Leading the community

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Suzeanne Benet presents during Grand Valleys annual Her Story series on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff – Suzeanne Benet presents during Grand Valley’s annual Her Story series on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017.

Kyle Doyle

From being raised in the suburbs of Georgia, to getting her first position in Chicago at DePaul University’s marketing school, to falling in love with Grand Valley State University as a professor and department chair, Suzeanne Benet has been through numerous trials and tribulations and met her fair share of people, both kind and unkind.

However, as assistant vice president for academic affairs at GVSU, she has maintained the same mentality her entire journey, from being in high school to being a department chair: “Be nice and respectful to everyone.”

“There’s no reason, even when you’re disagreeing with them, you do it respectfully,” Benet said. “I figure I work with a lot of smart people and how do I know their idea isn’t better than mine? And I’ve always treated (it) that way.”

As part of this year’s Women’s Commission HerStory series, Benet talked about her life and the influences people had on her as she grew up and became the person she is today. In her presentation, she outlined the importance of her family, her quest for niceness and how she ended up at her current role at GVSU.

“I’m a practical person,” she joked throughout her presentation.

The HerStory series is an annual series put on by the Women’s Commission since 2003 that has had over 50 participants tell their stories of how they grew up and became the women they are today.

“HerStory presenters are leaders who share their dynamic personal stories to inspire the GVSU community,” said Samantha Minnis, the co-chair for advocacy on the Women’s Commission.

Benet told her story with a series of stories and tangents from her early childhood, all the way up through when she took the job has assistant vice president for academic affairs. While her stories may have seemed disjointed at first, they all circled back.

Her backstory is filled with several instances of luck and chance finding her when she was at difficult moments in her life. For example, during her time at DePaul, she had her first child, and a department chair tried to use that as a reason for her to no longer be eligible for tenure. At the same time, her husband got a job offer at Michigan State University and had only two weeks to reply.

As luck would have it, a friend of hers recommended checking out GVSU in order to escape the predicament she was in.

“I called Grand Valley on Tuesday,” Benet said. “They talked to me; they said fax us your resume. I did. They said come in on Thursday of that same week and you’ll do your presentation by Friday, and by Friday evening, they had made me a verbal offer. And so, I’m like, this is meant to be and so I took it.”

Throughout the retelling of her story, Benet emphasized the importance her family had on her life, citing her parents as a huge reason she went to college.

“We’re 12 months apart in age and (my) family had no money; my dad was in graduate school,” Benet said. “So we were both living the same life I think, and then very driven to go through college. So we’re at the same stage in our life cycle.”

Although she had to overcome a number of obstacles, Benet stuck with what she knew best: being kind to those around her, which would take her a long way. She may have been in every club in high school, as she puts it, but just being nice is what made her stand out from the rest, as she found out when she went back to her hometown with her kids and bumped into a former high school classmate.

“She said to my kids, ‘You know, your mom, she was like the smartest person in our whole school, (but) she was always nice,’” Benet said. “And I really appreciated her saying to them that I was nice.

“So, I would say that’s it in a nut: I try. I’m maybe not always successful—I can have a bad day like anybody—but I try.”