Gudrun Nyunt

Assistant Professor, Counseling and Higher Education

Gudrun Nyunt

What year did you start working at NIU?

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
Bregenz, Austria, and Naperville, Illinois.

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz, class of 2004, B.A. in journalism, and University of Connecticut, class of 2006, M.A. in education with a specialization in higher education and student affairs.

In what department do you work?
Counseling and Higher Education

Were you a first-generation college student? If so, what advice would you offer to current first generation students?
While my parents both have college degrees, they attended college in Austria, so I knew little about the U.S. higher education system before starting my undergraduate degree. My advice to first-generation students (domestic and international) is to develop your support system. Find student affairs staff members, academic advisors and/or faculty who can provide you with the information you need to successfully navigate the college environment. You do not have to do this on your own!

What do you like about working at NIU?
One of my favorite parts of working at NIU is the ability to work with a diverse group of students. Our students bring their life experience to the classrooms, which enhances the conversations we have and the learning that happens. They are not afraid to challenge the status quo and are eager to hone their abilities to advocate for and create change in our society.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
Make the most of your college experience. College is not only about courses, but also about the connections and relationships you build and the learning that happens outside of the classroom. Push yourself to try new things and be open to new experiences.

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
Three of our doctoral students and I conducted a research project aimed to understand students' motivations for pursuing an Ed.D. in higher education. We interviewed current students and recent alumni of our program. We were able to present our findings at the Association for the Study of Higher Education conference and publish an article in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. But more importantly, the project allowed our doctoral students to gain experience conducting research, which made them feel more comfortable when entering the dissertation stage of our program. In addition, we gained valuable insights into the motivations that draw students to our program.

What do you enjoy most about mentoring students?
As a faculty member teaching in graduate programs in higher education and student affairs, I prepare graduate students to work as administrators at higher education institutions. One of the aspects I love about mentoring future higher education and student affairs professionals is learning about their hopes for the future of our field. I know our field is in good hands with our students and they will change our field and our institution for the better.

What do you hope students take away from their college experience?
I hope that students not only learn content knowledge, but also learn to be critical consumers of knowledge. I want our students to question the status quo, to challenge accepted knowledge and to help move our society forward.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
A couple years ago, I had a conversation with a doctoral student. She was raising young children at the time and struggling to balance work, school and her parenting responsibilities. In the conversation, she shared how inspired she was by seeing me teach class while breastfeeding and playing with my infant daughter. I had no idea some students saw me as a role model. Her comments not only reaffirmed for me the importance of showing up in the classroom as my authentic self, but also made me realize the strong community we have in our program and at NIU, where students, faculty and staff support each other and recognize that we are not just students or faculty members or staff members, but human beings with lives outside the university.

What’s one thing about NIU that’s surprised you?
I was surprised to see that NIU sponsors the Wi-Fi at Naperville's Centennial Beach. Whenever we go there, my 4-year old daughter will point out the NIU signs and say, "Mommy, why are there pictures of your work here?"

What fulfills you personally and professionally?
I believe in fostering social change and working toward a more equitable world. My job at NIU allows me to do so by engaging in critical research, fostering changes in policies and practices at the institution, and preparing our students to be change agents.

Which of NIU’s core values align with your own?
NIU's value of equity and inclusion aligns with my own values. I believe that it is all of our responsibility to grapple with and strive to address the injustices of the past; change our policies, practices and social norms to create more equitable environments; and work toward social change.

Have you contributed to any NIU Foundation fundraising campaigns such as the Day of Giving or Huskies United? If yes, why did you decided to support NIU?
Our program recently engaged in some crowdfunding to support the professional development of our graduate students. Specifically, we raised funds to take a delegation of students to the annual convention of the ACPA - College Student Educators International. I attended my first ACPA conference as a master's-level graduate student in 2006. Since then, I have been an active member of the association. ACPA has provided me with the opportunity to continue my own learning while also giving back to the profession and advance our field. I decided to support this crowdfunding initiative because I want our graduate students to have the opportunity to engage in professional associations and see the value of getting involved in professional associations.

Do you keep in touch with any NIU alums? If so, are there any doing something interesting and exciting that we should know about? Please share some information with us and we’ll consider them for a future feature. 
I keep in touch with many of our doctoral program alumni, particularly those who work in the area. Jacob Cushing has continued to advance in his career and has been making amazing changes at the College of Lake County. Cynthia Padilla-Gaytan is continuing her engagement in research despite being in a practitioner role. Jenifer Montag has taken advocacy to the next level, as she uses her dissertation research to challenge the lack of appropriate disability accommodation provisions in prison education. Rachel Pridgen recently co-authored an article with me on departure in student affairs. Valronica Scales and I are working on getting her dissertation published; she just received a second R&R with minor revisions.

Who has influenced your professional path?
One of my mentors is Dr. Sue Saunders, who was my faculty during my master's program. Sue introduced me to the importance of professional association involvement, in particular, the ACPA - College Student Educators International. The ACPA has been my professional home since 2005. Being involved in the ACPA has challenged me to continue learning and growing as an educator, scholar and professional.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I had no idea what higher education and student affairs was. I wanted to be a writer, but realizing that a creative writing career can be challenging, I chose journalism as my undergraduate major. As an undergraduate, I was introduced to the field of higher education and student affairs when working as a resident assistant in my residence hall. I loved working with and supporting students, which led me to pursue a master's in higher education and student affairs.

Are you participating in or have you participated in any NIU shared governance or professional development groups? If so, how has your participation enhanced your experience as an employee?
I am currently the vice chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW). My involvement in PCSW has allowed me to develop relationships with faculty and staff across campus, while working on causes I believe in and fostering change on campus.

Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional or community organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I am on the ACPA - College Student Educators International's ACPA at 100 steering committee. The American College Personnel Association (ACPA), headquartered in Washington, D.C., at the National Center for Higher Education, is the leading comprehensive student affairs association that advances student affairs and engages students for a lifetime of learning and discovery. Being involved in the ACPA has challenged me to engage in continuous professional development, challenge the status quo in our field and identify ways we can move our profession forward. My involvement has shaped the research topics I examine. It also allows me to stay connected to practitioners, which has fostered my ability to bridge the gap of research and practice in my teaching.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
My husband and I used to dance West Coast swing. We taught part time at the May I Have This Dance studio in Chicago and competed regularly on the West Coast swing circuit. Since we've had children, we have not spent as much time dancing, but I hope we will get back into it as our kids get older.

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