Alum spotlight: Helen (Panagoulias) Nixon (MFA ’94) Performance

helen headshot

When Helen was in undergrad at Clemson University, Wendy Overly (MFA  ’87 at VCU) was her acting teacher. Helen explains, “Wendy encouraged me to apply to VCU for my masters because she thought that I’d do well. I loved every minute.”

nixon at graduation

About the beginning of her journey into becoming a teacher, Helen credits Dr. James Parker (a retired VCU professor of theatre history and dramatic literature). “Dr. Parker said to get a doctorate and even though he was gone by the time I did, he was right there with me in spirit. He was a big motivator. I loved his sense of humor. I took theatre history twice just to hear him talk.”

After graduation, she became the second drama teacher at Richmond’s Governor’s School for Government and International Studies (which later moved to Maggie Walker). She also married fellow Theatre VCU grad Adam Nixon (MFA ’97), and they moved to NYC after he got into the NYU film program. Eventually, they moved back to Maryland, where she’s been in education for the past 19 years. She taught English and Theatre for Montgomery County Schools before moving into administration. Later, she went to Howard County, MD, then to Fairfax County, and is now back as Associate Superintendent of Human Resources in Montgomery County.

nixon and family

About her first love, Helen says, “I miss acting, that creative outlet. My daughters (Donna & Theodora) have embraced the musical theatre, which is so exciting. My son is a senior at UMD, College Park. He and my daughters love to come visit Richmond and explore VCU.”

COVID presents Helen with double challenges. Not only do her elderly parents live with their family, “but my daughters missed most of 7th grade and some of 8th grade with online learning. But we’re going to roll with it.” At this point, the system will be online until at least Jan 29, then they’ll study the data for the remainder of the year.”  Personally, she and her HR team have been working extensively to figure out plans for their 22,000 plus employees, working closely with local health department and the best practices for moving forward with plans related to opening buildings and provisioning for their students.  “We all want to be back but we need to keep the staff and kids safe.”

“I don’t sleep well and I am stressed.  ‘The Great British Baking Show’ has saved my sanity.”

Helen’s email:

Compiled by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the August 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter