Campus Closeup: Margaret Schwalm
There are a few intangible perks associated with Margaret Schwalm’s position in Human Resources. Face-to-face interaction is her favorite part of the job and she gets plenty of it, meeting personally with each new hire.
Not only does she get to counsel employees at the front-end of their careers, when they’re excited to be joining the NMU ranks and eager to make their mark; she gets to be the bearer of good news, informing them of the benefits package they will receive while working here.
As a self-described “glass half full kind of person,” Schwalm is also well-equipped to assist established employees with issues related to their health and dental coverage, the employee/dependent tuition programs and COBRA, the federal law that allows a temporary extension of insurance at group rates in certain instances when employees leave the university.
“I really enjoy being able to talk with employees and help them work through problems,” Schwalm said. “As we move toward more efficiency and self-service options, I’m hoping we continue to balance that with personal attention. Human resources is constantly changing, whether it’s in methods, procedures, databases or personnel. I’m the senior employee in our department right now.”
Schwalm originally planned to work in a classroom until her student teaching experience convinced her otherwise. She studied history and Spanish in college and combined both interests during a one-year study-abroad program at the University of Madrid.
“We stayed with families, but it wasn’t quite a total immersion into Spanish culture,” she said. “Franco was still in power and American women were not allowed to associate with Spanish women. Still, it was a wonderful experience to see that part of the world and I’m glad I went.”
A Detroit native, Schwalm has lived in the Upper Peninsula since 1975—first in Houghton, then Marquette. She gained some part-time experience as a bookkeeper and church secretary/treasurer while raising her three children. Schwalm began in payroll at NMU in 1991, then briefly worked in alumni before returning to what was then called the personnel office in 1993.
Her children are grown and scattered from Illinois to Virginia to Georgia, but Schwalm is not exactly an empty nester. “I rent out a room to NMU students. I’m a house mom for some; others don’t pay much attention to me at all. But it’s nice to have a connection with students.”
In her free time, Schwalm enjoys drama—whether it’s a production on the Forest Roberts Theatre stage, a movie on the big screen at the local cinema or a ninth-inning rally by the Detroit Tigers. She learned how to snowshoe last winter when she visited a friend’s cottage that is only accessible by foot and twice she has trekked 11 miles in the Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk.
Schwalm also enjoys reading. One classic novel from her youth still resonates with her personally: “Anne of Green Gables takes place on Prince Edward Island. My mother lived there and taught in a one-room schoolhouse before she moved to Detroit and went into nursing.”
She has thrived on interacting with and helping others for several years, but Schwalm is anticipating perhaps her biggest challenge in these areas come January: “I’m going to be spending two weeks watching my granddaughters in Georgia. They’re four and six. The older one is very precocious. She says the darndest things and keeps everyone on their toes. I’m looking forward to spending time with the girls; I just hope I survive,” she joked.