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Nelson Institute

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About the Nelson Institute

The Nelson Institute is a concrete manifestation of James Madison University's commitment to meet both the educational requirements of its students in a changing world and its own need to respond to the real world challenges faced by society today.  It is housed in and reports to the Department of Justice Studies at JMU.


The Institute advances several university priorities:

  • Offering quality academic programs
  • Being innovative in developing programs
  • Developing optimal student competencies in written and oral communication, critical thinking, information systems, and quantitative literacy
  • Encouraging civic and community engagement through partnerships with community agencies focused on advancing justice


The Nelson Institute supports a range of activities and offers unique opportunities for service learning, civic engagement, policy oriented research, symposiums and lectures, and other events designed to foster engagement and discussion by faculty, students, and members of the community.

History of the Nelson Institute

Dr. William R. Nelson was Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Law and Head Emeritus of the Department of Political Science at James Madison University.  The Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs, originally the William R. Nelson Institute for Public Affairs, was established in 1998 by Dr. Ronald Carrier, fourth president of JMU, as a tribute to Dr. Nelson.  Dr. Nelson passed away in 2008.  

Past directors include Dr. Stephen R. Bowers, whose work through the Institute focused on Eastern Europe, terrorism, and intelligence, and who is now at Liberty University, and Dr. J. Peter Pham, who helped expand the work of the Institute to other areas, including Africa, religion and global politics, and international ethics and justice.  Dr. Pham is currently the Director of the Africa Center of the Atlantic Council.

The center is currently under the direction of Dr. Peggy Plass, whose research interests are in the areas of criminal victimization of children, property crime victimization, domestic violence, and evaluation of offender rehabilitation programs. Under the direction of Dr. Plass, the work of the Nelson Institute centers around engaging with global and local communities around issues of justice.