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IU East political science professor works for change, inspires students

Paul Kriese is committed to showing his students that being a part of democracy is more than learning about politics in class. It's also about being actively engaged in the community.

Kriese, an associate professor of political science at Indiana University East, is taking his cause to be actively engaged in the community and putting it to practice. He is one of eight coordinators across Indiana to facilitate Organizing for America, a community-based project designed to share ideas and promote President Barack Obama's agenda at a local level.

In early August, in recognition of his contributions to the campaign, Kriese was invited to meet Obama during an appearance in Wakarusa, Ind.

Kriese, 64, has taught exclusively at IU East since coming to campus as an adjunct professor in 1985. Before arriving on campus, he earned degrees in history and political science at Coe College in Iowa, Kent State University in Ohio, and Purdue University in Indiana. He later earned a master's degree in peace studies at Earlham College in Richmond.

Apart from teaching, he established the campus' chapter of the American Democracy Project, an initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in partnership with the New York Times.

"It's a very interesting activity," Kriese said. "It's a way of creating that bond that seems to be lost between communities and colleges."

Among other things, Kriese has invited local politicians to speak at campus to share different viewpoints with students. Three to four activities are typically organized annually, Kriese said.

The American Democracy Project, and other political activities on campus, likely would not exist without Kriese's leadership, said T.J. Rivard, an English professor at the campus and the former dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

"He leads in that area, as he should, as a political science professor," Rivard said. "At the same time, he could teach his classes and go home. He doesn't. This is his passion.

"I think that it enhances the reputation of the university just by association," he said. "There's that sense when you have faculty that are actively engaged in the community -- whether that means at the local level or in the community at a national level -- students notice that. It kind of separates them from their high school experience."

Kriese says he urges his students to explore their personal and political beliefs.

Ray Kelley, who graduated from IU East in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in political science, said Kriese gave him confidence to succeed in college after putting his education on hold to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

"He wants people to be independent thinkers," said Kelley, now the national legislative director for AMVETS in Washington, D.C.. "He sets up an environment where students are almost forced to think."

Kriese is a board member of Richmond's Human Rights Commission, an extension of his efforts advocating for civil rights in the 1960s.

"I've always been in favor of access," Kriese said. "The thing that gets me the most upset is when people don't have access for reasons they have no control over."

Kriese says the opportunity to effect change through Organizing for America continues to motivate him.

"I have my classes and I have my research, but this is something that I can give back to the community," Kriese said.