Carolyn Pluim nurtures an active curiosity.
An intense interest “in issues around health and well-being” prompted her to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Western Ontario in her native Canada.
When she moved to the United States shortly after graduation and could not immediately take the RN exam in this country, she enrolled at Michigan Technological University to study environmental policy.
That perfect intellectual combination – policy, its implications and health – soon led her to a Ph.D. program at Georgia State University, where she completed a doctorate in educational policy studies and social foundations of education.
In 2007, Pluim began her teaching career at the NIU College of Education in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.
One decade later, and after a year serving as acting chair of that department, her leadership role becomes official and permanent July 1.
“NIU has provided me so many opportunities for professional growth. Having been mentored by faculty inside our department and outside our department has been so beneficial,” Pluim says. “I enjoy the people who work in this department, and I enjoy helping to remedy or solve some of the issues that come up in a department that is this diverse and complex.”
Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education, is pleased that Pluim has accepted the appointment.
“Based on her contributions this past year as acting chair, I am confident that she is highly qualified and motivated to lead,” Elish-Piper says. “Carolyn is a strategic thinker, problem-solver and consensus-builder who is well positioned to lead LEPF into the future.”
Pluim has taught courses in the foundations of education, the history of education, the ethics of education and education as an agent of change.
Research in this realm comes at a critical and problematic time, she says, as lawmakers begin to encourage forms of “healthism” in public schools by requiring fitness testing, body-mass indexing and even the distribution of “health report cards” to parents, guardians and state governments.
She is the co-author of “Schools and Public Health: Past, Present, Future,” and has written numerous articles and book chapters. She is collaborating with Australian colleagues as a partner-investigator on a University of Queensland-based project studying the digitization of school health and physical education.
Her work also explores how policies shape how children think about health and, in turn, come to understand and identify with their bodies.
For example, she has questioned the “give-it-to-the-schools” attitude that delegates conversations on difficult topics such as sex and drugs solely to teachers.
“That’s really a dangerous reflex – that, ‘We don’t need to think about drug education because the schools are doing that,’ ” Pluim says. “It obscures solutions that could possibly be more effective.”
She is proud of recent work faculty in the department have done to reimagine and redesign programs, such as the Ed.D. in Leadership and Policy Studies and the Ed.S. in Educational Administration.
Her plans to maintain the quality of the nationally recognized M.S.Ed. in School Business Management call for continued recruitment and retention of excellent faculty and students as well as a sustained commitment to the program’s strong relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials.
“I love the diversity of our department,” Pluim says. “We have very diverse faculty who have very different ways of seeing the world and of approaching their research. I love the people who are so passionate about what they do.”
Pluim lives in Sycamore with sons Jared, 13, and Calvin, 11.