During his time at the University of Maryland, David Nelson ’11 divided his time amongst a number of undergraduate organizations: serving as president of the Sigma Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society; founding the University Traditions Initiative; working as a writing consultant at the University Writing Center; serving as an undergraduate representative on the Facilities Master Planning Steering Committee and the Committee to Inaugurate President Wallace Loh; and playing the mellophone in the “Mighty Sound of Maryland” Marching Band, to name a few.
Today, Nelson serves as Protocol Officer and Social Secretary to the Ambassador at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, crediting a large part of his post-graduate success to yet another UMD organization with which he is proud to be affiliated: the CIVICUS Living & Learning Program.
“CIVICUS had perhaps the single greatest positive impact on my undergraduate career at UMD,” Nelson declared. “It transformed how I view my role as a citizen. Because of CIVICUS, I place tremendous faith in the power of engagement with the community—any community—be it cultural, professional, political, or otherwise.”
This concept of participating in and serving the community shaped Nelson’s Government & Politics goals, leading him to realize that he was interested not only in the implementation of policies but also the behind-the-scenes coordination that makes them possible in the first place: scheduling, event planning, travel coordination, security management, etc.
“On any given day, I liaise with dozens of professionals for whom protocol—the customs and traditions that govern official conduct—is not their expertise or for whom English is not their mother tongue,” Nelson explained. “I have had to learn how to repackage what it is I am trying to communicate to others in a way that is not only easy to understand, but that also properly and succinctly conveys a message.”
“‘Community building in a diverse society’ is one of the central tenets of CIVICUS, the idea of which reflects the essence of my interactions with my colleagues at the Embassy and elsewhere—a sense of togetherness not in spite of but because of our differences,” Nelson went on.
In addition to serving as an advisor to the Ambassador and his staff on matters relating to protocol, Nelson plans more than 250 events and welcomes nearly 3,000 guests to the Embassy each year.
“Making a guest who has traveled from far away not only feel welcome, but more importantly at ease, is one of my favorite parts of my job,” Nelson explained. “When ministers and ambassadors, business leaders and military officials come to the Embassy, my team makes sure all of the logistical arrangements are taken care of and their needs are met so that from the time they arrive to the time they depart, our visitors have everything they need to be successful.”
This passion to make others feel welcome stems from one of Nelson’s favorite CIVICUS memories.
“My favorite part of the program was the people,” Nelson said. “I can remember arriving to campus early for band my freshman year, moving into a mostly empty Somerset Hall and being greeted by my Resident Assistant with a big hug and warm smile. A campus that otherwise felt like a city felt more like a family.”
To keep in touch with his roots, Nelson returns to UMD twice a year to speak about his experience and the importance of protocol. Specifically, Nelson leads a discussion on the relationship between protocol and civility in the fall and teaches a class section focused on business etiquette in the spring. He also makes time for at least one football and one basketball home game each year.
“So much of who we are as graduates we owe to our time at the university,” Nelson pointed out. “Giving back to our campus community with our time and energy is one way to show gratitude.”
To all UMD undergraduates, and specifically his CIVICUS successors, Nelson offers this advice:
“Never be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions. Do right by yourself and by those you love, and always say thank you,” Nelson said. “Through mutual respect and civil discourse, one can have a positive effect on others. This is the bedrock of my profession. This is what I learned from CIVICUS.”