Kristofor Paulson "Breaks Through" to Students
Kristofor Paulson describes his life as a series of “happy accidents.”
Moments that had him make decisions that didn’t coincide with his original plan of becoming a chemical engineer led him to a certainly unexpected, but fulfilling, career as a professor.
It is here, in his Gamble Hall office lined with souvenirs from his exotic travels, where he reflects on his journey towards becoming an instructor of statistics at same university where he obtained his undergraduate degree in finance in 2002 and eventually two accompanying master’s degrees.
For students, it’s always refreshing to meet an instructor who is genuinely enthusiastic about the subject that they’re teaching. Paulson is no exception.
Along with his extensive knowledge in his field, he exudes a genuine care and respect for his students, though teaching was definitely a career that he “fell into.”
While working as a tutor and GTA at the School of Business, the Chair of the Economics Department insisted he try out teaching a class at Northland Community College and Technical College in East Grand Forks.
“Prior to this moment, I’ve never really thought about it [teaching],” he said. After some consideration, he submitted his resume, chatted with the head of the department and, as far as his entrance into the teaching field goes, the rest is history.
“I never thought I’d be a teacher but I’ve grown to love helping students understand things that I have a better grasp of,” Paulson said.
Even now, he still finds the time to drive four days a week to teach economics at Northland, as well as keep up with his statistics classes at UND. Following his unexpected teaching debut, Paulson’s next “happy accident” was an opportunity located halfway across the world in Shanghai, China.
When he was approached by a UND faculty member who suggested he use his gifted ability as a teacher at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, Paulson eagerly accepted.
Almost once a year for six years, he has been teaching a three-week course in microeconomics. Doing so has allowed him to share his expertise students that he would never otherwise have met, but has also given him the opportunities to learn himself.
“It opens your eyes. You learn that there’s not just one way of thinking,” Paulson said. “The world that we live in is a lot larger than you think.”
Learning about the diversity of thinking and learning has helped him to become a better instructor back in the states.
“It’s helped me to be more understanding of students,” Paulson said. “I understand completely why foreign students here think we talk a-mile-a- minute.”
The language-barrier that he encountered motivated him to learn Mandarin, and the struggle to learn a completely different language helps him to relate to the foreign students in his classes at UND and Northland.
“I usually tell them that my Mandarin is way worse than their English, and that helps them to open up and ask more questions,” he said.
This compassion towards his students was one of the motivating factors that inspired him to write and publish his own textbook, A World of Statistics, that was released earlier in the year.
In consideration of the tight college-student budget, Paulson made every effort to price his text below $100.
“Doing the same job that the older textbooks did, but making sure that it is more cost effective was very important,” Paulson said. “The last thing that a student wants to do is spend hundreds of dollars on books.”
The affordable softcover is written in a way that Paulson thinks students will better understand the complex world of statistics, with the knowledge in mind that students come from diverse educational backgrounds.
“I have students from nursing, business, aviation, who want to know what statistics is all about,” he said. “I tried to make problems that talk about a lot of different real-world examples.”
As with everything else that’s happened that led him to teaching, Paulson took the opportunity to write his first textbook as a learning experience.
“The writing part was fun, because I learned more about my student’s learning,” he said. “That’s probably what’s helped me the most—knowing how students learn and knowing what they expect. “Their success is our success. That’s what it’s all about.”
Along with his unexpected teaching career, Paulson found a surprising home in Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity on campus, of which he is the advisor. Though he was originally asked to just write a letter of support for the organization when it began in 2013, he fell in love with its purpose of helping students to be better prepared for the real world after college.
With his teaching gigs, advising duties and a workbook on the way to accomplish his first published text, Paulson keeps busy, and he is more than happy about how his life has turned out. In the freetime that he has, he enjoys spending time with his wife and dogs, corgis and a Great Dane, in the house that they bought three years ago. As for the future, Paulson plans on staying in Grand Forks while awaiting life’s next happy accident.
Stephanie Hollman is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at email@example.com