By Zoe Folsom

NMU started out comprised almost exclusively of insiders—students who had grown up in the Upper Peninsula, “Yoopers” decades before the term was ever coined. As Northern grew, however, the proportion of outsiders grew with it; today, only 30% of incoming freshman are coming to Northern from a U.P. high school. Some of these students know all about Northern from parents or grandparents who attended before them, while others know next-to-nothing. Arguably, those on campus with the most “insider” knowledge of Northern are the faculty members who began their postsecondary careers at NMU. Many colleges employ some faculty who are also alumni of the institution, but at Northern it’s a fairly common occurrence. From Arts & Sciences, to Business, to Education, to Technology & Occupational Sciences, campus is dotted with devoted faculty members who started their educational journey at Northern. Still, even in this community, the insider/outsider dichotomy of the U.P. remains.

  Portrait of Shirley BrozzoA rare portion of NMU’s faculty alumni have never lived anywhere other than the U.P.: Shirley Brozzo grew up in Ironwood, came to NMU after starting an accounting degree at Gogebic Community College, and eventually earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Northern. While raising her children and pursuing her education, she also began a career both with NMU’s diversity services and as an adjunct faculty of Native American Studies, granting her the unique status of having been a student, faculty, and staff all at once. She went on to work with NMU’s diversity and multicultural educational resource center for decades, and still teaches for the Center for Native American Studies. Dr. Derek Anderson of NMU’s Education programs followed a similar trajectory: born and raised in the U.P., he initially went to GCC while he figured out what career he wanted to pursue. He decided teaching would best suit him, and when someone wants to study teaching in the U.P., Northern definitely stands out as the place to go. As a first-generation college student, Anderson didn’t anticipate going on to become a professor from his job in the Marquette Area Public Schools, but he realized during his master’s at Northern that he really enjoyed conducting research. When offered the chance to become one of the first members of a joint doctoral program with Central Michigan University, he took it. Though that meant he had to spend a few summers in Mt. Pleasant, he’s never truly moved from Marquette since coming to Northern, and he doesn’t plan to do so anytime soon

Others grew up in the U.P. but found themselves elsewhere before coming back to teach at NMU. The choice toThomas Isaacson attend Northern was easy for Jill Grundstrom, whose parents both worked for Northern. She arrived with an intention of pursuing a pre-medical degree and earned her degree in English and French education, although she used her experience working as a local dance teacher and choreographer for NMU’s dance team to work with the American Ballet Theatre Company after graduation. When she grew weary of traveling the country so often for her job, she came back to the U.P. to rest, and agreed to teach a 1-credit hip hop course through the school of health and human performance. Since then, she’s worked with NMU to create an entire dance major, for which she teaches basically every course. Dr. Tom Isaacson also grew up in the U.P., though in the small town of Mohawk. He explained that students in his graduating class pretty much exclusively picked from Tech or Northern, and because Isaacson didn’t want to become an engineer, the choice was simple. In remembering his time as a first-generation college student, he noted that NMU “has been good with providing students with opportunities they never knew existed.” He took those opportunities to a public relations internship with the Chicago White Sox, and all around the country, before deciding to come back to Northern. After teaching at a few different institutions, he realized there would be something special about teaching students he could relate to so well and offering them the life-changing opportunities his own professors gave him when he was a student.

Joe Lubig    Occupying a unique position on the spectrum of insider/outsider are those who came to NMU from outside the U.P., but who’ve fought their way back to call it home. Some, of course, did less fighting than others: Dr. Joe Lubig, Associate Dean and Director of Education, Leadership and Public Service, arrived at Northern from the Detroit Area to pursue his degree in education, and hasn’t left the U.P. since (the same is true of April Lindala, who started working with Northern’s Center for Native American Studies as an undergraduate and hasn’t stopped). When granted the opportunity to move beyond his position as a middle school teacher in Marquette, he welcomed it, working first as an adjunct and then as a tenure-track professor for Northern. He had already maintained connections by inviting student teachers into his classes, and he now fosters those connections to make NMU’s education programs as interactive as possible. Others came from afar, left again, and then made their way back, like Dr. Jacquie Medina (a professor in the outdoor recreation program), and Dr. Jes Thompson (a professor of public relations). Each used their advanced degrees to teach at other institutions before making their way back but kept a pulse on openings at Northern through connections they’d made in their respective departments while they were undergrads. Despite their opportunities elsewhere, they chose to come back, and haven’t regretted it since.

NMU’s faculty alumni are too numerous to fully honor each of their stories here, but the impacts they each have on the Northern and U.P. communities are undeniable. Faculty who intimately know the institution they serve Heidi Blanckand who feel deeply connected to it doesn’t just provide advantages for them, but for students and the surrounding community as well. NMU’s faculty alumni not only contribute to regional knowledge and cultural offerings through the research that they conduct and the performances and presentations they aid in bringing to NMU’s campus, but they also often contribute to organizations in the Marquette community at large, sometimes even going so far as to start their own business in Marquette (we’re looking at you, DIGS Gastropub). For all of these advantages, though, one truly stands above the rest: faculty alumni see their teaching careers as a way for them to give back to the institution that gave them the foundation upon which they’ve built their careers. The chance to offer the same breadth and depth of new opportunities as each received themselves motivates most faculty alumni, and for many, they can’t help but offer even more than what they were given. Faculty like Heidi Blanck, a construction management professor who grew up in Negaunee, go above and beyond: Heidi works to encourage female participation in construction management and the trades more broadly, serving as a mentor and living proof that women belong in the trades, too. As Dr. Joe Lubig put it, “it supplies a sense of obligation and neighborhood and community, because you want to do well for the people who have mentored you.” This attitude means that faculty alumni have a dedication to providing opportunities for the Northern community that those not so intimately connected might not take the extra step to provide. 

   Jes Thompson Despite the many avenues by which alumni have made their way back to NMU as faculty, there are some key themes that arise when they discuss why they wanted to come back in the first place. First, there’s Northern itself, an institution that’s small enough to forge close relationships with students but large enough to conduct leading research. Many professors talked about the opportunity to work with first-generation students who worked hard and simply needed a few resources to flourish, and such an environment makes for satisfying teaching. There’s also Marquette, a town faculty alumni lauded as “big enough that not everybody knows your business, but small enough that you can still run into people” and “one of the best-kept secrets in the country.” It’s a place where those who love outdoor recreation can drive five minutes to ski, mountain bike, hike, or swim, and a great place for those with families to raise their kids, too. All of these factors combine to give Marquette just a little bit of magic, something Bill Digneit (Director of the Department of Theater and Dance) calls a “Marquette Moment”: something that seems like it just couldn’t have happened anywhere else. For some, the U.P. isn’t just a place to enjoy, but an overwhelming sense of home. When Dr. Jes Thompson (a public relations professor) brought her family up to see the U.P. before moving, she worried they might not feel the same way about it as her, but as they walked through the sandy pines to the crystal clear waters of Little Presque beach, she knew they could feel it too. This feeling perhaps serves as the best illustration of why these individuals have become such Northern insiders; really, where else would they go?