Growing up as the fifth of six girls, Teresa Fisher naturally “had to do a lot of listening and observing.”
“That was an important piece,” says Fisher, recently retired after 18 years as a professor in the NIU Department of Counseling and Higher Education.
“I always found it interesting to study human behavior, and I learned in high school that I should study psychology in college,” she adds. “I knew as early as seventh- or eighth-grade that I would pursue a helping profession as a result of always being so attentive to my friends and family.”
Her inclination to assist others, meanwhile, took root when she was 6.
Still living in her native Virginia, Fisher still vividly remembers tagging along as her mother, who worked as a “nurse’s aide” to provide health services to migrant workers.
When it came time to leave her second childhood home in Brooklyn and Long Island – the Fisher family had moved to New York when Teresa was 7 – her career path was clear.
At the age of 17, Fisher decided to attend the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana – “Chambana,” as she affectionately calls it – to earn the first of her three degrees. She holds a bachelor’s in Psychology, a master’s in Clinical Psychology and a doctorate in Educational Psychology and Counselor Education.
She worked as the co-director of a teen/parent program, counseling her clients and helping to develop their parenting skills. She also worked as a counselor in community mental health settings, high schools and at universities, which influenced the final step of her higher education.
“I realized that I wanted to have more of an impact on the counseling field,” she says, “and, to do that, I needed to obtain a doctorate in order to help train other counselors.”
At NIU, Fisher has taught several graduate courses including, personality assessment, multicultural counseling and social justice, practicum, internship, group counseling and several school counseling courses. She has also implemented new courses, such as counseling children, juvenile justice and counseling strategies.
She remains an active researcher on concepts of resiliency, frequently presenting her findings at the conferences of American Counseling Association, the American Educational Research Association and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.
Her scholarship has studied the resilient behavior of urban youth in Illinois, New York and the Southwest. While on the faculty at Arizona State University, she focused on high-mobility populations from Mexico. At ASU, she also worked with a program for gifted and talented Native American girls.
Other data has come from examining ways in which school counselors can enhance academic resiliency in the students under their guidance while they also promote lifelong learning and personal development.
Fisher has conducted international research on resiliency by conducting focus groups with youth in Kenya, the site of a Study Abroad program she created, and Ethiopia, where she spent a sabbatical.
Now she hopes in retirement to continue expanding on her work in the U.S. as well as internationally by collaborating with her graduate students in China and South Korea.
Retirement should allow professional opportunities to continue teaching on an adjunct basis, collaborating on grant-funded projects regarding academic resiliency, publications with colleagues and service on dissertation committees.
It also will provide time for travel, something Fisher and her husband, Mallory, love.
The professor has visited all but four of the states and, during her trips overseas for research or conferences, has always scheduled layovers in cities such as Amsterdam, Athens, London, Munich, Paris and Zurich.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to see other places and experience different cultures, and education was the way to do that. I credit that to a love of reading books that gave me the inspiration to be the first in my family to finish a bachelors and doctorate,” she says.
“Through my travels, I’ve been able to remain curious,” she adds. “Academia is ideal for those who are truly interested in lifelong learning.”
Fisher draws joy from the knowledge that she has inspired those same qualities in her generations of students at the University of Rochester, Arizona State and NIU.
Many found in her course assignments the encouragement and motivation to give back to their communities or their own students, she says, and have discovered more human similarities than differences in cross-cultural studies.
“I hope my students have learned to appreciate lifelong learning, and I hope I have helped them maintain their curiosity, which I think is so key,” she says, “particularly when you meet people from different cultures.”
Her open mind has observed a growing diversity among students in higher education, especially with the first-generation population; that change has reinforced her belief in the importance of mentoring.
The increased use of technology, as well as social media, has impacted not only teaching but the practice of counseling. Teaching online courses forced her to “grasp how it can be done effectively,” and to wrestle with the ethics and efficacy of online counseling.
Technology has heightened the expectations of students and assists them with finding quick solutions to issues. Unfortunately, social media can prevent current students from understanding connections between history and present day challenges, she says.
“Students have a better understanding of the importance of collaboration – of working together with individuals from different backgrounds – and more of an appreciation that this is the direction we should be going,” Fisher says.
“They’re researching the classic theories and wondering, ‘How is this impacting the LGBTQ+ population? How is this effecting low-income families?’ They’re asking more of those questions, and they’re wanting to know the answers,” she adds. “That’s very encouraging to me because we have become more of a global society, and they’re starting to realize that more.”
Fisher realized that the time for retirement had come when she examined her “bucket list” and pondered what needed to give way “to get more of those things accomplished.”
Atop the to-do list is spending more time with her loved ones, husband, daughter and five sisters.
Happily, she says, Mallory is retired as well. Fisher’s daughter, Marguerite (Orlando), and her stepdaughter, Jonelle (Memphis), are eager to join them on some of their travels.
Increasing travels in the U.S and internationally will not dim her good memories of NIU and the College of Education.
“I always felt supported in my research agenda. Many universities try to put you in a box, but I’ve really been able to work on a broad range of topics,” she says. “I’m going to miss interacting with my colleagues, especially getting feedback on research ideas and projects.”
She hopes her colleagues will remember her just as fondly.
“I really worked hard to ensure that faculty, as well as students, were treated with care and were treated fairly. When tough issues arose with students and faculty, I always thought it was important to be equitable and fair,” she says.
“I didn’t have aspirations to be an administrator; however, I worked diligently behind the scenes,” she adds, “and for those who take on my committee work – maybe they’ll get an appreciation of the work that is required behind the scenes.”
A farewell reception for Fisher is planned from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, in the Learning Center of Gabel Hall. All are welcome.