A Full-Circle Journey for Carleton Faculty Member

By Joseph Mathieu

A lifelong curiosity about anthropology and business has taken Rodney Nelson around the world and back, through an academic career that culminates at Carleton’s Fall Convocation.

On Nov. 12, he will receive a PhD in Canadian Studies his fourth degree from Carleton.

“I wanted to go to university, but I wasn’t a very good student,” says Nelson. “Ottawa U, Queen’s, and Carleton all said no, obviously. But on my third visit to Carleton they said, ‘Well, you’re being persistent, that’s a good sign. Take a couple of courses and we’ll let you in if you do well.’”

He did well. Nelson, who grew up all over Canada and in Georgia, in a military family, went on to earn two bachelor’s degrees in psychology and anthropology in 1993 and 1994 as a part-time student. He completed a master’s in anthropology in 1996. He has been a lecturer at Carleton since 2009, became faculty in 2013, and earned a University Teaching Excellence Award in 2015.

As a chartered director who sits on the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association and being Anishinaabe, his studies naturally hinged on the unique corporate governance models of Aboriginal businesses. His thesis examined how First Nations combine their traditional knowledge with conventional corporate practices.

“In everything they do, they consider what’s going to happen seven generations down the road,” explains Nelson. “The current philosophy of grow-or-die is certainly not sustainable in the long run.”

The precursor to his thesis was a report he co-wrote for The Conference Board of Canada in 2008, “From Vision to Venture” that examined case studies of successful Aboriginal businesses and their philosophies.

In 2012, Nelson reached another pinnacle in his career when he became co-ordinator of the Aboriginal Enriched Support Program (AESP) at Carleton’s Centre for Initiatives in Education. To him, it felt like coming full circle.

“The opportunity that Carleton gave me was fantastic, and it’s why I love being a part of the AESP; it’s a way for me to give back.”