Reflections on a Career in Higher Education and the Federal Government


Paul Kesner, a former vice president for student affairs, who also served in the Department of Education

Audio file

Paul Kesner, recently retired from the U.S. Department of Education, is this month's guest on Prevention Profiles: Take Five. During the interview, Paul reflects on his career serving in both higher education and the federal government. During the interview, Paul discusses some of the changes in drug issues from when he was a Vice President for Student Affairs to now; how being a VP for Student Affairs helped inform his work at ED to prevent drug use not only among college students, but also among students in elementary and secondary education; and some of the issues in K-12 that are having an impact on students now entering college.

Rich Lucey:  Hi folks, this is Rich Lucey, Senior Prevention Program Manager in the Drug Enforcement Administration's Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section, and welcome to this episode of Prevention Profiles: Take Five. Excited to have today's guest. So let me tell you a little bit about Paul Kesner. Paul Kesner previously served as leader of the Safe and Supportive Schools Group within the US Department of Education's Office of Safe and Healthy Students. That office administers, coordinates and recommends policy for improving quality and excellence of programs and activities that are designed to provide financial and technical assistance for drug and violence prevention activities and activities that promote the health and wellbeing of students in elementary and secondary schools as well as institutions of higher education. Prior to working at the US Department of Education, Paul worked as a senior administrator within the higher education community, taught middle school and served as a principal, and with that, Paul, welcomed to the podcast.

Paul Kesner:  Well, thank you, Rich. This kind of reminds me of the old radio days and I can't help but say I thought of that old Betty White Saturday Night Live, where they were all, and we are talking with their headphones on. It kind of feels that way.

Rich Lucey:  That's exactly, that's exactly what we're doing here. That brings a smile to my face, especially when you bring up Betty White. This is actually, I hope, going to be a fun experience for you because I think people in your inner circle know, but you retired from the federal government as of last fall, and congratulations on that retirement. I know it was well-earned and I hope that you are adjusting to it now, about nine months into it.

Paul Kesner:  Well, it's the best job I think I ever had. I should have applied earlier. But I will say I started my trip with education in head start at about the age of four or five and just ended my full-time involvement with education about nine months ago, as you said. So it's been a long trip and I'm in the numbers of six decades. So it's been a long trip with education and once I got there I always kind of liked it there.

Rich Lucey:  Well, I know that you have had a long and storied career in the education field and, as you said, you were a beneficiary of educational services at the age of four or five with head start, and you know, carried that through, I think as a lifelong learner and educator and I think we'll probably talk a little bit about that during the interview. So we're going to get started right in and, with the first of these five questions. And, you know, I mentioned in your bio that prior to working at Ed, as we familiarly call it, your more immediate job was as a VP for student affairs at a college in West Virginia. So what are some of the changes in drug issues from when you were VP for student affairs? And, admittedly, that's about 20 plus years ago. Between then and now, what are some of the changes?

Paul Kesner:  Well number one, we no longer use dialup modems, and technology could be an overarching approach, especially with drug issues. Technology has a role to play there. But a couple of things, as I was reflecting back on it, I wanted to mention. I do believe there is considerably more use in cannabis now. You know, there's more stimulant and illicit drug use. The prescription drug availability is just, I mean, folks can go online and order stuff now and students coming with a heavier prescription load than they did 20-25 years ago, I think is a change.

I would also say, while we had Desert Storm and vets coming in, I believe the vets and the drama and issues that they are bringing with them are different and will raise different issues around the prevention work that needs to be done now than when I was there. 

I would also say, you know, looking at some of the monitoring of the future reports, students are more involved now with cocaine and [inaudible] talks about the increase in cannabis and how it doubled between 2007 and, you know, 2016-2017.

And I've got to say too, it's not your father's cannabis now, it's much stronger and more potent cannabis THC levels than when I was working with students in that role. I would also say that while I was in West Virginia, the opioid issue was not the issue that folks have to face now and it's much more rampant now than then. I will say, though, that the use of tobacco, I believe, has gone down. Whenever I was at university level, we were just starting to go for the no-smoking environments.

