Sunday, March 24, 2019

By Lois Gray

Nelson helps youth flourish through music and literacy

Some people give roses as a birthday gift. Others dote on their loved ones with chocolates, plan a trip, or throw a party.

Michael Nelson (MD, ’71) chose a more creative way to honor his wife's birthday.

Michael surprised Jananne “Nan” (Ferring) Nelson (BA, ’69) by creating the Jananne F. Nelson Elementary Education Scholarship Fund in her honor.

The gift will help students pursuing a degree in elementary education with a preference to College of Education students specializing in literacy.

The Nelsons both have extraordinary careers and have transformed thousands of lives through their contributions to medicine and education.

Michael says he was inspired to give a gift in honor of Nan to recognize and celebrate her more than five decades of commitment to the field of education – and to continue to provide opportunities for future teachers to impact lives.


Couple smiling together

Michael adds that he also created the scholarship in Nan’s honor because she put him through medical school at the UI Carver College of Medicine by teaching kindergarten in Iowa City.

Nan, who was the first kindergarten teacher at Ernest Horn Elementary School, later went back and got her licensure in early childhood education.

“Kids are my passion,” Nan says. “I love working with this age group and seeing how both music and literacy impact their lives.”

For 35 years, Nan has also used her education by teaching pre-school children through the Kinder Konzerts program, a volunteer endeavor offered through Friends of the Minnesota Orchestra in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The program reaches more than 6,000 pre-school children, parents, and teachers every year. For many of these children, this is their first exposure to classical music.

This program brings great joy to Nan, who witnesses young people who may have never seen an orchestral instrument, blossom through interacting with violins, trumpets, or flutes.

The program introduces preschoolers to a commissioned piece of music written specifically for their age group and tied to a familiar book such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

“The piece is then played by an ensemble of musicians on stage. The children get to sit on the stage and feel the vibrations of the music and find out about the instruments,” Nan explains.

Nan has always been especially drawn to this age group.

“I think the children come with such curiosity, and there is a window in brain development, that if they are introduced to classical music from the ages of 3 to 5 or 6, if they felt it in their bones at that age, they still retain it, and they are forever enriched by music,” Nan says.

Not only has Nan been involved with Kinder Konzerts for more than 30 years, but she has also written a children’s book, “My Day With Anka,” after taking a class in the UI Summer Writing Program.

“My education from the College of Education has served me well over the years,” Nan says, “and it will always have a special place in my heart.”

Michael Nelson honored with Distinguished Alumni Award for Service


Woman and man riding in car in homecoming parade

Michael Nelson (MD '71), a globally minded radiologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, was honored with the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award for Service from the University of Iowa Center for Advancement.

Nelson has dedicated his career to advancing the worldwide teaching, research, and development of breast imaging to improve breast cancer detection. Much of his outreach focuses on northern Tanzania, where he regularly mentors and trains hospital workers, deploys much-needed medical equipment, and has established a foundation to develop an extensive cancer care system, serving 16 million patients across the region. 

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Read more from the 2018-2019 Alumni Magazine.