Daniel Olson

Clinical Associate Professor, Anatomy, Department of Biological Sciences

Daniel Olson

What year did you start working at NIU?
1985

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
Alliance, Nebraska, is my hometown. I now reside in DeKalb, Illinois.

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, B.S., education, 1979.
University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, M.S., anatomy, 1983.
Northern Illinois University, Ed.D., adult and continuing education, 1996.

Do you have a college age or college-bound student?
I have two children who are graduates of NIU. My son, Michael, earned an MBA degree from NIU following the receipt of his civil engineering degree from the University of Illinois. My daughter, Emily, graduated from NIU with her bachelor's degree in political science. 

What do you like about working at NIU?
I am proud to call NIU my home for personal and professional development, and I am so thankful for the many individuals who have been instrumental in my development. I began my career at NIU in 1985 as a faculty assistant on a temporary contract, and Marvin Starzyk, chair, was a wonderful mentor and supporter. When I earned my doctoral degree in 1996, Pat Vary, chair, was instrumental in converting my position to a more stable SPS contract. Chris Hubbard, biological sciences professor, and I enjoyed a long association with each other, and I learned so much from him. Finally, Barrie Bode, former chair, led the Department of Biological Sciences with grace and good humor, and I will always be grateful for his leadership in transitioning my position from SPS to its current title of clinical associate professor.

No matter the title, the students have always been the best part of my positions. Online or face-to-face, I love instructing and engaging my students in the courses I teach.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
The same advice I learned in my own experiences within higher education, and the advice I gave to my own children as they graduated high school, attended Kishwaukee College, and then the university: that positive traits, including, but not limited to, conscientiousness, organization, attitude, determination, respect and perseverance, lead to success, not only in the classroom, but also in life. 

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
Over the years, I have mentored several Research Rookies projects, numerous undergraduate engaged learning projects and research projects within the human anatomical sciences graduate program. All of these projects have involved work within the human anatomy laboratory, which I direct. The opportunities to mentor these types of projects is so fulfilling, as the positive traits I outlined in the previous question are on full display within the undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, I am continually amazed at the creativity inherent within these projects. Engaged learning projects, in addition to teaching, are without a doubt one of the most fulfilling aspects of my experiences at NIU. 

What do you hope students take away from your class?
Critical thinking. As a university professor, a central tenet of my teaching philosophy is critical thinking. Drawing on my educational background, I strive to use solid pedagogical strategies and techniques to develop my students' critical thinking skills. Writing letters of recommendation, and respecting and supporting my students at all times, completes the central tenets of my teaching philosophy. When I was in graduate school, my professors supported me in many ways, including writing positive letters of recommendation. I am happy to give back to my students by supporting them in the same ways. 

Although I am an educator, I believe my role extends far beyond dispensing anatomical information to my students. That is why, among other things, I learn my students' names, host a meet-and-greet early in the semester, talk with my students outside of class, and respect my students by coming to class on time and prepared, and doing what I say I am going to do. In short, I am a role model, and I continually strive to be the best that I can be, and to instill in my students the drive and desire to be the best that they can be. 

What is your favorite campus event?
STEM Fest. Anatomy is such a visual subject, and it is just cool to recruit our anatomy student volunteers to teach anatomy to the children and adults, utilizing models and actual human material (brains, hearts, kidneys). Dr. Mary McGinn, biological sciences preceptor and our outreach coordinator, has done a wonderful job creating child-friendly items (brain hats, coloring activities, etc.) and facilitating our entire STEM Fest presence. 

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
Without a doubt, when I graduated from NIU with my doctoral degree. It had taken six years, as I was working full time at NIU and attending my courses in the evenings. I was also newly married, building a deck and finishing the basement in our newly purchased home, and Michael was born in 1995. I was so proud to be hooded and receive my degree in front of my friends and family. Earning my doctoral degree had been my goal since as far back as I can remember, and I am so thankful my father was there, as he passed away just two years later. 

Who has influenced your professional path?
In addition to the biological sciences faculty members already acknowledged, Dr. Ernie Prentice, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, held an Ed.D. degree and was also an anatomist. As it turned out, I ended up following a similar path. As a student, I very much viewed Dr. Prentice as a role model, and he most definitely helped shape me to become the teacher I now am.

Within the College of Education at the time, Robert Smith (Learning How To Learn) and John Niemi (Human Resource Development) were two of my favorites. Phyllis Cunningham (Radical Feminism) opened my eyes to a whole different way of thinking about things, and I am forever grateful for her teachings and insights. 

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I always thought I wanted to be a physician, following in the footsteps of my father. My father was a general practice physician who also graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. So, as I completed my M.S. degree, I also applied to the medical school. My application was soundly rejected. In retrospect, that rejection was one of the best things that ever happened to me. As I reviewed my past and pondered my future, I realized that teaching, especially higher education teaching, was my true passion. Two years later, I was the successful applicant for the faculty assistant position within biological sciences at NIU. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. 

Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional 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?
Yes, I am a member of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) and the American Association for Anatomy (AAA). Both organizations, but especially HAPS, are very supportive of graduate student development. I always encourage our human anatomical sciences graduate students to join these organizations. The membership fees are low, they both hold annual meetings, both organizations provide financial support for student projects, and they both provide opportunities for students to publish their work. In fact, several of our graduate and undergraduate students have published their work in the HAPS journal.

What community organizations are you involved in?
None currently, but we have hosted a Kiwanis meeting in the anatomy laboratory, and I have presented a STEM Cafe on NIU's donor body program. 

What do you do to relax or recharge?
I am a longtime member of NIU's FIT program (now FITWell). A weight room with treadmills is next door to the anatomy laboratory, and the men's locker room is across the hall. It really could not be any more convenient. In addition, I reintroduced myself to golf this past summer. Although a little frustrating at first, I found it to be fun and relaxing. 

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