Elizabeth Ann Paulus (Liz) was born Elizabeth Ann Cooley on December 10, 1956, in Cleveland, Ohio, and was raised in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. She is the youngest of four children. Her father, James E. Cooley, served in World War II and, while serving, met Joan Nurse, who became a “War Bride.” They returned from Europe together and raised their family in the United States. James’ military service influenced Elizabeth to join the U.S. Army after her brief exploration of being an apple farm worker in Manson, Washington. Paulus’ military career began as a private in the Women’s Army Corps in 1975. After three years of active military service with the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion (Provisional), 1st Infantry Division, Paulus moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she continued her military service in the reserve component of the US Army. She earned a Paratrooper Badge in 1980 while in the 297th Military Intelligence Company and the 12th Special Forces. Her airborne training coincided with the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, causing the trainees to complete training wearing face masks to keep the dust from overwhelming their lungs during their rigorous training. She also began College and graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry in 1988. She attended Officer Candidate School and received a commission as a Quartermaster Second Lieutenant in the Arizona Army National Guard in 1986.
Upon graduating college, Paulus began her career as a civil servant for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs as the Environmental Officer for the newly formed office. She soon rebranched and was assigned as Engineer Officer. Employed for seven years, Paulus established operations for the full range of environmental programs. To assist the transition of 27,000 acres of training and storage areas to the Arizona National Guard identified in the first round of the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), Paulus authored the 1993 environmental assessment, Reuse of Navajo Depot Activity by the National Guard of Arizona which allowed the National Guard to take full control of the Army Depot. In 2005 Paulus deployed as the onsite commander and state liaison for 300 Arizona National Guardsmen in Louisiana during Operation Pelican, recovery operations for the Hurricane Katrina and Rita disasters. Before retiring, Paulus had completed 31 years in the U.S. Army, spanning conflicts from the Cold War to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Most of Paulus’ time was served both in the military and in pursuit of a concurrent career. Paulus retired from military service in 2008 as a Lieutenant Colonel. Paulus’ husband Gerald and her two children also served in the military.
Leaving the Civil Service, Paulus then became an Environmental Specialist with the city of Phoenix. In this role, she developed a comprehensive multi-discipline Facility Assessment program for environmental compliance of over 200 city facilities. She led the citywide team for establishing the Environmental Data Management System to track over 20,000 chemical line items and oversaw the migration of the database from network to internet technology. Paulus developed the policy to implement the city’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program and retired upon the program’s successful implementation after 20 years of equivalent service with the city.
Paulus is a lifelong public servant. Following active military service and working in the city of Phoenix, the Paulus’ founded College Bound in 2010, a nonprofit 501c3, where she began a new career as the Executive Director to help improve postsecondary education opportunities for disadvantaged youth. In 2018 after earning a master’s degree in Education Leadership and receiving a Certified College Access Professional certification, she designed a curriculum for College Bound’s RISE Scholars initiative and facilitated partnerships with local middle schools and high schools to provide one-on-one college advising to low-income and disadvantaged youth throughout the region. Over the years, thousands of underrepresented high school youth matriculated to College under the RISE Scholars program through a partnership established with the Career and Technical Education School District, the East Valley Institute of Technology. She was the mastermind behind another College Bound initiative aimed at food-insecure students to keep youth in college and on track to a brighter future through education. That initiative, called Fueling Minds with Heart, continues to provide food and hygiene items to local College students. The College Bound AZ programs serve over 1000 students monthly throughout the year.
These programs proved invaluable during the pandemic years 2020-2021. Paulus, through RISE Scholars, continued to serve students one-on-one to streamline the college-going process and expanded its impact to include any post-secondary school. Hundreds of low-income students continued to be served when EVIT remained open throughout the COVID crisis. In 2022 alone, College Bound helped over 400 youth attend college and garnered more than $13 million in financial awards for the students.
During this period, Paulus launched an acclaimed laptop drive for RISE Scholars students to improve the available technology for high school completion and college admissions. Paulus secured funding through grants and collaborated with local IT companies to obtain laptops with the necessary specifications. Once updated and imaged for immediate use, Paulus hand-delivered laptops to students isolated by the pandemic.
Concurrently, Paulus reorganized Fueling Minds with Heart in response to the community college’s switch to curbside pickup. College Bound’s Meal Kit and the COVID Cookbook containing ten recipes, invented by Paulus, allowed an agile response to continue services. Meal Kits include all the ingredients and a recipe for feeding a family of four and are packed in a bag for curbside pickup. Over 5,000 meals, including the Meal Kits packed by volunteers, were delivered to the community college for families during the COVID crisis.
Following the pandemic, RISE Scholars’ growth was met by Paulus forming a consortium of in-state schools and resources such as Mesa United Way to streamline ongoing collaboration. As a result of these efforts, by 2022, 1,000 students transitioned to college through the RISE Scholars program with $23 million in financial awards.
In 2022 Paulus and her husband Gerald organized Chicago Fest West to help fund College Bound AZ programs. The event is a music and food festival celebrating the culture of Chicago in Mesa, AZ, where the Chicago Cubs Spring Training is held annually. During its inaugural year, the festival drew about 5,000 visitors, and it is expected to grow into a signature fundraising event to support College Bound’s mission.
Paulus holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Arizona State University (1988) and achieved a master’s in Education Leadership from Upper Iowa University (2018). She enjoys mentoring, family genealogy, rock collecting, travel, road trips, and hiking.
Paulus chose to participate in the deep space Enterprise Mission as a participant in the inevitable, mankind’s exploration of the universe. “Wanderlust has been a fascination of mine from an early age. As a child, I drew the navigational controls of a spaceship on the inside walls of my closet, shut the door, and journeyed onto other planets. After high school, I hitchhiked across the U.S. to try something different. I left suburbia to live and work on an apple farm, maybe in response to the hunter-gatherer in me and my innate urge to press on. Initially, in college, I wanted to study meteorites to find evidence of other life in the universe. I research my own family genealogy and have retraced some of my ancestors’ steps to try and understand what made them press on. My DNA analysis tells me I’m descended from Vikings, maybe the most traveled people on Earth. My pursuit to answer my own questions is personified in the Star Trek television series. I was and still am an avid watcher of the earliest series that streaming services make accessible for viewing daily. I’ve been to the Star Trek Museum in New York. The journey into space gives me the ability to press on. It’s possible my husband and I could be some distant planet’s ‘Adam and Eve.’”
Born: December 10, 1956, Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Children: Drew Trojanowski, James Gilman, Krysta Paulus (stepdaughter), Erika Velasquez (stepdaughter), Matthew Paulus (stepson)
Spouse: Gerald E. Paulus, Jr (2001 – present) (Previous married names: Elizabeth Akens until 1983, Elizabeth Trojanoswki until 1989, Elizabeth Gilman until 1998, then Elizabeth Paulus in 2001)
Parents: James E. Cooley, Joan Nurse
Siblings: Phillip A. Cooley, Dianna L. Sharps (born Thomas A. Cooley), Michael L. Cooley