National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) Elects Four New Members

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  • National Issues Forums

From a February 18, 2016 National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) news release - At the December 3, 2015 meeting of the National Issues Forums Institute in Dayton, Ohio, Sandy Heierbacher, Gary Paul, John R. Unger II, and Mark Wilson were elected to the 2019 class of members of the institute.

“Sandy Heierbacher, Gary Paul, John Unger and Mark Wilson bring to NIFI vision, commitment and broad experience with citizens and communities,” said NIFI president Carol Farquhar Nugent. 

Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) in 2002. NCDD now represents more than 2,200 organizational and individual members and more than 35,000 subscribers. Under Heierbacher's leadership, NCDD has grown into a respected hub, resource clearinghouse, convenor, and facilitative leader for an ever-growing community centered around the practices of dialogue and deliberation. NCDD's members bring people together, both face-to-face and online, to discuss contentious issues across political and ethnic divides and move to agreement and action when possible. NCDD's online Resource Center connects people to more than 3,000 resources on group process and public engagement, and its biennial national conferences have brought together thousands of leaders who are committed to finding innovative ways to convene people to address seemingly intractable problems.

Heierbacher has an MA in Intercultural and International Management from SIT Graduate Institute and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and she serves as a research deputy with the Kettering Foundation in addition to running NCDD. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Participatory Budgeting Project and has consulted for such organizations as the Corporation for National Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Gary Paul is an associate professor in the department of political science and history at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). He received his PhD in political science from the University of Florida. He holds an MA in public policy from Northwestern University and a BS in public management from FAMU.

He has held numerous administrative positions throughout his tenure at FAMU. His academic activities have centered on establishing a multidisciplinary instructional, research, and pre-college Center of Excellence at FAMU in the area of international policy and security studies and developing capacity and political efficacy for students and traditionally marginalized populations by working with and through institutions of higher education and utilizing strategies that focus on public deliberation. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards. From 1998 through 2000, Paul was a fellow of the Kettering Foundation’s New Scholars initiative, which focused on scholarship and public life. 

John R. Unger II has committed his life to being a public servant and leader and to  bringing together his many experiences in theology and public life. Unger is currently serving as a West Virginia state senator representing Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Unger was first elected to the West Virginia Senate in 1998 at the age of 28 – making him one of the youngest elected state senators in West Virginia history. He is currently serving his fifth four-year term and is the Senate Minority Whip. Also, Unger is currently the pastor of the three historic Harpers Ferry Civil War churches: St. John Lutheran Church, Bolivar United Methodist Church, and the priest of St. John’s Episcopal Church. 

During his Senate tenure, Unger led efforts to make West Virginia one of the first states in the nation to have universal early childhood education. He combated child poverty and hunger with the Feed to Achieve Act, and sponsored the creation of the State Division of Energy, Farmland Protection Act, Water Resource Protection Act, anti-animal cruelty legislation, anti-litter legislation and numerous education bills. 

Unger is a Rhodes Scholar who graduated from WVU with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Liberal Arts/Biology, Oxford University with a BA/MA (Oxon) in Philosophy, Politics and of Economics. He holds an M.Div (Honors) from Wesley Theological Seminary (along with Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg). He is currently pursuing a Doctorate.

Mark Wilson is director of Civic Learning Initiatives and the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University.  Originally from Saraland, Alabama, he holds degrees from the University of Mobile (BA, religion), McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University (master of divinity), and Auburn University (PhD, history).

Wilson is the author of a book, William Owen Carver’s Controversies in the Baptist South, and several articles.  He is an Appalachian Teaching Fellow with the Appalachian Regional Commission and secretary of the Alabama Historical Association. He teaches courses on community and civic engagement, as well as practicum courses that provide living-learning experiences for students in rural Alabama communities and beyond. He lives in Auburn, Alabama, with his wife and two children.

For more information about the National Issues Forums Institute and National Issues Forums, visit the NIFI website,, or use the contact information below.

Carol Farquhar Nugent
National Issues Forums Institute
100 Commons Road
Dayton, Ohio 45459