Vivian Jenkins Nelsen

Founder and President

Company: The Hypatia Group
Role: Session Presenter

2020 Conference Session: The Nine Steps to Collaboration: Create Cultures of Purpose, Inclusion and Equity (SEM-K)

Vivian Jenkins Nelsen juggles a schedule that would seem to belong to more than one person. She is the owner of The Hypatia Group, Inc., the co-president of the Diversity Institute, Inc., in Minneapolis, and an adjunct professor and consultant for Luther Seminary. Yet she still has enough time to serve as vice president and secretary for Clearway Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that has a mission of improving the health of Minnesotans by reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke through research, action and collaboration.

Vivian is the co-founder, along with her late husband George, of INTER-RACE, a diversity think tank located at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. She and her late husband met at Dana College in Nebraska, where she was a distinguished alumnus and a Bush Leadership Fellow at Harvard University. In 1969, two years after leaving Dana College and living in Minnesota, the Nelsens were married and stayed together for 41 years, until 2010 when George Nelsen passed on.

Vivian is a nationally and internationally recognized and highly sought-after diversity consultant, trainer, planner, researcher and lecturer, who speaks to thousands of people about life, leadership, change, grief and diversity. As a consultant, she works directly with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Her list of corporate clients includes UnitedHealth Group, The St. Paul Companies, The Federal Reserve Bank, The Mayo Clinic and Children’s Hospitals, to name just a few.

Four United States presidents have recognized Vivian for her work. Presidents Carter and Reagan invited her to the White House to provide her expertise on urban policies during their administrations. President Ford recognized her work with Southeast Asian refugees. “My favorite award is from President Barack Obama,” confides Vivian, who was recognized first by the Department of Veteran Affairs for her longtime advocacy of African American veterans. She was nominated, then vetted, and received the award from President Obama in 2014.

Vivian has found time to author 11 books, many articles and essays on group facilitation, diversity, conflict and grief. However, the publication that she is most proud of is “Ethnic Variations in Death, Dying and Grief: Diversity in Universality,” which was published in 1993 by the largest textbook publisher in the world, Taylor and Francis. This book takes a close look at ethnic variations in dying, death and grief by understanding cultural difference. In the past 20 years, this book had a total of 17 revised editions and is still relevant and popular in the world of academia.

While her résumé is impressive with prominent titles and positions, more impressive is her volunteer work. Since her arrival to Minnesota in 1967, Vivian has held 28 board of director seats with Minnesota nonprofits. She has been involved as the president of the League of Women Voters and many other board roles.

Also a classically trained pianist with a degree in piano performance, Vivian’s eyes will light up while sharing a story about playing in an Omaha jazz club and restaurant with her piano teacher—a gig that led to her meeting singer Eartha Kitt. Vivian was fresh out of college and still living in Omaha working as a counselor for the Job Corps program. After a brief encounter with the famous singer, Vivian was able to persuade Kitt to come to the Job Corps campus to speak with the young women about show business and dancing as a career.

From her immaculate yard care to diversity consultation, research or lecturing, Vivian Jenkins Nelsen does it all and is a true modern-day renaissance woman.

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Photos by Sarah Morreim Photography
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