Campus Closeup: Lenette Pynnonen
Lenette Pynnonen (Academic Career and Advisement Center) jokingly admits she may be living in the wrong place. She “hates cold weather,” loves to garden and is a certified scuba diver partial to tropical waters. The Upper Peninsula rewards her with plenty of snow, a limited growing season and the diving option of frigid Lake Superior. It’s hardly an ideal match, but Pynnonen has adapted nicely since she and her husband, Mark, moved to the U.P. 15 years ago to establish a Signs Now franchise. Both knew what they were getting into; they had met at NMU and were eager to return to the area after leaving to obtain advanced degrees and work downstate for several years.
“I was originally a nursing major at Northern, but I struggled with the chemistry part and found I didn’t like being a nurse’s aide,” Pynnonen says. “I decided not to take it farther, but I still wanted to work in a helping profession, so I leaned toward social work instead and got my degree in 1985. I worked in the substance abuse unit of Marquette General and for Planned Parenthood after graduation. When we came back and started the business, I realized I didn’t like Mark being my boss, so I put my MSW and teaching certification to use subbing as a school counselor. I eventually got a full-time position at Sandy Knoll [Elementary] and then at NMU.”
Pynnonen is an academic support services coordinator, working primarily with students who are undeclared, probationary or part of the College Transition Program. With a specialty area of proficiency, she deals with cases involving suspension and dismissal. Pynnonen said she has developed a thick skin bracing for the reaction from students when she has to inform them that their appeal of a disciplinary measure was unsuccessful, but most of her interactions are positive.
“Academic advising is the best,” she says. “I love sitting with students and listening to what they want to do, help them plan out their classes for getting there and watching them succeed. It’s heartwarming to know that I’m giving them tools that will help them achieve their goals. When they graduate, I send them the first and last questionnaires they filled out so they can see how far they’ve come, and I get emails or cards back from about 70 percent of them.”
Pynnonen is involved with campus visits and orientation. She also teaches two sections of UN100, an introduction to NMU, as part of the First-Year Experience Program. Outside of NMU, she serves on the board of the Negaunee Community Foundation and has a side business with Mark and another couple that provides a daily dose of motivation.
“When Mark and I were engaged, he went to Cleveland for a 60-day training program and I had to stay in Marquette to finish my degree. I told my grandma I was worried he’d forget about me. She suggested I write down a thought about him each day on a little piece of paper, put it in a capsule and fill a bottle with them. Reminiscing about that formed the basis for the company. We roll up motivational tag lines, stuff them in gel capsules and put them in bottles. We got the copyright and started it for fun to see if it would take off.”
Pynnonen also enjoys spending time with the couple’s three children. The entire family is scuba certified and put that into practice while vacationing at their timeshare in the Cayman Islands.