When Paul Wright first acquired the title of EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Publish research. Secure grants. Forge international partnerships. Serve as an ambassador for the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. Promote the concept of Physical Education’s unique role in social and emotional learning.
Three years later, with all of those goals accomplished and his endowed professorship recently renewed for another term, Wright finds himself at another threshold.
“Reflecting on what I’ve been able to accomplish with this additional support in the past few years is prompting me to think, ‘OK, what am I going to do now?’ ” says Wright, who joined NIU in 2011.
“I’m very pleased with what I’ve done. I’ve got wind under my wings,” he adds. “As I think what I can aspire to, it’s next-level things. I can reach for something I couldn’t reach for otherwise, and this additional support is going to make the difference. It’s really exciting. What an opportunity!”
Building on the foundation established during the first term of his professorship, Wright seeks to make his mark – and his department’s – in the field.
He hopes to publish research that impacts and influences peers who are reading the top journals.
Data collected in his recent study in Scotland, combined with parallel data collected by his team in the United States and colleagues in New Zealand, will provide a good start. “This project will be the largest one of its type exploring social and emotional learning in physical education,” Wright says. “It will pack a wallop.”
Meanwhile, he wants to continue his steady stream of external funding by going after even larger prizes.
For example, the U.S. Department of State supplied $225,000 for Wright’s Belizean Youth Sport Coalition project in 2014. He’s now in pursuit of a $600,000 grant from the State Department, and believes he’s in good standing to obtain highly competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health.
Next year already will see the launch of an externally funded project in Sri Lanka, similar to the one in Belize, that promotes positive youth development and social change through sport.
Wright’s global initiatives also caught the attention of UNESCO, the leaders of which have asked the NIU professor to serve as a consultant and voice at the table to guide the planning of international policy conferences.
Closer to home, he’s working to convince the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning to nationally recognize as a best practice the pedagogy model he researches.
“If I can get this endorsement of the work we specialize in, that will bring credibility and high-profile, external validation,” he says. “We’ll have very esteemed organizations giving us the nod, and promoting our work.”
Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, believes Wright already is an “international leader in his field” who perfectly matches the description of the EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor framework.
“In creating this professorship, Drs. Lane and Zimmerman expressed a passion for enabling NIU students able to study under the very best faculty. That’s a powerful thing with an endowed professorship: the ability and the resources to go out and secure a truly elite and nationally recognized faculty member and scholar,” McEvoy says. “Certainly, Paul Wright fits that bill.”
The benefits extend beyond students, he adds.
“One of Paul’s real strengths is his ability to collaborate,” McEvoy says, “and what he’s been able to accomplish with the professorship is not just exceptional work on his part but in getting a number of his colleagues involved in that work.”
For Wright, that’s the point.
“An individual holds an endowed professorship, but the idea is to build the reputation of the whole department,” he says. “Personally, with these high-profile activities, if they’re good for me, then they’re good for the department. It’s wins across the board. We want KNPE on the radar.”