I remember being in administrative meetings where a couple of the chief administrators were smoking during the meetings, and so tobacco use is going down, but the vaping issue has quickly filled the vacuum there and, as you know, what folks are ingesting with vaping is a little bit different than they did with, you know, a pack of Camels back in the day. And you know, one tube of a vaping product today can equal about what, a pack of cigarettes when smoked? So I think those are some of the things I notice that are different on higher ed campuses. And you know, some of the relationships between the risk factors for students are very different, and yet some are still the same. Alcohol; alcohol is still, all my friends I talk with are still carrying on the work of student affairs say alcohol is still the main problem, and so there are some things that change. Some things haven’t.

Rich Lucey:  So there's a lot that actually I could unpack there because I think you've brought up some really interesting observations and the technology issue, I think, is one that, you know, it's interesting. We focused on, you know, the drug use, if you will, but, you know, social media has exploded over the last decade plus. You know, there was no Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, you know.

Paul Kesner:  Or Myspace.

Rich Lucey:  Yeah, yeah, back, you know, 25 years ago, and yet today, we know that unfortunately, social media is a means by which drug trafficking is happening on and around college campuses, especially with the proliferation of fake pills. So that's certainly a concern. You know, you mentioned cocaine use and it's interesting that in looking at the same studies that you've mentioned in monitoring the future, specifically, that in the last year, you know, cocaine use among college students did not go up. So, you know, small win, take it where you can, whereas we did see other things have gone up; daily use as marijuana, annual use of hallucinogens, they've gone up. But we continue to stress the importance of focusing and paying attention to cocaine because the production of it is just exponentially more than it was several years ago in, you know, South American countries, specifically Columbia. And while the national surveys might not show, you know, the significant prevalence among college students, on any particular campus, it might be a concern.

Paul Kesner:  Yes.

Rich Lucey:  So, that’s certainly something to pay attention to. And I'm certainly glad you brought up cannabis use. You know, our colleagues, we have mutual colleagues in the field. You know, they talk about the fact that, you know, you said, you know, it's not your father's marijuana. One of our friends, you know, in the field, has said, you know, it's not your father's grass, probably because back then, it was grass. I mean it was just, you know, now the potency of THC is exponentially higher than it was even just a decade ago. You know, I want to ask you a question, and this was not a prep question so I apologized if it catches you off-guard. But I think you'll do fine with the question. It's just in terms of how collaboration might have changed in the last 25 years when you were on a campus and maybe specifically between prevention and law enforcement. I mean, I know, I know where Potomac State, you know, where you were a VP is located, it's a rural area, you know, small town feel. Does that contribute to the collaboration say between the, both the campus police and the municipal police, as opposed to some of the challenges the larger cities might face trying to get that connection?

Paul Kesner:  Well, you know, Tip O'Neil said all politics is local and I guess all, it's not unusual in a small town to know quite well, I mean, the city police officer and I took piano lessons from the same teacher. You know, so you have personal knowledge there, but there were still turf battles. And I talk to friends who are in larger cities, in different dimensions and different scopes but I think some of the challenges are there. And I think it is incumbent, no matter where you're working, to make that effort to be conscientious about making an effort to build bridges and to build alliances with those whom you are partnering with. Because, you know, one of the things the police chief of the city police said there to my police chief, you know, what are your problems are going to come off your campus and come into our area and so we need to work together to support your students and to also enforce the laws that we have to enforce. So I do think there are some uniqueness's to being in a small town, but I think there are some uniqueness's to be in in a larger city and so you balance those and it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot where you are. It takes commitment to working together.

Rich Lucey:  I know, of course, my home state of New York when I worked there, very large state, what we used to say is, you know, you had the Adirondacks, you had the Catskills, you had the city, you had the island, you had the urban Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Albany; they were different issues, but yet they were the same.

Paul Kesner:  Yes.

Rich Lucey:  Depending on, you know, where you were in the state. They're all dealing with the same issues, but perhaps just differently.

Paul Kesner:  Yeah, well said.

Rich Lucey:  So let me move on to a second question I've asked of some of your peers in the VP for Student Affairs ranks of late and several years ago. When you were a VP for student affairs, what kept you up at night?

Paul Kesner:  Well, a lot of calls sometimes, and there are the usual ones, hoping that you won't, I wouldn't get to call of a student killed in the car wreck and that happened far too often, or a student with a drug overdose or a rape, and be called to the hospital. You know, those things did keep me up. But I think another thing was the development, you know, my background was somewhat the developmental psychology, and so that background, I knew some of the student needs and challenges and I think, pondering how we might better address those, how we could look at what we were doing and not doing, and how do we make this better for an experience for our students, but not only the students but my staff, for the college community. How do we make that better and always thinking of ways to do that? 

