Ford Scholar alumna Analicia Nicholson returns home to “Listen, learn and lead”
Analicia Nicholson just started the biggest job she’s ever had: She’s the new superintendent of the Douglas Educational Service District. On a recent Zoom call, she shared her hopes, fears and all the unknowns of the position—and somehow, despite a choppy internet connection, she conveyed total clarity. A sense of calm in a storm of change. A sense of faith in the community she’ll be serving.
It’s her community, after all.
Nicholson grew up here in Southern Oregon, earned a crucial scholarship from The Ford Family Foundation, and then went off to complete two college degrees and expand her horizons beyond anything she had expected.
Then, like many people who love this rural patch of the state, she returned home.
“Douglas County is a very resilient community,” she says. She speaks these words carefully, precisely, like she really wants people to understand. There is affection in her voice.
“Especially during the pandemic, things changed quickly. But our motto in Douglas ESD is ‘Listen, learn, lead,’ and that’s what we did with all our neighbors and their kids. The resilience of our teachers and our community in figuring out how to serve students during the pandemic was impressive.”
Reworking an educational system during COVID-19 was just one challenge she faced in her previous role as deputy superintendent, in which she served K-12 students throughout the region’s 13 school districts and assisted the Douglas ESD’s 300 staff. She also connected schools with the right community partners, found creative ways to involve parents and answered questions. A lot of questions.
In this line of work, the questions come from all directions: teachers, parents, staff, local businesses, government officials and everyone else. They often have to do with various state laws, education best practices and where to find the right resources. They’re often urgent.
Sometimes it’s inspiring to see all these parts come together into a working system—like an ecosystem, Nicholson says. Sometimes it’s challenging.
Her energy for education work grows from a lifelong commitment to health, which she says started when she was a youngster on a Glide ranch.
Health origins in rural life
“Growing up on a ranch with animals, I was the one who was always rescuing the ones that needed help or caretaking,” Nicholson remembers with a grin. In many ways, she’s a perfect representative for the inquisitive, caring rural students in her community. “I’ve always had a passion for health.”
“My priority today is keeping kids at the center of the conversation — ensuring they have a sense of belonging, that they experience success.”
By high school, she knew she wasn’t interested in being a doctor or other practitioner, but she wasn’t sure where that left her. When she went to college, she explored a range of different classes to figure it out. “I stumbled onto public health and it all suddenly came together,” she says.
She stresses the value of preventive health, and how that frame of mind applies to young students, especially in rural communities. This core idea helped her see that education could be a great fit for her — and a great outlet for her health interests. Building assets and resiliency in young children is key to their success in school and through life.
“My priority today is keeping kids at the center of the conversation — ensuring they have a sense of belonging, that they experience success. When that happens, they lead healthier intellectual, emotional and physical lives.”
Nicholson completed her undergraduate degree at Oregon State University in public health education and promotion, and she credits her roommate with introducing her to the field. It was a transformative experience to be drawn into anthropology classes that showed her a new way of seeing cultures and communities, and psychology classes that gave her a glimpse inside her own head.
“Going to OSU provided me the freedom to become myself and develop my strengths and passions,” she says. “I developed a larger worldview. Now I’ve moved back to the same community I grew up in, and I feel like I have the balance of knowing this place while bringing a sense of perspective.”
“Now I’ve moved back to the same community I grew up in, and I feel like I have the balance of knowing this place while bringing a sense of perspective.”
After OSU, she also attended Willamette University, earning her master’s in secondary education and teaching. She’s grateful that she didn’t have to leave OSU with a lot of college debt, since that’s what enabled her to attend the master’s program that was a best fit for her.
All of this was set in motion because of her scholarship from The Ford Family Foundation.
Ford Scholars connect and lead
Like a lot of Oregon students, Nicholson knew generally what the Foundation was growing up, and that it offered college scholarships. She thinks her high school advisor must have turned her on to the program and encouraged her to apply. Advisors play a critical role in the post-high school success of their students.
“The organizers wanted us to feel what it’s like to be a CEO because they believed they had a group of the next leaders. This was the first time I thought ‘Oh, I could be one?’”
From the initial conference onward, Ford Scholars are encouraged to circle back to the Foundation, utilize its people and knowledge resources, and remember that they’re never alone as they chart their educational and professional paths.
“That experience, and having someone send that message, gave me confidence to lead my own journey.”
Oregon and Siskiyou County, California students are encouraged to dream big and follow in the footsteps of leaders like Analicia. Applications open November 1. Information is available on our Scholarships page.
Originally published in 2022.