Since 2003 Nelson has been teaching at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), where her classes and research explore how digital media can support the underserved populations of the world through public health, education and culture.
Nelson is a widely published author. Her 2009 book Red Orchestra describes the way media was used for both propaganda and resistance in Nazi Germany, and was published to wide acclaim in the U.S. and Germany. In October 2017, Simon & Schuster published her book Suzanne’s Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris, telling the story of a rescue network in Paris that saved hundreds of Jewish children from deportation. The Wall Street Journal praised the way the book “vividly dramatizes the stakes of acting morally in a time of brutality.” It was named a finalist in the National Jewish Book Awards. The work was published as Codename: Suzette in the UK, and as La Vie Heroique de Suzanne Spaak by Robert Laffont in France. It is available as an audiobook, read by Nelson, and was released in paperback in October 2018.
Nelson’s play The Guys, based on her experiences following the September 11th attacks, has been produced in all fifty states, fifteen countries, and as a feature film. It has been widely used to fund local fire departments and related causes such as trauma counseling and burn treatment centers.
Nelson also has long experience in philanthropy. She has consulted for the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation, among others, in areas of human rights, freedom of expression, social and economic development, and media policy.
Nelson is a graduate of Yale University, a 2005 Guggenheim fellow, and a 2013 Bellagio Fellow. She is a fellow at the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia, and a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities and the Council on Foreign Relations.