I think too, for those who work in the student affairs world who are listening, I think still, there is this thing of a difference between student affairs and academic affairs, and acceptance by faculty, and the academic affair folks of the work that student affairs folks are doing and having it recognized as being important and a strong, legitimate science that should be followed, as well as other things that are being taught. And I often pondered, how do I make, how do I help create an environment where my staff and my team felt that they were equally as important in the work that's being done at the university or the college as one who's teaching a class in, you know, statistics or scientific methodology or engineering? 

How does that happen and how does the person whose working in a residence hall as an RA or a resident director feel equally engaged in that? 

So I think, you know, not only the students but the staff and working and creating a place where staff that they were creating in having an impact or an effect on the students as well.

Rich Lucey:  I know as someone who's dedicated my entire career at the government level, state and federal, to prevention, I appreciate hearing you talk about your desire to create that environment for your to feel valued by the university, because, you know, a lot of times in our field and in prevention and even sometimes in our government agencies, you know, there are times that we have not felt seen, heard or valued in terms of the work that we do and yet the people on the outside would value it all the time. It was just, you know, it's always interesting that, you know, we'd go outside the four walls of our agency to necessarily get kind of the value that we as human beings, I think sometimes, really need.

Paul Kesner:  Yeah, and I think....

Rich Lucey:  Go ahead.

Paul Kesner:  One of the, go ahead.

Rich Lucey:  No, I was just going to say I appreciate, that’s why I followed up, I appreciate that you created that environment for your staff.

Paul Kesner:  Well, thank you, and I think it was equally important; how would I best be an advocate not only for my staff but for my students in the community that I had responsibility for? You know, like I say, you worry about the deaths, you worry about the rapes, you worry about those things or the fires, but how do you worry about being the best advocate for the folks who are depending on you?

Rich Lucey:  So as we're, as this interview is more or less kind of a trip down memory lane, for you as well as for me, since it's kind of looking back in the little bit in the review mirror, if you will, over your career and some of the issues that you've dealt with. My third question is now looking more at the transition you made from working in academia to government all those years ago, and I was along for that ride, although that those same time frames. So I know how far back we're going. But I want to ask you, how did being a vice-president for student affairs help in form your work at, to prevent drug use, not only among college students, but I know there was an awful lot of work that was done in elementary and secondary education. So how did your work on campus help in form the work that you did in the halls of government?

Paul Kesner:  Well, I will say that IHE's are much more political than DC. I mean, at least in DC, folks come and go every 4-8 years or two years, depending on where they are in government. So, I've got to say IHE's because you have faculty that got their and got tenure for life. They were there, so there was much more politics in IHE's than DC.

Rich Lucey:  Yeah.

Paul Kesner:  For the folks who are working in higher ed, you know, my hat goes off to you because you're dealing with more politics there than we ever dealt with in DC. But I would say, understanding, it took me a while when I got to DC and I always called myself a pseudo-fed because I never felt like I was in Washington long enough to really be a real Fed. But how limited policy really is at the federal level, how little effect, and as we've talked before, I believe probably the federal role in higher ed is a little bit more than K12. I mean we're in elementary and secondary, we're supposed to be hands-off of any, any curriculum, any discipline, any anything like that.

So I think seeing the limited role that we had there, but then all the resources that we have with these studies that we mentioned earlier, with other agencies who have missions that complement and supplement the work we're doing and how to pull those together for folks to be able to, able to use those and learn and decipher and glean the science and what's emerging and how that can change the work that's being done on the forefront and in the trenches, so to speak.

So I think that was one thing I appreciated, was how I could take all of these resources and make technical assistance resources, as you're doing with these podcast and the TA Centers that Ed has and other agencies [inaudible] have and justice. How we can make technical assistance available because of the wealth of resources that are around the country that we can pull together.

