Campus Closeup: Judy Puncochar


Judy Puncochar (Education) will be honored Jan. 30 in East Lansing as a recipient of the 2012 Michigan Campus Compact Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award. The biennial award is presented to employees at MCC member campuses who’ve made “outstanding contributions” to service learning over the previous two years. Puncochar credits her field-based education course ED 231: Teaching for learning in the secondary classroom.


The students apply their educational theories and research to real-world experiences outside their typical comfort zones. They assist with after-school programs at the Lake Superior Village Youth and Family Center, which is in a high-density housing area of Marquette. They help Bothwell students and teachers as MathCounts assistants, Homework Club tutors and helpers at school dances and music and sporting events. They also spend a full day working at the Hannahville Indian Community’s K-12 Nah Tah Wahsh Public School Academy in Harris.


“I find education students to be people-focused, good problem-solvers, effective leaders and wonderful role models. It’s nice to get them out in the community making a difference and their efforts are deeply appreciated by those they assist. Almost every class has a field experience component because education is a perfect fit for academic service learning.”


Originally planning a career in medicine, Puncochar graduated with degrees in zoology and chemistry from the University of California, Davis. She decided to earn more liberal studies credits by spending a year studying philosophy with the nuns at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles. Her experience tutoring nursing students in algebra while there convinced her to change course and pursue a degree in education. Puncochar’s first teaching job was in the city’s heavy crime area known as South Central.


“I got up at 4 a.m. to beat the traffic and arrive early enough to complete my prep work. Every day included hands-on learning, so it was incredibly busy. That’s where my absolute commitment to applying what you learn originated. You need to have that drive to be an effective teacher. I just told my students to listen to their guts as to whether they really love what they do. If being in the schools gives them energy and they don’t feel as if they’re only expending energy, it’s a good fit. Education needs high-quality, dedicated teachers.”


Arriving at NMU in 2004, Puncochar made an immediate impression in the classroom and in developing online courses. Her role as chair of the ethnic and cultural diversity committee on campus morphed into coordinating Northern’s annual Uniting Neighbors in the Experience of Diversity (UNITED) Conference, which has been attended by 1,000-2,600 people.


Puncochar describes work as one of her hobbies because she’s so passionate about it. In the summer, she is based at her parents’ Nebraska farm, teaching online and tending to an organic vegetable garden. She previously grew several state fair prize-winning roses. Her annual New Year’s resolution is to learn something new.

“For 2012, I want to learn as much as I possibly can from my parents about operating a farm. They’re getting older and I don’t want them to pass before they can pass their wealth of knowledge on to me. I want to find out how to sink a well, butcher chickens, harvest seeds, can fruits and vegetables—basically do a
lot of on-site, hands-on learning.”


With artistic and inventive ability inherited from her parents, Puncochar is skilled at clothing construction. She also lived in a house decorated entirely with her own paintings and sculptures. She enjoys cross-country skiing, hiking and walking in the Marquette area. Puncochar traveled to New Zealand over the holiday break and also makes occasional trips to visit her two grown sons and their families. The brothers were born five days apart. One, whom she adopted, is Native American and an accreditation officer for an Omaha Nation tribal clinic. Her biological son is a district attorney in Colorado. Puncochar also became a first-time grandmother to Henry, whom she proudly reports can already identify the letters of the alphabet at 23 months.



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Updated: January 19, 2012

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