Paul Nyhuis

Degree: Physics MS

Current Job: Mentor to Incarcerated Men


Why Physics?

Paul had an interest in atmospheric physics and astrophysics, and chose to study at the University of Minnesota because of its work in those fields. As a grad student, he worked as a teaching assistant and lab instructor and greatly enjoyed helping students. While earning his Masters degree, Paul became friends with Dr. Alfred Nier, who was designing mass spectrometers to be placed in satellites to sample the atmosphere. When Dr. Nier heard that a small local college was looking for a part-time phsics instructor, he encouraged Paul to apply. It went so well that Paul went into teaching full-time teaching. 

A Career of Helping Students

Paul went on to a very satisfying career teaching physics and astronomy in colleges: 5 years at Concordia College in St. Paul, from 1965-1970, and 30 years at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights 1970-2000.

Paul's students greatly appreciated his efforts, and he received an Instructor of the Year Award from Concordia students in 1968, from Inver Hills students in 1981, and from the Inver Hills faculty in 2000. In addition to teaching, Paul was active in the Inver Hills Faculty Association during his years there, serving as legislative liason and later as vice-president. He was also chosen by the National Science Foundation to participate in two of their summer courses: Nuclear Spectroscopy at the University of California Berkeley in 1968, and Computers in Physics at the University of Oregon in 1998. In the summer of 1970, he participated in an NSF program for community college instructors that was held at the U of MN and led by Peter Roll.

A Different Style of Mentoring

After retiring from Inver Hills Community College, Paul's career to an unusual turn for a physicist: from 2001 until 2012, he did pastoral care for a large church, including visitation, benevolenve, and counseling. From 2013 to 2019 he did visitation and led a recovery group at the Dakota County Jail, and he still serves as a mentor to several men in Minnesota Correctional Facilities.

Although quite different from traditional science, Paul feels that his physics education is an asset to his mentoring capabilities. "My background in physics enhanced my credibility and I often use interesting topics in physics and astronomy to connect with incarcerated men," he says. He sends emails and letters regularly to over 20 men in prison. "The men tell me that my friendship and mentoring is having a very positive impact in their lives, helping them find meaning and enabling them to make better choices," he says. "I have discovered great quotes from famous physicists that the men find very valuable."

A newspaper article with picture of Paul on a bike

A newspaper article from 2000 announcing Paul's Instructor of the Year Award.

Three people looking at a light bulb in a coil

Paul (center) teaching at Inver Hills Community College