One other thing I would mention; one of the few policy roles that the federal government has with IHE's is part 86. I was at the school in West Virginia when part 86 came out, the Clery Act came out, and I will say, part 86 has not been updated since back in the late 80's, I think, was when it finally came out. And so, you know, there are some needs there for that, I mean, they were, it talks about paper distribution regulations and no one distributes paper any more. At least they shouldn't be. So, you know, there are some things that need to be updated there. But I will say one of the things I appreciated about part 86 and still do is it made sense to every couple of years, look at what you're doing and see if you need to do it better and if it's having the attended consequences. And if it's not, you may want to rethink what we're doing. So that was one of the policies, one of the few policies we had that we could offer. But, you know, there is a curse about not being changed, but there's also a gift, and that it causes us, if we do it right, to revisit what we're doing and fine tune.

Rich Lucey:  So there's a couple of things I wanted to follow-up on. One is, I'll use the phrase political savvy, you didn't use that one particularly, but you know, in talking about, you know, a lot of politics happening at institutions of higher education. Do you think that we know that, you know, we read all the management books and the leadership books, that political savvy and savviness certainly is an attribute of a good leader. Do you think that that's a skill that, you know, you had to, you know, that you honed at a campus, and that is a skill that you've been able to transfer over to working in government?

Paul Kesner:  Oh certainly, and I'm glad that I had the higher ed experience before coming to Washington, because I said it's much more political and I think I was able to transfer many of those skill sets, even though I'm, I think even the day I retired I was still learning them and maybe still am in post-retirement. Those were so crucial and important to helping lead and be able to support the work of the mission that I was called to do, or anyone else is called to do, that savvy and knowledge is so crucial to furthering the work that one is doing.

Rich Lucey:  So an offshoot of that that I wanted to explore a little bit is, I think you know I pride myself over my career the way I've related so well with college and universities, despite having never worked directly on one, is making the analogies between what's going on, on a college campus and what I and you and our colleagues in the federal government you know, face, you know, working for the government and that there are analogies, there are similarities in the two settings. And one thing I think of is, you know, the turnover. So you mentioned, you know, here in DC, one thing we're guaranteed, a guarantee for us every four to eight years, there will be a change in leadership, every four to eight year at the top.

Paul Kesner:  Yes.

Rich Lucey:  And I imagine that you, maybe it wasn't that clearly defined or, you know, timed intervals, but I have to imagine, you know, that you certainly had turnover among, you know, maybe VP ranks, certainly the presidential ranks, maybe not as much within the faculty ranks because you mentioned tenure. You know, did it feel to you in both places, on campus and then in government, where it seems like a lot of your focus was on re-education all the time?

Paul Kesner:  Yes.

Rich Lucey:  And kind of talking the same thing over and over again, trying to brief people, you know, over and over again about stuff you're working on.

Paul Kesner:  Yes and no; yes, there was a lot of reeducation, but one of the things a colleague once told me that stuck with me is if I'm saying the same things to each new president or each new legislator who comes around, then I'm not changing and growing. So the reeducation was as much for me as for them, because if I'm taking the same talking points each time then I'm not growing and I'm not changing. And so I think that always stuck with me. Use those times for re-educating or those times when you have new leadership to your benefit, to finding what is in their mission, and what they want to accomplish and what you can do, what I could do in my unit to help them accomplish that. Because chances are, if I stick my feet in and say this is what we're going to do and this is what we have to do, it's not going to work. But if I could find ways to commit, supporting their work and maybe tweaking what I'm doing a bit, you know, maybe that's the way to do it. And so it took me a while to figure that out, but I'm glad that colleague had that conversation with me.

Rich Lucey:  Yeah, and you know, I learned early on in my career in New York and certainly, I've stuck, you know, it has stuck with me throughout my time in the federal government, is, you know, the challenge for us is whether we agree or not with whoever is sitting in the White House.Our job is to carry out their agenda. That is, that is our role. And I imagine on campus, it would feel somewhat similar. You know, new President comes in, a VP for academic affairs, student affairs, what have you, yeah, the vision might change a bit and the focus might change a bit, and you have to figure out a way to adapt.

Paul Kesner:  One of the questions I know we have later is what I would say to folks who are actually working in the field now, and this was one of the things I was going to say and we touched upon it right now, so it's right here, is that, you know, find the mission that needs to be supported. You may feel, in the counseling center or in the substance use and abuse, the prevention department that you're so far down on the totem pole, it doesn't matter what's going on, even at the VP's level. But the fact of the matter is, it does, because it matters to your students and the students is where it all comes back and find a way that you can support, even if you don't like the person, even if the person doesn't seem to have your best interest at heart, find ways to support their work and make it apparent that, apparent that that's what you are doing. I think it's very crucial to see that because you can fight it or you can find a way to join it. And it doesn't mean you're selling out, but it does mean that you care about what you're doing and you want to see it advance.

