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10 Questions: Get to know Gary Nelson

“10 Questions” is a new feature on Contact where we’ll get to know School of Social Work people better by asking them 10 personal questions. This month we interview Professor Gary Nelson.

1. What is your favorite movie?
My favorite movie of late is “Tree of Life” directed by Terrence Malick. I enjoyed in particular the juxtaposition of the elements of ‘grace’ and ‘nature’, the feminine and masculine qualities of life.

2. What is your favorite place to visit?
Hawaii. I lived there for a couple of years after graduate school, the Manoa Valley above Honolulu. I taught at the University. I loved the people and culture, the interplay of community, family, and the natural environment.

3.  If you could teach in another department at UNC, what would it be?
Probably the School of Business. I like the growth of interest in business for social entrepreneurship and the environment, the concept of sustainable development and practice. I think they are on the cutting edge of a new way of doing ‘business’, a more holistic model for what they call achieving ‘net impact’ the integration of social, environmental, and economic benefits for the public at-large.

4.  Who is the person in history you’d most like to meet?
Albert Einstein, I really like his multidimensional approach to life and his place in the world. Quotes from Einstein: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’. Knowledge always changes, imagination and creativity our constants. And ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.’ In this I like the notion of fluidity and emergence, the interplay of the tangible and intangible properties of life, science and art.

5.  Who do you admire and why?
Bill Friday, former president of the UNC system. I admire his approach to life and service. He models a mixture of great humility, strength of character and values that emphasize service to family, community, state and nation. He is also an incredibly positive model for successful aging. He is still involved with life at 90.

6.  If you could spend three hours doing anything, what would it be?
I would spend it fly fishing on a beautiful stream in the mountains of southern Idaho. A good portion of my heart lies still in Idaho and in the mountains where I spent so many of my formative ‘growing up’ years.

7.  What talents do you have outside of your faculty work?
I think I have an instinct for visual design. I recently took a class on ‘drawing with the right side of the brain’ and discovered a ‘certain’ hidden talent for drawing. I would like to explore this area more. I also think I have a talent for visualizing the design of complex systems. Finally along the lines of design, my father was a builder of homes, perhaps that is where I derived some of my visual and design instincts.

8.  What is the best thing about your family?
The thing I like most about my family, my elders, and my children is their commitment to the value of public service.

9.  What is the best thing about working at Carolina?
The best thing I like about working at Carolina is the flexibility and creativity afforded by this academic setting. There is no real limit to how one can best contribute to their community whether through research, teaching or public engagement.

10.  Where did you go for your last vacation?
Bald Head Island. We have a place at Bald Head. I love the unspoiled natural environment on this island getaway, long bike rides at sunrise and dusk and time spent in the renewing surf.