Retiring after 8 years at UNK, Mary Chinnock Petroski made a positive difference on campus

Job title: Chief compliance officer
Years at UNK: 8
Family: Husband Greg; Daughter Julia Chinnock Howze and son-in-law Erich Howze of Pflugerville, Texas, and grandchildren Tobias, 7, and Emmelyn, 4; Daughter Lianna Bash and son-in-law Kyle Bash of Newcastle, Washington, and grandson Rennon, 2 months; Stepson Greg Petroski III and stepdaughter-in-law Anne Petroski of Wheatland, Wyoming, and stepgrandchildren Ryland, 17, Carter, 15, and Lexie, 9.
Hobbies/Interests: Gardening and yard work. I love growing flowers, especially roses. We also have a large garden and raise fruits and vegetables. It’s all just for fun, but we enjoy the produce all winter. I also love to read and spend every possible moment reading or listening to a recorded book.

Career path: Hired as human resources director at UNK in 2014. Named chief compliance officer in 2017, when the Office of Equity and Compliance was created. Prior to joining UNK, I taught elementary school for seven years, then went to law school. After law school, I clerked for Judge Dale Fahrnbruch on the Nebraska Supreme Court, worked in Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a labor and employment law attorney and opened my own practice in Laramie, Wyoming, specializing in employment law. I also was the alternate city of Laramie municipal court judge when the sitting judge was not available and clerked for Chief Justice William Taylor on the Wyoming Supreme Court. I worked in the University of Wyoming Human Resources Department as the employee relations manager and did extensive training in mediation, especially workplace mediation. When I left the University of Wyoming to come to UNK, I was the manager of employee relations, training and employee development. I was at UW for almost 10 years.

Four words that describe your personality: Introverted, resilient, optimistic, sincere.

Share something about yourself that few people know:
My first job after college was teaching at Pleasant Hill School, a rural school outside Lincoln. I taught kindergarten, first and second grades. It was so much fun. I also spent summers teaching at the school in my hometown of Alliance, which was set up specifically for children of migrant farm workers. I loved it because the children were happy and excited to be there. Teaching in the summer affords more opportunity to do things outside, so it was a lot of fun.

What do you like most about your job?
I like being involved in projects that impact the entire university system and having a role in creating new and better policies and procedures for all four campuses. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with my counterparts on the other campuses, and I value the relationships I have formed around the system.

Biggest change you’ve seen at UNK since you started?
The pandemic made working from home and meeting on Zoom regular aspects of doing business. Learning how to do our jobs in that environment was challenging and interesting. Despite the horrors of COVID-19, good things have come from being required to learn new and different ways to get the job done effectively. The biggest change I have seen is in the mindset of those tasked with managing these differences.

Best career advice you received?
The best advice I received came from my dad, Bob, who told me to be honest and nonjudgmental, and to listen before speaking.

What is your favorite thing about UNK?
My favorite thing about UNK is the work we do to provide a good learning environment for first-generation college students, especially those from small, rural communities. When I went to college, I did not realize the advantage of having two parents with college degrees. I watched many of my friends struggle and ultimately drop out. The changes from high school to college can be overwhelming, and having support to help incoming students navigate those changes is invaluable.

Where is your favorite place to visit on campus?
I love going to the Walker Art Gallery in the Fine Arts Building because student artwork is amazing. We have had student work hanging on the walls in our interview room, making it a more comfortable space for students. I have purchased several pieces from ceramic and glassblowing classes.

Biggest challenge you faced during your time at UNK?
Developing the Office of Equity and Compliance and creating a department that provides high-quality service and is respected across campus. It was a fun challenge, and I appreciate the opportunity to meet it.

What qualities make someone successful in your position?
My job requires the ability to listen to and understand both sides of a problem. A person in the position cannot be judgmental or demanding and must be able to analyze a situation or issue and look for a reasonable solution. Everyone deserves respect and consideration. Most of the time we work in a gray area – things are rarely easy to categorize as either good or bad.

How do you measure success, in terms of your career?
Feeling like I have made a positive difference in the educational and work environments of the people we serve. Having staff who are loyal and dedicated and work together as a team. Being able to walk away from UNK feeling like I have done my best and achieved good results.

What is your fondest memory of UNK?
It’s hard to pick one memory, so it’s more of a generalization. I have worked with some awesome people at UNK and can honestly say I’ve had the best supervisors, co-workers and members of my staff of any place I have worked.