Wright was named an NIU Presidential Engagement Professor, which recognizes professors who create and nurture external partnerships for mutual benefit.
The professorship acknowledges Wright’s tireless work to enhance the lives of youth who are often labeled as “at-risk” through his research, teaching, community outreach and partnership initiatives.
“I specialize in the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) instructional model,” Wright says. “All of my research and teaching is very applied and positively impacts youth development, social and emotional learning, and the use of sport for development.”
Receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Wright developed a youth sport coalition in Belize educating coaches, teachers and youth workers on how to empower their youth and help them build life skills that contribute to their success in society.
KNPE assistant professor Jenn Jacobs was a doctoral graduate student at the time. She witnessed Wright’s extraordinary ability to foster relationships with organizations and individuals in Belize.
“When engaging with community stakeholders, Dr. Wright worked closely to align program goals and contribute to their overall initiatives,” Jacobs says. “Professor Wright stressed that giving a voice to the local people – and defining measures of success jointly – are key components to a healthy partnership.”
With the fundamental value of serving others through mutually beneficial partnerships, Wright has created numerous other community outreach programs both locally and in Chicago.
Locally, Wright and several of his graduate students began an after-school program called “Project Leadership” for students who were largely uninvolved and had a lack of connection to school. He also facilitated direct mentoring for coaches and parents of student athletes, addressing communication and how to support the challenges that student-athletes face.
On the West Side of Chicago, Wright has been an invaluable resource for Beyond the Ball, a grassroots sport/play-based youth and community development organization.
Robert Castaneda, Beyond the Ball executive director, says that Wright taught workshops drawing people from the most under-served communities in Chicago. “Paul’s academic expertise is a resource that provides Chicago communities with tools to alleviate violence through sport. Paul connected our organization with NIU students to provide coaching and research. This enables students to apply their academic knowledge and provide enormous benefits to the community.”
With Wright’s research and collaboration, Beyond the Ball has been able to quantify its community impact – resulting in increased funding to provide more programming opportunities. “It is inspirational to see a professor share his expertise humbly and practically with neighborhoods that desperately need it,” Castaneda says.
In addition to his many outreach accomplishments, Wright is also a Fulbright scholar and a recipient of the SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators) Outstanding Mentor of the Year Award; a Fulbright Scholar.
“Working with organizations and individuals on youth development through physical activity – that positively impacts children on a large scale – is my commitment to society,” Wright says. “When students witness first-hand how research and partnerships together can make a significant difference in the health of youth long term, we are growing our next-generation of leaders to be civic-minded, responsible citizens.”