Rich Lucey:  But let me, I'm going to move on to the fourth question and again, it has to do with this transition or, if you will, you know, what's happening in K12 and how does that, you know, relate or effect higher ed. So, from where you sat at ED and I know, you continue to keep your finger on the pulse of educational issues. What are some of the issues in K12 that are having an impact on students entering college and maybe even to put a finer point on it, you know, how is that might having an impact on, you know, students in college and their, you know, alcohol and drug misuse?

Paul Kesner:  Back in '98 after Columbine happened, we all talked and had meetings about, you know, the school shooting and the effect and how that was going to play into student life for those students, you know, that we're now coming into colleges. And you know, it's even exponentially greater now when you look at the violence in schools, in our communities, how that's increased, and addressing the underlying trauma that's going to be coming with these students. It was bad in '98 after Columbine, but how much greater is the trauma that our students are bringing with them to college now than ever before? It's different, and so I think, looking at how that affects not only individual students, but the collective thinking in the experience of all of our students as they come and even if they aren't traditional age, it's that trauma that's coming with students as they enter our college classrooms.

Another thing, I think of is our country has a lot of political, philosophical differences and they seem to be more heightened now than I've seen them. You know, it's hot or cold, there's no lukewarm; it's black or white, there's no gray, or seems to be very little anyway. And I believe that's going to, our students are coming in with these differences of, strong differences of opinion and I believe the living learning environment will be ever more important now, as professionals, knowing ourselves how we can take ourselves out of the middle of the spray and create an environment where students can learn to be accepting of each other when we don't see that model a whole lot around us. I think that's going to be a challenge and I think that's going to play into some of the risk factors that we find in prevention work whenever we have some of these strong dichotomies. But I think it's appropriate here.

Another one, I think, is the lingering effects of the unfinished learning, some people call it learning loss. I kind of prefer unfinished learning from the pandemic and how it exasperates the longstanding historical inequities of that we have found in some parts of our education system. And that's going to play out in our college settings evermore, because these students are coming in with a totally different mindset. Some have not been in classrooms for a long time. Some lost some time in classrooms. Some didn't learn socialization as they might have learned because of the way, I mean there are just a lot of different ways that's going to affect and that unfinished learning may have an economic effect as well, because the students, for the first time, may not be looking at earning as much as the folks before them were earning. And so how is that going to effect? And those things are risk factors again, for prevention work as well.

I know I'm going a little bit, I'm rattling here, but there are some things we actually sat down and talked about right before I was leaving, about how do we prepare for where these folks are going to go into higher ed. Another one that we noticed were reports of students acting younger than you'd expect them to act. For instance, high schoolers would begin to act more like middle schoolers, if you will, and by that I mean shoving and pushing in the hallways or those soft skills and time management skills that are so important in maturity seem to be missing just because of some of that unfinished learning. And I, and those are going to translate to higher ed. How do we help students with those soft skills? How do we help them polish those? And how do we help them with time management skills that were not there?  You know, you didn't have a homeroom period to work on your home homework, so you had to find another time and manage it. In some cases, it didn't happen.

And the last thing I'll mention Rich, and there are several more I could mention...but I think the mental health issues have not only been heightened by the pandemic, but these issues will be accompanying these students to college. Oftentimes, I know there have been some turf issues between mental health services and prevention services and I think it's time for us to put away the turf because I don't think the students, the students need support, they don't need turf. And they're just coming with these issues and these mental health and the trauma; these issues are risk factors. Again, I'll say it again, these are risk factors for those issues you work with in prevention and we need to really focus, I believe, on how do we support students with more mental health trauma issues than ever before, I believe.

