Staff Spotlight: Michele Zywiec

First-Generation College Celebration Sunday, November 8, 2020

The following is an excerpt from a Council for Opportunity in Education, Center for First-generation Student Success and NASPA media release:

First-Generation College Celebration Advances National Narrative as Pandemic Academic Disruptions Threaten Student Futures

November 8 was selected as the date for the annual National First-Generation College Celebration to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

For the past four years institutions from across the nation celebrated first-generation students, faculty, and staff on November 8 and highlighted the important contributions made within the campus communities.

Stemming from the continued success, the Council for Opportunity for Education (COE), in partnership with the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA and The Suder Foundation, is pleased to announce the continuation of the First-Generation College Celebration on November 8, 2020. This date marks the 55th anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act (HEA), which has helped millions of first-generation, low-income/under-resources students persist to degree completion.

“Academic disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic place the futures of many first-generation students in a precarious state,” said Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education. “However, in 2020, resilient campuses and communities are overcoming challenges and finding renewed strength each day. Now more than ever it’s critical we use this celebration to recommit to supporting, nurturing and encouraging the outstanding potential that exists within so many first-generation students.”


The Inver Hills News story below was first published June 28, 2019:

Staff Spotlight: Michele Zywiec

Administrative assistant feels deep connection with college

Michele “Mitch” Zywiec, 56, began working as a receptionist for the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities (MnSCU at the time) in 1988, the same year Walmart opened its first supercenter and The Last Emperor took home nine Academy Awards. Mitch started at Inver Hills Community College four years later as a faculty secretary in the Business building.

Today, Mitch is going on her 28th year at Inver Hills. She is an administrative assistant whose duties are focused on exemplary customer service, filling out expense reports and updating administrative calendars.

“The best part of my job is interacting with students,” Mitch said. “I love helping students find their way around the college.”

A 1986 graduate of the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, Mitch has a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Sociology. She was a first-generation college student, one greatly encouraged by her father, and her field of interest was gerontology.

Mitch’s husband Bill, attended Hamline University and today owns and operates Zywiec’s Garden Center in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. The garden center provides the large planters and hanging baskets that decorate the college’s campus during the spring, summer and autumn months.

Zywiec’s Garden Center planters and baskets gallery

“I have such a passion for Inver Hills. The college has benefited so many people I know.”
— Mitch Zywiec, Administrative Assistant, Inver Hills Community College

More about Mitch and her family…

Bill’s uncle, Jim Zywiec, attended Inver Hills and was a member of the college’s first graduating class in 1970. Jim went on to earn a master’s degree from UWRF. He was a teacher for the Hastings School District, ISD 200, until his retirement.

Mitch and Bill’s son, Will, 34, is a nuclear engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. Will served six years in the U.S. Navy as an engineering watch supervisor and nuclear mechanic aboard USS Pennsylvania (SSBN-735), an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a B.S. in Nuclear Engineering, going on to earn a Master of Science in Engineering (M.S.E.) in Systems Engineering from The Johns Hopkins University. He is working on his Ph.D. in Systems Engineering at George Washington University.

Will is married and his wife, Samantha, was a PSEO student at Inver Hills who went on to earn her PharmD from the University of Minnesota. They met in junior high school.

Origin of the nickname Mitch…

Mitch got her nickname from her father, Mike, who was a fan of Mitch Miller and liked to watch Sing Along with Mitch on TV. “My dad would call me Mitchie and the name just stuck,” Mitch said.
Sing Along with Mitch
Sing Along with Mitch

Mitch and Bill’s daughter, Sarah, 33, is a registered nurse (RN) specializing in oncology. She attended Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines, Iowa, and works the casual shift at University of Minnesota Medical Center. Sarah’s husband, Chris, is a senior merchant at Best Buy with duties that routinely take him to the Far East on buying trips. Sarah and Chris have two children, Lola, 6, and Vinny, 4.

Mike and Petra

Mitch has an exceptionally strong bond with her parents, Mike and Petra Vasquez, 92 and 89, who in turn have a close relationship with Inver Hills. Mike served overseas during the Korean War; he was an engineer for Burlington Northern for 38 years, having started when the railway still operated steam engines. Petra grew up in South St. Paul and her grandparents were originally from Mexico.

“My mom always wanted to learn Spanish,” Mitch said. “One day, she decided to sign up for a four-credit course at Inver Hills. My dad wanted no part of going to school, but he ended up going to class with my mom. They had so much fun that they accepted an invitation from their instructor to go on a class trip to Spain. They loved it.”

101-year-old Kate at Saint Therese
101-year-old Kate at Saint Therese

Mike has experienced health emergencies that have required an ambulance service. “He always asks the paramedics if they went to college at Inver Hills,” Mitch said with a smile. “And they almost always say, ‘Yes.’ If my dad is in the hospital, he asks the nurses if they attended Inver Hills and they often say they did.”

Today, Mike and Petra reside at Saint Therese of Woodbury, a senior care community in Woodbury, Minnesota, only three minutes from Mitch and Bill’s home. Mitch is very engaged with life at Saint Therese, visiting her parents every day. She also donates flowers to the community three seasons out of the year—her mom loves gardening. Mitch and Bill recently delivered five cases of fresh-picked sweet corn to Saint Therese residents and that gift was a huge success.

On an unrelated note (pun intended), Olivia Hines, the assistant store manager at Zywiec’s Garden Center, is an Inver Hills graduate studying graphic design at the UWRF.

Zywiec’s Garden Center gallery

Mitch’s family gallery

Mitch Zywiec Q & A

Mitch Zywiec
Mitch Zywiec

What is the best part of your job at Inver Hills?
I love the people. Working with students is the highlight of my day.

What is one thing every administrative assistant should know?
Be organized.

What do like best about your role at Zywiec’s Garden Center?
I’m in sales and I love learning what the customer wants and then helping them find exactly what they need. I help customers pick out just the right plants and make sure they know the best way to take care of their new plants.

Three words that describe you as a person:

What is your favorite perennial and why?
Patriot hosta—I like the crisp, bright-white veins.

What is your favorite annual and why?
Dragonwing begonias—they’re incredible in the wind, they can take sun or shade, and they get huge.

What is your favorite tree and why?
Variegated maple—the leaves are so pretty.

What is your favorite season at your garden center?
Summer for sure.

What is the most challenging aspect of running your own business?
The weather—that can have a big influence on our landscaping operations.

Phrase that best describes your experience at Inver Hills:


The Haunting Experience

More than 32 years ago, Bill Zywiec came up with the idea to create a haunted house tour to boost his garden center’s revenue options during the autumn pumpkin season. Today, The Haunting Experience, which includes the Haunted House, The Hayride and up to 60 experienced “haunters,” is a premier Halloween event in the Twin Cities metro area.

IHN took a tour during the off-season and agrees with a trembling camera that the spooky attraction is definitely a “high-scare haunt.”

Haunted House gallery

Mitch Zywiec 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Gardening
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Holland and the tulip fields
  3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Helicopter ride in Maui
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Vacation with whole family 2) Build a home on our property for my parents 3) Establish an endowed scholarship at Inver Hills in their name
  5. Favorite TV show you’re watching now: Big Little Lies
  6. Best movie you’ve seen lately: Uplift
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Be a role model for my grandkids.
  8. Your national bird if you could have one: House wren
  9. Dream occupation: Host my own remodeling show on HGTV
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Oprah
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Speak Spanish
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Finding places to live for the elderly
Learn more about attending Inver Hills Community College by contacting:

Admissions Team
College Center

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