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Meet the new UMN regents

Four new regents were elected to the Board last month, with backgrounds in law, higher education, community advocacy and student government.
Image by Morgan La Casse
Clockwise from top left: University Regents Mary Davenport, Ilean Her, Janie Mayeron and Mike Kenyanya.

Four new individuals joined the University of Minnesota Board of Regents on May 9, fulfilling a desire for greater diversity.

Mary Davenport
At-Large Representative

Regent Mary Davenport has deep ties to higher education, setting her apart from other members of the board and helping her earn bipartisan support from the Legislature. She has spent more than 30 years in the Minnesota State system, working as a dean, vice president and president.

“She leads by trying to grow the people around her and grow the people that she supervises,” said Melissa Fahning, who worked with Davenport for about 20 years in the Minnesota State system.

When Davenport took the role as interim president of Rochester Community and Technical College in July 2016, she stepped into a battle among union and faculty leaders. Judy Kingsbury, executive assistant to the president at RCTC, said Davenport facilitated communication and built trust with the community.

At RCTC, Davenport started a president swap day, switching places with the student body president for a day, attending all their classes and allowing them to fulfill presidential duties. This gave her the opportunity to connect with students more intimately and exposed the student president to a career in higher education, Davenport said.

She was awarded 2018 President of the Year by LeadMN, the statewide student association for community and technical colleges. Fahning and Kingsbury said students are always Davenport’s main focus.

“I’m hoping that, although my background’s in a different system with a different mission, that I can bring that forward and be a positive contributor to the regents and the University as a whole,” Davenport said.

Ilean Her
At-Large Representative

Regent Ilean Her is known as a trailblazer within the Twin Cities Hmong community. As a first-generation college student and University of Minnesota Law School graduate, she carved a place for herself as a community organizer with deep roots within her community.

“I’ve been very involved with the community,” Her said. “I do carry with me community expectations of how I will conduct myself, how I will use my voice … to better the lives of the community and the people who are closest to me that have been disenfranchised for so long.”

Her is a founder and current board member of nonprofit Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together, which works to empower Hmong women. She has worked in a variety of roles advocating for the Minnesota Hmong community, including spending 15 years as executive director of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans.

Since 2012, Her has also been the executive director of the Hmong Elders Center in St. Paul.

Consistently acting as a voice of the community at the State Capitol, she plans to carry civic engagement and advocacy into her work as a regent. 

“She’s really a change-maker,” said Cindi Yang, board member of Hnub Tshiab. “She’s … a change agent to empower Hmong women, but also just our community as a whole.”

Throughout the election process, Her emphasized affordability and accessibility of college, especially to those who may have greater barriers. She eventually won the seat with primarily Democratic support.

Mike Kenyanya
Student At-Large

Regent Mike Kenyanya’s graduation was fast-approaching, and his eligibility for the student seat was in jeopardy as the Legislature struggled to set a date for the regent election. Lawmakers rushed to appoint him in a unanimous vote with just days to spare.

As the University of Minnesota-Duluth Student Association’s president for two years, Kenyanya built connections between Duluth and the other campuses.

“You’ll never be more humble than when you walk around the halls of UMD with Mike,” said Allie Ulland, UMD representative to the Board of Regents. “He truly knows almost every student on campus, so he’s just saying ‘hi’ to literally everyone. He’s very connected to the student body.”

Before serving as student body president, Kenyanya was a student representative to the Board of Regents — his first exposure to the board.

“I saw the impact that you can make on campus by being at the table, by advocating for students to administration, by the legislative advocacy we did — the different policies we’re able to influence,” Kenyanya said.

Earlier this year, he received the UMD Sieur du Luth award for his service to the campus and community.

Kenyanya said some of his core focuses as a regent will include affordability, mental health and graduation rates. He said his previous experience gives him a wide array of perspectives on student issues.

“A lot of the same issues at the boardroom we tackle, we’ve talked about at the campus level,” he said.

Janie Mayeron
Fifth District

Between her legal experience in mediation and time as a board member to various educational nonprofits, Regent Janie Mayeron offers a unique perspective to the Board of Regents.

With decades in law, including 14 years as a judge in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, Mayeron said she can help the Board direct discussions toward resolution.

“I think I’ve got a skill set that will help us hopefully reach a resolution that will address everybody’s interest,” Mayeron said. “Not because they necessarily agree, but hopefully, because we can find something that works for everybody.”

Mayeron’s passion for music led her to positions on the board of directors for MacPhail Center for Music. She also served as University of Minnesota Alumni Association president from 1993 to 1994, with eight years on the board.

“Her style is very gentle, but very direct. She’s a pleasant person to work with,” said Larry Laukka, who served on the UMAA board with Mayeron. “She has her ideas and she listens to your ideas. And the outcome is usually a combination. So she’s flexible, but she’s also determined.”

Her experience has earned her the Alumni Service Award. She said forwarding the University’s mission is critical to the health and welfare of the state.

Janie Mayeron saw support primarily from Republicans, but said her position is nonpartisan.

“I recognize we’re elected by individuals who have party affiliations, but that’s not where I’m coming from … there is no aisle for me,” Mayeron said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of an award earned by Janie Mayeron. It is called the Alumni Service Award. 

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