Rich Lucey:  Yeah, there's so much that, you know, I appreciate the perspective that you bring on these issues. Interesting -- certainly, I have that experience in a previous agency talking about the word integration of mental health and substance misuse issues and you know, with all good intention of connecting the two issues. I think that unintentionally, what happened is it did set up the two fields and maybe adversary is, you know, really too strong a word, but, you know, when you're going to integrate, I think what happens is they'll say the substance misuse, and at that time it was abused so forgive me if I fall back into that vernacular, but you know, the substance abuse field was afraid that the mental health field was going to take over, including funding. The mental health folks were concerned that the substance misuse folks were going to get more money and take over. And I really did push back against the term integration, and that's why, you know, even now in the presentations that I do, talking about preventing, you know, drug misuse among college students and promoting mental health among college students is I talk about the, you know, alignment of the two issues.

Paul Kesner:  Yes.

Rich Lucey:  For me, the alignment is, it's an easier pill to swallow. That's a great analogy to use here.

Paul Kesner:  Yes.

Rich Lucey:  But I mean that, you know, we know that and you've said it, there is such a connection between a person's mental health and their use or misuse of alcohol and other drugs. And, you know, you've mentioned, you know, trauma certainly is, I mentioned this also. You know we, if I look at 2020 and I've, somewhat kiddingly, but in all seriousness, that said 2020, I don't think there was a font size big enough to put the asterisk next to 2020 because it was such an anomaly. You know, with the beginning of the pandemic, which, you know, two and a half years later, we're still feeling the effects of, as we now hear about a new variant.

Paul Kesner:  Yeah.

Rich Lucey:  And we've moved on from the word pandemic to endemic, which is, you know, just like flu and we thought that was probably where this was going to go all along. But my point being is that we know in our field, that drug use tends to go up following a traumatic event or during stressful times. And you know, in 2020, talked about stressful times and it wasn't just the pandemic; it was the reckoning our country faced due to racial injustice and the civil unrest around the country.

Paul Kesner:  Yes.

Rich Lucey:  It was, and I put it right out there, this is not a political statement, it's, you know, 2020, we saw the perhaps most contentious presidential election in our entire history.

Paul Kesner:  Yeah.

Rich Lucey:  All of that contributes to trauma and to stress, and we shouldn't be surprised then, one, two, three years out, we're starting to see the data now of you know, of that, you know, use. And I think it's important as we look at the monitoring, the future study, we're looking at the 8th, 1th, 12th graders, we're looking at the college students. You know, is it possible that, you know, the drug use that we might see going up in particular areas is connected to this overall, you know, national trauma that we all went through, if you will, with COVID and some other things.

You mentioned the school shootings and we're facing that it's unprecedented probably now, I mean, I worked with you at ED, and you know, the words were Columbine, Paducah, Kentucky and Virginia Tech. You know, and now it's Buffalo and it's Uvalde and it's Highland Park I mean, and it's Orlando. You know, these are the new cities and names that we're hearing about and you think about that trauma that people, you know, have experienced through that. And we talk about survivor's guilt in those types of situations and such and how that, you know, lends itself. So I know that you've dealt a lot with those, you know, tragic events, especially with the shootings, because it had such an effect on the schools and obviously, that's what your office did, was safe and supported schools. And so, you know, you and your staff, you know, did just above and beyond the call of duty in providing that kind of support. And so I'm glad you brought that up because it's certainly, you know, that's why I say, I always had a problem with the integration, because it did set up the turf. In my opinion, it did set up for a turf battle and I much prefer the alignment issue.

Paul Kesner:  Yes, and I will say, education, our schools, our colleges and universities are where all that's out in the world is distilled, because our students, regardless of the age, are carrying in what they are bringing in with, you know, they're bringing in all these collective things with them. And it's at the schools, at the universities that we really have to deal with this hodgepodge of trauma, of riches, of inequities, all the different things that we have, all the warts and all the beauty marks. They are all coming into our schools, as I say, whether it be K12 or whether it be higher ed. And that's why we really have to be flexible. And I think we need to give ourselves a break from thinking we have to be able to solve everything quickly. We're learning in this too. You know, we sometimes want a, we want a shot, we want an inoculation that's going to make us unsusceptible to anything, but I think we are grasping with it, as our students are grasping with it.

Rich Lucey:  That's a great insight and as we wind up the interview, I'll ask you the question that I ask, typically of all of the guests, and, you know, you got into it a little bit a little while ago, but give you the opportunity to expand on it some more if you'd like. And it's, what do you want to say to encourage school and community-based professionals who are listening to this podcast, who are working to prevent drug misuse among college students?

