Professor Robert Kulisheck:  Helping Students Learn and Serve in Powerful Ways

Dr. Robert KulisheckDr. Robert J. Kulisheck, Professor of Political Science and Public Administration, has been a teacher and an administrator at Northern Michigan University since 1969.  He served as head of the Political Science Department from 1975-1998 and was director of the Graduate Program in Public Administration from 1977- 2001. During his career at Northern he taught a wide range of courses in the areas of public policy analysis and foreign policy.

Dr. Kulisheck has been a strong advocate of experiential education. For several years he served as the departmental intern supervisor and was one of the founders of Northern’s highly successful Washington, D.C. Internship program. He also incorporated Academic Service Learning activities in several of his undergraduate courses and helped with the development of the new university–wide Superior Edge Program. In recognition of his community service work and his contribution to the expansion of Academic Service Learning opportunities, Dr. Kulisheck has been selected to receive the Michigan Campus Compact’s 2007 Life Time Achievement Award.

In addition to his service to the University community Dr. Kulisheck has experience as an elected public official.  He served as a Marquette city commissioner, mayor pro tem and mayor. Dr. Kulisheck currently chairs the City’s Presque Isle Park Advisory Committee and is president of the Board of Directors of the Propylon Housing Corporation.  He serves on the Board of Directors of the Jansen House, and the Kiwanis Club of Marquette. He was recently appointed to a three year term on the Marquette County Board of Health.

Professor Kulisheck is retiring after 38 years at NMU.

You were instrumental in developing the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program in the 1970s. How have it changed over the years?

When I arrived on campus we didn’t have a graduate political science program and most of the students enrolled in our undergraduate program were planning careers in secondary education.  While we still take pride in preparing students for careers in education, we now offer undergraduate degrees in prelaw and public administration.

As with our undergraduate students, the types of graduate students enrolled in our programs have changed over time. When we started our graduate program, all of the classes were taught at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base and most of the students enrolled in the program were Air Force personnel. Over the years more and more civilian students from the Marquette area entered our program. After K.I. Sawyer closed we moved our program to Northern’s campus. We also created a new MPA program with areas of specialization in health care, personnel, financial and criminal justice administration. One of the things we take pride in is our ability to continuously modify our graduate program to accommodate the changing needs of our students. 

We have also offered our graduate program at several distant locations. It is  gratifying to know that after over twenty years we now have well over 600 public administration graduates employed as administrators with public, private and nonprofit organizations throughout the Upper Peninsula, the state, the nation and several foreign countries.

What is “academic service-learning” and how is it helping to set NMU apart?

Over the years, we have come to the realization that students learn through doing, and it is important that they have the opportunity to combine theory and practice. It is important for students to see how the concepts and theories that they study in class apply to real world experiences. Given the fact that we are political scientists teaching about government, we also want to encourage citizen participation and civic engagement.

Academic service learning is one form of experiential education. Other forms that are part of our curriculum include our local, state and Washington internships, student teaching placements, campaign practicum classes, Model United Nations and Mock Trial teams, and numerous civic engagement projects.

Academic service learning integrates theory and practice into each course. Projects included in my public policy analysis classes have involved work with the city and county of Marquette, the Governor’s Upper Peninsula Office and the Marquette Medical Care Access Coalition. Students involved in these projects report that their practical work experiences have helped them gain a more realistic understanding of material covered during the traditional class lectures, discussions and assigned readings.

The University recently expanded academic service learning activities with the creation of the new campus-wide Superior Edge Program. This program deepens students’ theoretical understanding and gives them an “edge” in their search for employment.

What is the Washington Internship program and how did it get started?

About 25 years ago I did a class project sponsored by General Motors. It was a national competition about ways that GM could become a better corporate citizen. We did a study in one of my classes and submitted a report and recommendations to GM.  We won the competition and received a several thousand dollar prize.  I salted the money away and used little bits of it to send students to Washington.

Eventually we took our remaining GM money and combined it with dollars from the School of Arts and Science, the Provost, and the NMU Foundation.  We also joined forces with the Washington Center, an internship placement organization in Washington D.C. The Washington Internship Scholarship Program that we created is open to all NMU students. During the past twenty years we have sent scores of students to Washington for semester-long internships.

Many of our Washington interns are first-generation college students who have not traveled a lot so it is good to get them out of the UP and give them a chance to test themselves against other students. Our students find that they are equal to or better than students from many other larger or more privileged institutions. Not only do our students develop more confidence, but their supervisors in Washington write back and say that Northern interns are some of the best kids that they have worked with and frequently request additional Northern interns for placement with their agencies.

What do you think are some future funding priorities and how might they be supported?

We have been very satisfied with the Washington Center Program and we want to continue with that program.  Now, we hope to do something comparable in Lansing and we are also seeking funding for paid local internships.

Learn more about the Washington Internship, Superior Edge and other Student Enrichment Programs.