Campus Closeup: Theresa Nease

Theresa Nease (President’s Office) serves a dual function at Northern. She is executive assistant to the president and also secretary of the NMU Board of Trustees. It was the latter role that consumed her time this morning as the board held one of its regularly scheduled business sessions. During these meetings, Nease sits at a table in the back of the conference room, recording the minutes. She’s also there to ensure that the board adheres to its bylaws and follows the official rules of order.

“The most rewarding part for me is when the meeting runs smoothly,” she said. “There’s a sense of satisfaction when it’s over. Most people don’t realize the work that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen. My predecessor (Pam Grundstrom) had a picture on her wall of a duck. It said something like, ‘Swim serenely on the surface and paddle like heck underneath.’ That really applies to this position. On the surface, you want a meeting that’s well-organized, runs smoothly and stays on schedule. But there’s a lot that goes into making that happen that isn’t necessarily obvious or visible to those who attend.”

The board convenes five times a year, typically over two days to allow for committee meetings, but for the secretary, it’s nearly a full-time job. Most of Nease’s workload involves board-related preparations and logistics. She coordinates schedules, handles travel arrangements for out-of-town trustees, develops the meeting agendas in consultation with President Les Wong and the board chair, and relays necessary information as required. The remainder of her workload is devoted to her executive assistant duties.

“One of my responsibilities with that is providing support for the President’s Council,” she said. “I handle the scheduling and take notes at the meetings. It’s the only cross-divisional group on campus that touches all aspects of the university and it’s there to advise the president. I also handle a myriad of things that surface in the office but aren’t specifically defined day to day.”

One important quality that permeates both of Nease’s roles is her ability to protect confidential information. Prior to working in the president’s office, she spent 16 years in academic affairs, first as principal secretary to the associate provost and later as administrative assistant to the provost. She also worked in human resources, records and admissions.

“I’ve been here 28 years. I was 17 when I started. I had secretarial training in high school and learned typing, shorthand and parliamentary procedures. I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a career. I interviewed at Northern and lucked out getting a job without experience.”

While she opted for a steady job out of high school instead of college, Nease gradually worked toward her goal of a bachelor’s degree. She earned a bachelor’s in general psychology with a minor in business last December.

“We have a wonderful opportunity here, so I thought I should take advantage of it. I started in business, but psychology has always fascinated me. I stopped and started while raising my kids, taking one class here and there along the way. I like working at Northern because of the opportunities for education, promotion, staying on top of technology and working with such a diverse class of people. My job is ever changing; it’s never the same every day. There’s always a new challenge, which keeps it interesting. I’m always learning.”

Now that she has completed her studies and her children are grown, Nease plans to look for volunteer opportunities, ideally with families or children. She will also have more time to devote to her favorite hobbies: gardening; spoiling her family’s yellow lab, Kola, which means “friend” in the language of the Sioux in South Dakota, where they purchased her; and reading (psychological thrillers, of course).

NMU factors prominently in her family. Nease’s sister, Cathy Niemi (Finance and Administration), is stationed a floor below her in Cohodas. “We work well together and we're upfront and honest with each other —sometimes to a fault. People are surprised at times when they hear us talking and don’t realize we’re sisters.” Nease's husband, Bob, has served as a heavy equipment operator, groundskeeper and custodian on campus. Daughter Bobbi holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university and son, Jake, is a student at NMU.


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Updated: September 25, 2009

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