By Kayla Tucker – Managing Editor
This year’s “40 under 40” list, compiled by the Grand Rapids Business Journal, features Grand Rapids Community College Director of Communications Leah Nixon.
“I’m very humbled and honored by the recognition,” Nixon said. “There are so many men and women in this community doing a lot of great things to make it a great place to live and work.”
Kathy Mullins, Vice President for College Advancement, nominated Nixon for the recognition.
“Under her leadership, the Communications, Marketing, (and) Graphics departments (have) thrived and the college is connecting with our community in a way that we have not connected in the past,” Mullins said. “Leah is a great asset to the college and I am so happy to see her selected for this well deserved honor.”
Nixon describes herself as someone not vying for the attention she’s now receiving.
“I’m just a behind the scenes kind of person,” Nixon said. “I would rather the spotlight shine on other people, so it’s really different for me to have the focus be on me.”
Nixon, 38, grew up in Saginaw in a single-parent household.
“That’s where the foundation of where I come from is,” Nixon said, whose mother raised her and her brothers while working full-time and working on a bachelor’s degree. “Hard work pays off and if you want something, set goals and you can achieve them if you work hard.”
Nixon earned a degree in Journalism from Central Michigan University and later obtained a master’s degree from Ferris State University. She was a reporter at several newspapers including The Bay City Times and Pioneer News before she transitioned to a position in public relations and marketing.
“I was looking for more of a personal, professional challenge,” Nixon said. “An opportunity presented itself and I thought I would try it and see if I liked it and, honestly, it was the career path for me.”
This transition ultimately led Nixon to GRCC. After working at FSU as the Assistant Director of News Services, she was hired in as Director of Communications at GRCC. Since then, she has merged the writers and graphic designers into one department composed of a total of 10 people.
For the past five years, Nixon has been involved on two subcommittees of the American Council on Education, the Young Women Strong Leaders program, which has allowed her to annually organize a conference for collegiate women, and the Public Policy Task Force, a team that deals with initiatives to advance women and girls.
As an advocate for women, Nixon hopes to “pay back” for all the mentoring she received, and still looks to receive, on her professional journey.
“A lot of times when you’re young and you’re starting out in your career, you have a lot of passion and enthusiasm but a lot of times you may not know where to start,” Nixon said. “Connecting to those resources can be difficult. And now I want to be able to give back to others the same resource that was provided to me.”
She is also the sitting president of the Michigan Community College Marketing and Communications Association, which she has been a part of for two years. The association is made up of PR professionals from all Michigan community colleges who discuss current news, issues and projects in their field.
Nixon said that her mom has been the most influential to her success.
“My mom has influenced me the most,” Nixon said. “She has instilled in me a work ethic and a tenacity and a drive that you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Nixon also credited mentors, friends, and family in her life that have helped her get to this point.
In addition to her regular job title, Nixon has been experimenting in other tasks.
“I have started doing some consulting work, doing some strategic planning related to to public relations and marketing,” Nixon said.
Nixon plans on continuing her career at GRCC.
“I have a wonderful team of people that I work with and, honestly, that’s what does it for me,” Nixon said. “You get up every day, enjoy what you do and enjoy the people you work with and that’s what success is.”
To the next generation, Nixon encourages people to stay true to themselves.
“Do what you love and you’ll find success,” Nixon said. “It’s important to step back and take a deep breath and focus on yourself and focus on what’s important to you. Stand up for your ideals and principles, because at the end of the day you’re going to see the benefit of doing that.”