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Sunday, April 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Nancy Niedzielski shares her love for Lovett

Guillian Paguila / Thresher

By Shruti Patankar     2/20/24 9:54pm

While most universities have student resident assistants overseeing housing, Rice’s culture is defined by its rare residential college system, which features adult magisters and resident advisors. Lovett College’s current magisters, Mike Gustin and Denise Klein, are finishing their last year in the role.

Lovett sophomore Isabella Barone reflected on Gustin and Klein’s contributions to the Lovett community. 

“I think everyone at Lovett really loves the current magister, Mike. He’s been really great so far so [we’re] sad that he’s leaving,” Barone said.

Nancy Niedzielski, Lovett’s next magister, is currently an associate professor and the chair of the linguistics department. In her 25 years at Rice, her primary focus has been in sociolinguistics, the study of language and the role it plays in society. 

Outside of teaching, she also works as a forensic linguist, performing linguistic analysis on documents and recordings involved in court cases. Her current research focuses on the connection between automated speech recognition, artificial intelligence and the law. 

Niedzielski’s interest in the magisterial role stems from her experience as a college associate and divisional advisor. 

“[Being an associate] was just fantastic … I really liked divisional advising, though, because I think it’s exciting to have people come in that have a tiny idea about what it is that they want to do in college. They’re just kind of unaware of all of the different majors and opportunities that they can have,” Niedzielski said. “When I think about my college experience, there were students and there was faculty. You appreciate your faculty, but you never interacted in a way that you get to with [Rice’s] college experience.”

Niedzielski said that she is eager to embrace a foundational Rice tradition.

“When one of my family members would come to me and say, ‘Well, why should I go to Rice?’ the college system is the first thing [I say],” Niedzielski said. “I’d like to be part of it much more intimately than you can be as an associate or divisional advisor.”

Serving as magister will allow Niedzielski to have a much more active role in the Rice community, shaping Lovett’s culture and supporting its students.

“I don’t want to come in and change everything, but it seems like a great way to influence these students who are going to go out and do great things,and just have the whole world in front of them,” Niedzielski said. “It’s very exciting to me to think about being an integral part of [students’] Rice experience … I see myself making their lives at Rice better and easier in some aspects, and making them more aware of all of the kinds of different opportunities that there are.”

Niedzielski said her top priority as magister will be to create a welcoming, supportive environment at Lovett using the on-campus tools available to her. 

“I’m really interested in the whole [diversity, equity and inclusion] push on campus … There are groups that feel that they don’t want to get involved in the college experience [because] they just don’t feel like it’s for them,” Niedzielski said. “I think the college system is such a huge bonus … It would be great if everybody felt like that was true and everybody felt like they could take advantage of it. 

Even more than her experience as an associate, Niedzielski feels as if she shares a personal connection with Lovett.  

“[Lovett’s] the hippie place, you know … I like that sort of laid back, chill aspect of Rice and [for Lovett], it’s just the vibe,” Niedzielski said. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s a vibe to Lovett that just really resonated with me.” 

Lovett External Vice President, David Shaw, served as a member of the student search committee responsible for choosing Niedzielski. He emphasized the importance of finding a magister that fits with the culture.  

“One thing we really talked about was fit: what a Lovett magister is as compared to one of the other colleges,” Shaw, a junior, said. “We really like how Nancy seemed open, available — someone you could go talk to about silly things, like TV shows and football games, or something serious. She seemed very knowledgeable and approachable.” 

“We’ve had really positive first interactions with her. We’re sad to see our current magisters go, but really excited for what the new era’s going to bring,” Shaw continued.

Barone also spoke of the importance of having a magister that lets students take the lead as necessary. 

“[Gustin] definitely let Lovett work independently of him,” Barone said. “He was involved, but not too overly involved. We want the magister to let us do our own thing but be there when we need her for support.”

As she prepares to step into the role this July, Niedzielski’s enthusiasm is evident. 

“I’m just really excited,” Niedzielski said. “[I] just can’t wait to sort of jump in.”  

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