Nichols honored with 2021 McKay Donkin Award

April 22, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — John S. Nichols, professor emeritus of communications and international affairs in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, is the winner of Penn State's 2021 McKay Donkin Award.

Established in 1969 in honor of the late McKay Donkin, who served as vice president and treasurer of the University from 1957 to 1968, the award is presented to a full-time member of the faculty or staff or to a retiree who has contributed most to the “economic, physical, mental or social welfare of the faculty” of the University. The contribution should be for duties or services above and beyond the recipient’s regularly assigned duties.

Nominees said Nichols, who arrived at Penn State in 1977 and retired in 2010, never stopped making an impact at Penn State. He was a founding faculty member in what is now the Bellisario College of Communications and held numerous leadership positions in the college, such as the associate dean for graduate studies and research, department head, and an elected representative in the University Faculty Senate. In 2001-02, he chaired the University Faculty Senate.

However, nominators said, Nichols’ most influential leadership role was mentoring others.

“I am grateful for the insight he shared on leadership and management; he also helped me develop a strong philosophy of shared governance that has guided my decision-making,” a nominator said. “He is, to this day, still an informal adviser to me and to others.” 

Nichols remains active in the college. He recently joined colleagues in establishing an Educational Equity Scholarship for undergraduate students and gave financially to the cause. He serves on the advisory board for the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication after serving as its founding director from 2004 until his retirement. Until recently he offered guest lectures and taught graduate level courses.

One area he had great impact was accompanying undergraduate students and faculty members to Cuba as part of several travel-embedded courses and familiarization tours of the island. Nichols is an expert on Cuban politics, media and culture. When Penn State’s baseball team played historic exhibition games in Cuba in 2015, Nichols helped plan the educational/athletic experience and was an in-country resource. 

Nichols was active on the Senate’s Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics and was a founder and chair of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a national alliance of faculty senates.  

“His contributions to the welfare of the faculty at Penn State, over many years, have few equals,” a nominator said. “I am exceedingly proud that he is part of the Bellisario College of Communications and is a trusted colleague and mentor to so many.” 

Last Updated April 22, 2021