During her four years as a Macalester student, Registrar Jayne Niemi ’79 worked in the admissions office. When her senior year was coming to a close, the Director of Admissions approached her and asked, “Jayne, what are you doing after graduation?”
At the time, Niemi wasn’t quite sure how to respond.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I will find a job I suppose and I will buy a car and do something,’” Niemi said. “I was not exactly plan-ful. [The Director of Admissions] said, ‘Well, there is a job downstairs that I think you might be interested in.’”
The position was as a principal clerk in the registrar’s office — the same office where she works today.
“She put me in touch with the person who was hiring, and we had… an interview… and he hired me,” she said.
After working as a principal clerk, Niemi became assistant registrar, associate registrar and eventually, registrar in 2000.
This year marks Niemi’s 40th year working in the registrar’s office, and her official retirement.
When asked why she decided to stay at Macalester for four decades, Niemi points to the relationships and the atmosphere on campus as well as the variety of her work.
“It’s a fun job, it’s a fun place to work, lots of great people, interesting work,” Niemi said. “[It] never gets boring — well, I won’t say never gets boring… but I had the best of things, which was choice in what I did.
“I can work with people,” she continued, “I can work with students, which is fabulous, or I can work with their parents, which is usually fabulous, or I can work with alums, faculty, other staff.”
Professor of geology and biology Kristi Curry Rogers first met Niemi before becoming a faculty member at Macalester. That meeting occurred at a staff party that her husband, fellow professor of geology Ray Rogers, set up as part of the entertainment committee.
“Ray used to have to go to these events ahead of time along with the rest of the entertainment committee, which included Jayne, and light candles and whatnot,” Curry Rogers said. “So, my first encounter with Jayne was as a party person — as somebody who was really involved in the community, and bringing people together in a social way. I think that’s another really important part of her persona as a person here at Macalester.
“She’s the one at our holiday parties that is always wearing these reindeer antlers and trying to bring festivity to everyone on campus,” she continued.
Curry Rogers became much closer with Niemi after joining the Macalester faculty in 2008.
“I taught a first-year [course] my first semester here as a full-time tenure track person and I didn’t know anything at that time. I was just learning everything on the fly,” Curry Rogers said. “If it hadn’t been for Jayne, I would have had a really hard time answering students’ questions when they were coming in.
“There are a lot of things you need to know as an advisor, and I was also a brand-new faculty member,” she continued, “I always knew that I could call Jayne and ask her. There’s a direct line of communication with her that is something that is really special.”
For other faculty, including Ray Rogers, Niemi’s dedication to making Macalester a welcoming and connected place for all first-year students stands out. Rogers noted that one year, Niemi hosted him and the students in his first-year course for dinner.
“[Curry Rogers and I] don’t live close to campus, so it’s tough to get a first-year [course] all the way to the other side of St. Paul, whereas Jayne is a walk,” Rogers said. “So my class and I walked to her house and Jayne and her husband Dick hosted it. She herself remembers the faculty-student interactions, and she’s a big proponent and facilitator of that.
“Jayne is a social person,” he continued. “Everybody pretty much on this campus knows Jayne, and she’s out and she moves beyond her building and visits the rest of campus. That is Jayne. Whoever replaces her, I just hope they are half of that.”
Hannah Gilbert ’21 worked in the registrar’s office for a year and a half, starting at the beginning of her first year.
“Jayne is an absolute delight,” Gilbert said. “I think she’s in an interesting position because, obviously, she is the head of that office and has a pretty significant role in the college, and she… runs many important things that I can only imagine. But at the same time… she is truly a part of that office. She runs it with a lot of grace and enthusiasm and absolutely knows what she is doing.
“Especially coming in as a first-year, working there first semester, it was nice to have ‘real’ adults around like Jayne who I really trusted,” Gilbert said. “Some people who knew what they were doing with their lives and who I could ask questions of rather than just a bunch of other 18-year-old first-years who felt like they didn’t know what was going on.”
Besides registering students for classes and making sure seniors will graduate on time, Niemi is well-known for reading the names of graduating seniors at commencement, a duty she took on back in 2000 just before she became registrar. As the name-reader, Niemi works diligently to pronounce every student’s name correctly. She reads over all of the names far in advance of commencement, scrutinizing each syllable, calling students in for “test drives,” and even consulting the linguistics department for those that she struggles with.
“It’s become a thing,” Niemi said. “I probably practice far less than people think I do. But it’s a lot of fun because I think it’s important — I know it’s important. It drives me crazy when students will say, ‘Oh nevermind, it’s not important.’ It does [matter] to me and to their family, maybe.”
Since she began reading the names, Niemi has received media attention for her meticulous preparation from news sources like the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Associated Press. Faculty also admire her expertise and dedication to her task.
“If you had a name that was difficult to pronounce, seriously, you would go visit with her and she would work on it with you,” Rogers said. “Students teach her how to pronounce their name. She does it phonetically, she has all these tricks that she uses, you know listening, she records students saying their names so that she can make sure to get it right, and she always does a fabulous job.”
When Niemi first started, she never anticipated spending 40 years at Macalester.
“I do remember when I was talking to all of my friends, and they kept saying, ‘You’re staying there, why are you staying there?’ and I felt that negative feeling, like, ‘I don’t know. It’s a job,’ Niemi said. “Turns out I am still here and I am happier than many of those people who went on and did things in places where… they didn’t feel as at-home in their workplace as I do.”
Niemi said that she doesn’t have a particular accomplishment that she is most proud of.
“I would just like to think that I have worked hard to make things better for everybody,” she said. “You know, it’s my own corner of the world.”