Degrees at Work: Nelson Torres

The halls of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History are quiet. Nelson Torres, a 1997 BS in Liberal Arts graduate, passes by the elephant standing impressive in the rotunda. He is behind the scenes, in the shadows, but he helps ensure all the Smithsonian museums are accessible and ready for the public.

Torres is the associate director of business operations within the Office of Facilities Management and Reliability at the Smithsonian Institution. He oversees the facilities budget and workforce, procurement process, and property management for the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, National Zoo, and a handful of research centers across the country—13 million square feet of space. “I really like business, I really like managing resources and programs, and seeing how those programs work and thrive,” says Torres of his position.

His team is responsible for providing the human, budgetary, and property resources to facilitate the cleanliness, appearance, and maintenance of the iconic Smithsonian Institution facilities. “It’s a lot of the back room, enterprise sort of thing that people don’t see and maybe take for granted that will always work,” he explains. He may work behind the exhibits, but he enjoys seeing the payoff every day. That’s what gets him up in the morning. Says Torres, “It just really is seeing that tangible result; that the visitor experience goes on uninterrupted, and that it’s a good experience here at the Smithsonian.”

He is dedicated but also credits his staff for making his job so enjoyable. “They are one of the reasons why I come to work. It’s a very pleasant, very collegial, very nurturing environment…I love that my work involves people and budgets and procurements, but it also involves working with the staff of different museums and different art galleries or the National Zoo or a research center and possibly finding a common theme that we all can work together toward.”

At the end of each day, Torres leaves feeling physically and mentally tired, but more than that, he says he often wonders, “Did I do enough? Did I do enough today to ensure that tomorrow is going to be a great day for not only our staff but for our visiting public?”

In his position, he often thinks about the next day; it’s important to think strategically about what’s next. In this respect, Torres’s job is never over. But that’s how he likes it. He says, “I love making magic, and I love making things happen.”


More advice from Nelson Torres:

How to Prepare for a Job in Business Management: “It is very helpful to have a degree. If you want to do HR or budget or contracting, there are degrees specific to that. I have a very broad business degree and it’s in management, and it’s what I enjoy doing. So, if you want to do what I do, management is probably the career path you want to go. You also want to have technical expertise in personnel, contracting, and that sort of thing. Business management allows you to be flexible and be able to do all those sorts of specific functions.”

Thoughts on Leadership: “I think part of being a good leader is knowing when to step in and when to stand back. So, I don’t always have to lead nor do I have to always manage everything…. I don’t want things to look like or sound like it’s all centered around me.”

Advice for people changing careers or going after new career: Sometimes you have to take risks. Torres never thought he would be working at Smithsonian, but he put himself out there and here he is. “Be open to new experiences and broad experiences. Bring different perspectives. Exercise a little bit of patience, though; some things take time,” he says.

Why He Chose Excelsior: Torres accumulated lots of credits from multiple schools over years and Excelsior took many of those credits.