Paul Kesner:  I think the most important thing is for that professional to know their campus, know it, know what are the protective factors, what are the risk factors that are unique to their campus? You know, they may not have a big [inaudible] life there, so they may need to focus on something else that's, that is a possible risk. But I think knowing your campus is so incredibly important and doing as many studies as you can to know them. I think it's also important, it was important for me to know the organizational assets and liabilities. There were things I were never going to get. There were funds I was never going to get. I had other assets that maybe other folks didn't. So knowing my organization, that institution's assets and liabilities. I also think COVID issues could be an important opportunity to enhance and strengthen the challenges that our professionals are seeing between some of these turf battles. We need to work together to find ways to support each other. And when we realize we have a common mission at our institutions, then it's working to support each other. And I think, finding ways, I can't control what someone else is going to do. I certainly hope I can control what I'm going to do and how I'm going to react. So I think finding those places where you can. And the last thing I think, and this is somewhat philosophical, but I think it's so important to be practical, that we really need to have policies and actions in place that protect our students, our staff, our faculty, our whole community and use science as a guide to institute those, find out those things that work in do them to make our living learning environments more protective, more supportive climates for those in our campuses. I think those are things I know I want to do better and wanted to do better.

Rich Lucey:  So just in those three or four things that you've mentioned, and not once did you, did you use the word drug, but everything, every single thing you said directly relates.

Paul Kesner:  Exactly.

Rich Lucey: To preventing drug use and misuse on campus. So, you know, we talk about know your campus. You know, it's the first step of the strategic prevention framework, it's that assessment and it's not only about the usage rate. You're also assessing your campus and your community for the risk and protective factors. You know, know your assets and your liabilities. That's capacity building right there. That's the second step of the spiff. It's funny that, you know, I'm going to kind of go through this spiff here without, and it's not, you know, I know you adhere to it, but it's not anything you present on. But you know, knowing, you know, doing that gap analysis is exactly what capacity building is, and so you need to identify your assets and your liabilities, find the common mission and setting aside the turf battles. That is the underlying foundation, you know, it's one of the seven keys to success. I've presented on it, it's born, it was born out of my work and your work at ED with the former model program that we used to have there with campuses. You know, collaboration is one of those seven keys to success. It's sort of like the question I asked earlier about or the comment about law enforcement prevention. Yeah, they may be two disparate fields if you will, but they have a common goal and that's how and why they can work together. I kind of got that from our friend Dave Clauson, former campus police officer. You know, I'll steal his line. He knows I think I owe him money every time I say it, that prevention is stronger together and you know, the last thing you mentioned, and hopefully it warms the hearts, without getting too sappy about it, of folks around the country working on this. It's the science has to guide you. We have three decades-plus and it continues to evolve. 

That's the other thing I've always said about prevention. It's not a finite you know, situation, though, you know, the science will continue to evolve. We need to continue to learn from the science, but you know, use that science to guide your policies and your actions. So Paul, I really appreciate those four takeaways that you've given to our listeners, because I think they directly relate to the work they do.

Paul Kesner:  Well, thank you. It's such an honor and I think back of national meetings we had back in the late 80's, where we met with higher ed folks and heard what was going on. It thrilled me then and what I'm hearing now thrills me even more, how the field has evolved and I think there's a lot to take honor, the work that you're doing with DEA, the work that happens at SAMHSA, the work that happens Justice and ED, I mean just to see the changes. I think we always see that we should be doing more, but I think we have a lot to pat ourselves on the back for. 

Rich Lucey:  Absolutely, and I want to thank you, Paul, for sharing your time and, you know, your perspective. You know, it's your advice and your wisdom; I get, I feel that our listeners will hopefully get a lot out of what's been a trip down memory lane. I said kind of facetiously, but it's what it was and I think that, you know, taking that perspective in that examination over, you know, your career certainly can help inform people going forward, so I really do appreciate you being on the podcast today.

Paul Kesner:  Thank you for that.

Rich Lucey:  And to our listeners, I want to thank you again for tuning in to this episode of Prevention Profiles: Take Five.

 You can actually listen or read all of the transcripts and listen to all of the previous episodes in this series, on

 And with that, to our listeners, I'm going to say thank you for listening and have a great day.