Behind the Lens at the College of Southern Maryland

College of Southern Maryland Lead Photography Coordinator Valerie Nyce was awarded the Gold Medallion of Excellence by the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations for original photography.

CSM’s Photographer Val Nyce Earns Gold Award from NCMPR

Often before her first cup of coffee, Valerie Nyce is evaluating the probability of a beautiful sunrise. While peering through the viewfinder of her Nikon, she frames shots of the vibrant red, orange and purple backdrops as the sun rises over the Wicomico River outside her backdoor. “Every morning is different–every sunrise is different,” said Nyce of the ritual that began when she opened a Facebook account several years ago and wasn’t sure what to post there. In addition to spectacular sunrises, the College of Southern Maryland’s lead photography coordinator posts her images of soaring bald eagles and flora and fauna she finds on her rounds of Southern Maryland.

Seeing the world anew each day is something that keeps photography fresh for Nyce and that is what judges at the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations (NCMPR) saw when they awarded her with a Gold Medallion of Excellence for original photography. 

“I can’t express how very fortunate we are to have a dedicated photographer at CSM of the caliber of Valerie Nyce. She is an outstanding photographer and photojournalist who has been telling the stories of the college, our students and events through her visual talents for 15 years,” said CSM Vice President of Advancement Michelle Goodwin. “Everyone in the Southern Maryland community knows Val and appreciates her work ethic and level of expertise. Many other organizations wish they had a Val of their own, but we have her.”

Nyce is the sole photographer on staff at a college with more than 26,000 enrollments, 800 faculty and 100 programs of study, and where she covers events at campuses in La Plata, Prince Frederick and Leonardtown as well as the college’s Center for Trades and Energy Training in Waldorf, Center for Transportation Training in La Plata, Center for Nuclear Engineering Training in Prince Frederick and the Waldorf Center for Higher Education.

When Nyce turns the camera on some people their reactions run from “oh, no you don’t” as they try to pull the inside of their jacket up over their head, to hamming up by striking a model pose, tossing head back and swinging a hip out. “Reactions run both ends of the spectrum, but in the end, [the reluctant subjects] usually give it up and let me do my job,” she said.

Over the 15 years she has worked at CSM, Nyce estimates that she has shot more than 3,000 events and countless portraits, and she is charged with maintaining the college’s institutional photo archive as well as the tens of thousands of photos she has taken. She approaches each shoot looking for ways to capture the essence of the event in a unique and artistic way. She is not opposed to climbing a ladder or gaining access to a roof to snap a high-angle shot. She photographs 18- to 60-year-old graduates crossing the stage after accepting their degrees as well as 4- and 5-year-olds, in caps and gowns, graduating from the college’s St. Charles Children’s Learning Center on the La Plata Campus. The adult graduates squirm just a little less, she said.

Nyce also shoots nearly all the photos used in brochures on academic programs and community education materials. It was her work for marketing materials to promote one of the newest programs offered by CSM, its Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Passenger/School Bus Endorsement Upgrade Course, that garnered a nod from NCMPR. The exaggerated perspective photo of a school bus looking from its side-view,  fish-eyed mirror was used on the front cover of the Spring 2012 Continuing Education Workforce Development schedule as well as on the inside cover to promote the course.

“It’s unique for an institution as large as CSM not to use stock photos to promote programs. When people see materials from CSM, they are seeing CSM students on one of our campuses or facilities–not a staged generic photo that was purchased online,” said Goodwin.

Nyce, a longtime resident of Southern Maryland, became interested in photography as a teen. “I loved it, but I never thought of photography as a job,” she said, adding that she didn’t feel she had the competitive nature or fortitude to work a crime scene or photograph people at sorrowful or tragic moments. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and took photography classes at CSM where her instructor in the 1980s, John Kopp, continues to be a great support system for her. “Everything I learned about photography started with him,” she said, adding that she was his student assistant and later worked for him in the CSM’s Community Relations Department where she continues to work. 

“I enjoy capturing people at happy times,” said Nyce of her favorite shoots involving students during spring or fall picnics.  She doesn’t put herself in the category of a commercial artist or creative photographer, instead, she says, “The shot is there–I see it and I capture it.”

During CSM’s Winter Commencement on Jan. 17, Nyce will be toting a camera bag with more than 25 pounds of back-up batteries and back-ups to the back-up batteries, and a back-up camera and flash. Capturing the emotion of a ceremony marking the end of a long and often winding road for many students is gratifying, she said, and when a youngster bolts down the bleachers with a bouquet of flowers for his newly graduated mom, Nyce will be there to capture their embrace.

To view Nyce’s work, visit