Spencer Nilsen

Digital Media Coordinator
San Diego State University
Ex’pression College for Digital Arts - BAS
email: spencer.nilsen [at] sonomaacademy.org
phone: (707) 545-1770 x4125

When Spencer first came to interview on the Sonoma Academy campus, he knew this was not going to be a typical high school. “I immediately noticed all the backpacks that students left unattended everywhere,” he says. “There is a deep level of commitment, trust, and compassion here. Strong bonds develop between students, faculty, and administrators, and the result is a strong sense of responsibility to each other and to the surrounding community.”

True to his musical roots, when we asked about his path to Sonoma Academy, Spencer says, “Oh, I've had a 'Long and Winding Road' of a career path!” He began playing piano and composing music at a very young age and continued to write and produce original music full-time until about 2001. In 1987, he released Architects of Change, his debut solo album. During the next fifteen years, Spencer composed music for several independent films, television commercials, and some of the biggest video games of the day, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Batman Returns, Ecco the Dolphin, Jurassic Park, and Spider-Man. He served as Music Director at SEGA games, where he also shepherded the development and management of a music label and large recording complex in San Francisco.

After running his own music production company for several years, Spencer pivoted into education, helping to establish Ex'pression Center for Digital Arts, later know as Ex'pression College, in Emeryville. As the Program Director, he oversaw curriculum and taught in several subject areas, including Sound Arts, Media Design, Video and Filmmaking. In 2006, he became President of the college, and he guided it through significant growth until 2011. The following year, Spencer started a 3D animation and motion graphics company, Illumina Studios, which specialized in visual storytelling for cutting-edge scientific research firms, universities, government organizations, and entertainment companies such as Amyris, California Department of Public Health, Disney/Pixar, Old Navy, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and many others.

“I've always enjoyed kids and teaching,” says Spencer. “When the opportunity at Sonoma Academy presented itself, I jumped at the chance to be a part of this amazing community and contribute my breadth of knowledge and experience. I absolutely love all forms of art and expression, and I find the environment here to be full of all the right ingredients to nurture imagination and exploration.”

From his exciting Intersession courses to his Exploratories exploring all manner of digital media and sound production to his deep involvement with theater and events, Spencer has dug into life at Sonoma Academy, beloved by students and staffulty alike. “I think my favorite part of the day at Sonoma Academy is lunchtime, not only because we we are served a bounty of fresh, organic food on a daily basis, but also because you can very quickly get a snapshot of what's happening on campus,” he says. “ It's exciting to be among the entire campus population, sharing ideas, and hearing about various sporting events, performances, and rehearsals. SA is an incredibly dynamic and positive place, not unlike a living organism that is always changing, growing, and evolving to be better.”

A devoted family man, Spencer loves to spend time with his adult children, Kira and Skyler, and 20 month-old granddaughter, Charlie. “My wife and soulmate of 32 years, Claire, and I are extremely blessed to have healthy, happy, and independent children who are following their own dreams,” he says. He also loves to hike, camp, mountain bike, play music with friends, score movies and games, and create things with his hands and brain.
There is a deep level of commitment, trust, and compassion here. Strong bonds develop between students, faculty, and administrators, and the result is a sense of responsibility to each other and to the surrounding community.

Sonoma Academy Is...

Sonoma Academy is the only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On our beautiful campus nestled at the base of Taylor Mountain in Southeastern Santa Rosa, our students are able to explore their interests and passions in a rigorous and inspiring environment that develops a lifelong love of learning and prepares them for college and beyond.