Melissa Cohen-Nickels named curator of Rice’s Joan and Stanford Alexander South Texas Jewish Archives

Program in Jewish Studies

Melissa Cohen-Nickels

Melissa Cohen-Nickels, an experienced educator with a passion for history, has been named the new curator of Rice University’s Joan and Stanford Alexander South Texas Jewish Archives, starting this role in March.

Cohen-Nickels was hired after a national search co-chaired by Amanda Focke, head of special collections at Fondren Library, and Matthias Henze, director of the Program in Jewish Studies and the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies.

“Stepping into the role of curator for the Joan and Stanford Alexander South Texas Jewish Archives is both a privilege and a responsibility,” Cohen-Nickels said. “It’s a chance to safeguard our collective narrative and ensure that the voices of the past continue to resonate in the present.”

Cohen-Nickels has already proven to be a wonderful addition to the Rice Jewish Studies team, Henze said.

“Melissa brings significant knowledge of the Jewish community in Houston, strong experience with donor relationships, creative ideas for outreach and instruction and strong skills in archival practice — all of which make her ideal for this role,” Henze said.

A joint project of the Program in Jewish Studies and the Woodson Research Center, the Joan and Stanford Alexander South Texas Jewish Archives were founded in 2017 in response to the devastations caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Joshua Furman, the Stanford and Joan Alexander Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program in Jewish Studies at the time, became the first curator. Initially the goal of the archives was to rescue the historical documents that were endangered by the floods of Hurricane Harvey.

“Under Josh’s expert leadership, the archives grew significantly, our focus soon shifted, and our mission evolved,” Focke said. “Now our aim is to collect, preserve and make accessible the documents, photographs, artifacts and memories that tell the story of Jewish life in South Texas.”

Cohen-Nickels earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a Master of Education from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. In 2007, she moved to the Houston area to become a history teacher at Fort Bend ISD.

She has taught history at The Emery/Weiner School and at Congregation Beth El in Missouri City. In 2023, she joined the staff of the Joan and Stanford Alexander South Texas Jewish Archives as an assistant to the curator.