Paul Priester

Chair, School of Interdisciplinary Health Professions, College of Health and Human Sciences

Paul Priester

What year did you start working at NIU?

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
Milwaukee, WI, and Rochelle, IL.

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
University of Iowa; B.A. in French
University of Iowa; M.A. in counselor education: rehabilitation counseling
Loyola University, Chicago; Ph.D. in counseling psychology

In which department(s) do you teach?
School of Interdisciplinary Health Professions

What do you like about working at NIU?
The thing that I like most about NIU is the students. I love helping students' dreams come true. We have such interesting, diverse, hard-working students.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
My advice would be to be open to new ideas and opportunities. It is OK if you do not know what you want to do. Explore possibilities that are open to you. The other advice that I always give is, "Suit up and show up." If you have not done the reading or assignments due for class this week, your tendency is to avoid going to class. This guarantees that you will not learn anything. By coming to class and paying attention, you will always learn something. Your classes are a product that you are purchasing (with both your time and money). Get your money's worth.

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
I am writing a paper now that explores subtle ways in which institutional racism is present in the administrative policies of addictions treatment programs. Another project that I am excited about is a research project where we explored the impact of white counselors either admitting or denying that they were racist on the impressions of African American men who were receiving treatment for cocaine addiction. The results showed that white counselors who admitted they were racist were perceived as being more trustworthy than white counselors who denied it.

What do you hope students take away from your class?
I hope that students take away that the educational process can be fun and directly related to their lives. I also hope that I am helping to create lifelong learners. College should be a beginning, an introduction to a life of discovery and inquiry.

What is your favorite campus event?
Does eating lunch at Ellington's count as a campus event? The student-run restaurant in the Holmes Student Center has amazing food. It is a great opportunity to have fellowship with my colleagues.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
I have only been here at NIU for one and a half years. My focus is more on the exciting things that are happening now and the bright future for NIU than the past.

Who has influenced your professional path?
When I was a student in an addictions counselor training program at a community college, after class I asked the professor what advice he would give me to do as a career. He told me that I should pursue a psychology degree in an APA accredited program and become a professor. I was not a serious student as an undergraduate and had an abysmal GPA. He might as well have said, "Why don't you go live on Mars." It seemed impossible to me at the time, but he planted the seed. I went on to work as an addictions counselor for years, eventually getting into graduate school, where I really applied myself. All along the way, I kept thinking - what can I do today to help me succeed and get into a Ph.D. program and become a professor? Eventually, after a lot of hard work and supportive mentoring along the way, I succeeded. I am embarrassed to say that I cannot remember the name of that professor. I tried to track him down to thank him but was unable to do so. I guarantee you that he would not remember that after-class discussion, but it had an indelible mark on me.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
When I was a child, I wanted to be either a farmer, professional ballet dancer or mad scientist. An injury put an end to the dance career, but I would like to think that I have succeeded in some ways as a mad scientist and farmer.

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?
I am very active in the International Association for the Psychology of Religion. The purpose of the organization is to create opportunities for scholars in the psychology of religion to come together and share research and learn from one another. We have a conference every two years. I have been fortunate to have attended conferences in Glasgow, Scotland; Bari, Italy; Vienne, Austria; and Gdansk, Poland. I often use the information from these conferences to guide my teaching and even have colleagues from other countries do virtual guest lectures in my classes.

What community organizations are you involved in?
I am very involved in the local 12-step community, where I try to help people recover from addictions. I also am very involved in a cool program in Wisconsin called the Food, Faith and Farming Network. In this organization, we try to get faith communities to connect food with their faith. We hold monthly events, hosted by local faith groups, where we cook a meal with food provided by local farmers, and have a farmers market with local farmers. We encourage the minister/priest/rabbi/imam to include content related to farming or food production into the sermon on that day.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
I have a small organic farm in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin (Happy Destiny Farm). We grow all sorts of fruit and berries (especially on the unusual side: currants, elderberries, gooseberries, honeyberries), as well as chickens, turkeys and shiitake mushrooms. It is my labor of love, and you will find me there most weekends.

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