Nick Siedentop loves working behind the scenes

The Massey Award winner’s contributions to Carolina’s curriculum are vital but often hard to see.

Portrait of Nick Siedentop sitting down at a table inside his office.
Nick Siedentop played a critical behind-the-scenes role in the creation of Carolina's IDEAS in Action curriculum while managing multiple other projects, like the implementation of the Transfer Course Re-Evaluation System. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

If you’re a student who’s signed up for a class at Carolina or a faculty member who made sure your course was listed correctly online, you’ve unknowingly crossed paths with Nick Siedentop.

“I love working behind the scenes,” says Siedentop, the curriculum director in the Office of Undergraduate Curricula at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Siedentop, a Carolina employee since 2008, is one of this year’s Massey Award recipients. The honor goes to employees who make “unusual, meritorious or superior contributions.”

His behind-the-scenes work contributes to projects that impact all Tar Heels.

He played a key role in the creation of the University’s current General Education Curriculum, IDEAS in Action, and the implementation of the transfer course reevaluation system. Among other responsibilities, Siedentop continually reviews academic program proposals for majors, minors and new courses.

But he jokes that his Steele Building co-workers probably nominated him for the Massey because of his Monday morning deliveries of homemade baked goods. “You keep bringing enough cookies, it’ll happen, right?” Siedentop says with a laugh.

His colleagues say Siedentop’s attention to detail and ability to concurrently manage multiple big projects shine through.

“His work may often be invisible to the wider university community, but it has a huge impact on every undergraduate who moved through a program at UNC,” one nominator writes of Siedentop.

“In my 34-year career at UNC, I have never known a more ideal nominee for this award,” another writes.

His upbringing as a musician both introduced Siedentop to higher-education administration and helped hone several of the skills needed for his work.

A native of Southern California and a clarinet player, Siedentop earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He went on to get a Master of Music degree from the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, where he worked in the admissions office.

“I got into sort of the administrative side of things as a student worker, which was a lot of fun,” he said.

He later worked at the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado as an assistant dean at one of the nation’s top classical music programs for high school and college students.

Siedentop then moved to Chapel Hill to be with his partner, a political science professor. He enjoys running as a hobby and still happily plays the clarinet. He’s a member of the Triangle Wind Ensemble, which holds a couple of performances around the area each year.

“That’s been a joy,” Siedentop says.

He draws a parallel between playing music and his work at Carolina in terms of attention to detail, practicing for perfection and working well with others.

“When you’re a musician, you’re collaborating with others. You’re having to communicate how you want to perform a particular piece or interpret a particular aspect of it,” Siedentop says. “That kind of collaboration has certainly transferred to this type of work where you’re put together on teams to solve a particular issue or work on a new project.”

One of Siedentop’s favorite projects at Carolina has been the IDEAS in Action curriculum. “That was an opportunity to really think big and think bold and just take some risks in terms of what we can potentially put out there for our students,” he says.

He also liked transitioning the paper-based academic catalog to an online format in 2016, a move he says gave students more accurate information on what courses they should take and for what reasons.

Regardless of the specific assignment at Carolina, Siedentop has especially enjoyed working with people who are “so sharp, so smart, talented and creative.”

It’s clear those who work with Siedentop feel the same way about him.