University Marshal: T. Celeste Napier, PhD

T. Celeste Napier, PhD

The designation of University Marshal, the first academic official to enter the commencement hall, is among the highest honors bestowed upon a faculty member at Rush University. The marshal is the first academic official to enter the commencement hall, and they lead and attend to the procession ritual of the University faculty, the graduating students and the president’s party.

Bearing the University’s mace, the marshal symbolizes the authority and leadership that faculty exercise over the educational process to ensure the preparation of competent and responsible graduates. In representing the faculty, the marshal is a member held in highest esteem for significant accomplishments in teaching, research, service and patient care.

The 2022 Rush University Marshal is T. Celeste Napier, PhD, professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Rush Medical College. Napier also is the director of education and research training for the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program and the director of the Center for Compulsive Behavior and Addiction. She founded the center and implemented the research, education and community outreach efforts of Rush University in the areas of substance use disorders and problem gambling.

Napier has received numerous academic honors including the Career Achievement Award from Chicago Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience in 2015, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from her alma mater, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, in 2017. Her scholarly service includes being president of the Society for Neuroscience Chicago Chapter, and membership in National Institutes of Health scientific review committees and advisory boards for NIH-funded programs and not-for-profit organizations. Napier is a world leader in the field of addiction neuroscience. This leadership is exemplified by invitations to provide expert testimony to the Illinois House of Representatives, and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology.


“‘Find time for self-discovery’ and ‘spend time volunteering’. Give yourself the freedom to explore new interests, maybe unearth buried talents, but consider volunteering as a context by which self-discovery can accomplished.”

A Q&A with Rush University 2022 Commencement Marshal T. Celeste Napier, PhD

Tell me about your work in the Center for Compulsive Behavior and Addiction.

The center works as a mechanism for collaboration to forward clinical and preclinical research as well as education. The education mission includes training of health professionals across the colleges at Rush University. In today’s society, health professionals in most medical specialties will encounter patients who are struggling with a use disorder, be it a substance use disorder, like opioid addiction, or a behavioral disorder, like problem gambling. It is imperative that we tool our students at Rush with science-based skills that effectively recognize and treat patients with use disorders. These skills include how to relate to the patients, and science tells us that therapy is particularly effective when stigma is replaced by empathy.

Health equity is one of Rush University’s top priorities. How does the center promote health equity?

One of the calling cards for me to come to Rush was the emphasis on health equity and community-based initiatives. Rush is embedded in the Illinois Medical District and next door to Chicago’s West Side and medically underserved communities with significant social, economic and mental health inequities. Science has clearly shown the health impact of such inequities on brain function, as is manifested in the city’s opioid epidemic, where the highest overdose rate is in the West Side. The driving force for the center’s community outreach is education about brain and use disorders. We focus on how science can guide prevention programs and provide answers to why people succumb to use disorders, and how these insights can help address addiction therapy. We work with city alderman, state senators and representatives, and nonprofit organizations to identify and implement education venues through which we can reach our neighboring communities.

I am so proud of Rush for being a leader in the Chicago area in promoting health equities.  There is a lot we still can do, and I am honored to be part of this effort.

As a leader in your field, how do you hone your leadership skills? What are some tips for professionals that are seeking leadership experience?

I do believe that the newer generation has some terrific advantages over what we had when I was in graduate school. We focused heavily on science. Leadership and administrative skill-building was not part of our educational experience. The Rush Mentoring Program, under the leadership of Susan Chubinskaya, PhD, vice provost for faculty affairs, is doing a terrific job of training young faculty and postdoctoral fellows here at Rush with these skills. I am honored to be a mentor in this program.

I suggest that early career faculty avail themselves of such skill-building opportunities. Developing these skills will benefit your career regardless of your occupational trajectory. Seek out excellent mentors. Having a one-on-one, mentor-mentee relationship can be invaluable. Finally, build your network early and strategically, but include only those who are trustworthy, kind and of course, fun!

What advice would you give our students as they prepare to enter a workforce in the COVID-19 era and in this new age of health care?

The COVID-19 era has underscored the value of self-care as well as the value of empathy for the life scenarios of others. As we are reintroduced to a face-to-face work context, it will become increasingly valuable to appreciate how environmental and health-related stresses play out in different people. It is important to recognize the coping capacity and support network of your colleagues and patients, and to set relationship and treatment expectations from the lens of empathy. Make mindful attempts to ‘walk in their shoes’.  Enhancing empathy will assure a healthy transition to the post-COVID phase of health care.

What advice do you wish someone would have given you before you started your career?

I think it has to be ‘find time for self-discovery’ and ‘spend time volunteering’. That is, give yourself the freedom to explore new interests, maybe unearth buried talents, but consider volunteering as a context by which self-discovery can accomplished. 

The other thing I would add is, even for those with laser-focused career plans, be comfortable in reevaluating. Make an honest reassessment every five or 10 years, and be OK with a realization that you want something different. Such an outcome does not mean you are a failure, but rather career-enriching process, and potentially a new and exciting adventure.