Decades of dedication

Leigh Jeanotte and dozens of others leave UND a better place as they retire or participate in buyouts

Leigh Jeanotte

It was fond farewells all around for Leigh Jeanotte, longtime UND director of American Indian Student Services, on Monday, June 26. Jeanotte said goodbye to colleagues and other friends as he prepared for retirement after 43 years at UND. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Leigh Jeanotte is a builder.

For more than 43 years, he has worked on behalf of American Indian students, tribal communities, and UND. Under his leadership, American Indian programs and initiatives on campus have grown from three or four to around 30 today.

The longtime director of American Indian Student Services is emblematic of the 85 dedicated faculty and staff who are retiring or taking voluntary buyouts this summer. Like Jeanotte and Vicki Dawes, formerly of Student Health Services (See video below), they have devoted decades to the University, and UND Today wanted to recognize them. There are so many wonderful stories that it’s impossible to pay tribute to everyone, and a list of those who are leaving the University is available here.

In recognition of his leadership, Jeanotte was recently named to the North Dakota Native American Hall of Honor at the state Heritage Center in Bismarck, where his portrait and story will be displayed.

“I was shocked and appreciative, and really grateful,” Jeanotte said about the award, which recognizes just a few people per year.

Jeanotte has received many awards over his decades on campus, and is most proud of those from UND, including the Meritorious Service Award and the Ken and Toby Baker UND Proud Award, the North Dakota Indian Education Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award from Multicultural Student Services.

Crediting others

Jeanotte credits others for advances during his tenure, and throws kudos to his staff.

“The staff is so sensitive, caring, talented and committed,” Jeanotte said. “The credit goes to them – they are the workhorses for the program, and they do a fantastic job.”

“UND has been so good to me – I love the institution, and I’m really, really grateful to be able to provide services to retain American Indian students.”

Jeanotte has helped thousands of students. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, he earned three degrees from UND, and began his career in 1974 at the College of Education and Human Development, coordinating the Indian Teacher Corps, which trained American Indians to teach on reservations.

“Then, the key areas American Indians majored in were Indian Studies, social work, and education,” Jeanotte said. “Today, American Indian students major in nursing, engineering, law, medicine, and every other major. It is so fulfilling to see the diversity of majors. It shows the progress of American Indians in the state.”

Jeanotte credits the late President Thomas Clifford and many others for that progress, and he’s also grateful for the American Indian Student Center. “It’s one of the better facilities in the Upper Midwest,” Jeanotte said. “It’s a home away from home for our students.”

He’s most proud that with the help of others, especially Emil LaRocque, director of the Tribal Scholarship Program at Turtle Mountain Community College, a tuition waiver was created for American Indian students.

“The State Board of Higher Education turned us down many times,” Jeanotte said. “But Emil and I kept trying. Finally, we decided to try one more time, and the Board approved it. That program has assisted so many American Indian and other under-represented students, and it exists today for all 11 institutions. I feel good about that.”

There have been challenges, Jeanotte said. Working to change the Fighting Sioux nickname was one of the more difficult times.

“We stayed objective and fair, and adopted an educational format to help people understand,” Jeanotte said. “Our advocacy changed the name, and changed the stance of thousands of people. We did it with respect and without belittling anyone. It was the right thing to do, and it led to a more welcome campus for everyone.”

Leigh Jeanotte

The Gransberg Room of the Gorecki Alumni Center filled with well-wishers, all vying for time to congratulate and thank Jeanotte for his years of service to UND. Jeanotte is emblematic of many dozens of other dedicated UND employees who decided to call it a career in the days and weeks leading up to July 1. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Bright future

Jeanotte sees a positive future for American Indian Student Services. “My hope is that UND will continue and expand services, increase retention, and be sensitive to American Indian student needs.”

And after 40 years, he said it’s time to let someone with new ideas continue to grow and develop AISS.

“We’ve always been about students and what to do to make them more successful,” he said. “That’s been our mindset, and we’ve succeeded with the support of administrators, faculty and staff.”

Though he’s retiring from UND, Jeanotte has been offered some other opportunities, and said he’ll probably take advantage of some of them. He enjoys restoring older cars, deer hunting, fishing, and spending time at his lake place. And he’ll spend time with family.

“My family has been so supportive – children, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, children,” he said. “So many family members have come here to earn their degrees.”

Every day has been a positive experience to come in to work, Jeanotte said.

“I’ve enjoyed it. The highlight of my job is to see students graduate, and to see proud parents and relatives watch as they go across that stage. It’s been a good run.”