job at Fresno State, and after knowing how much of an impact Hays had on her, she had a “very emotional reaction in the best possible way.”

“My teaching philosophy is always to make sure that everything that we do is very intentional and strategic to support the students… Encourage them to continue that learning afterwards because it will never be enough what you get here, and I think Lauren personifies that,” Hays said.

After Fresno State, Nickerson enrolled in USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, studying for her master’s degree in its communication management program.

She was also the director of marketing and communications for the Central California Faculty Medical Group (CCFMG) for the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) branch campus in Fresno and helped support the faculty and patients. 

She said CCFMG had many connections to her job now at Fresno State, in terms of serving the community and working with Fresno State alumni who attended and worked at UCSF, Fresno. 

She also found “fantastic models of leadership” there, like Dr. James W. Davis, who was appointed the chair of surgery at the UCSF, Fresno, and Dr. Randall Stern, the chair of the  CCFMG board of directors.

“[Stern and Davis] were wonderfully supportive and even when I got the job here at Fresno State and I had to tell them that I was leaving, which was really hard because I did love my job and I loved the team that I worked with. Everyone there was nothing but kind,” Nickerson said.

Going to work at Fresno State was a “big leap” for Nickerson. She said that while she had moments of self-doubt, her former co-workers also helped boost her confidence, encouraging her that she’d do great. 

“You are absolutely a product of your support system, and I’m very grateful to have a very wonderful support system,” she said.

Nickerson said she is aware that her job at Fresno State is going to be difficult, and that she came in during a tough time. Two months in, she said she is still getting settled and trying to figure things out, but is committed to serving the university for a long time.

“We’re dealing with some really challenging topics and some really challenging issues. We’re not going to have all the answers, but I am proud to work alongside an administration that is committed to that transparency… and wants to do better, wants to make changes that are needed for the campus,” she said.

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