For the love of Wisconsin

Gov. Tony Evers added Kara Pennoyer, ’06 to his capitol office staff in early January. Pennoyer, past chair of the UWL Alumni Association Board, had previously worked for a top democrat in the legislature, Jennifer Shilling. She double majored in political science and communication studies with a minor in public administration.

Governor’s deputy chief of staff found career focus after conducting UWL undergrad research

Kara Pennoyer wasn’t at the top of her class her first two years at UWL. But her college grades and career ambitions shot up after a UWL professor asked her to stay in La Crosse one summer to help with an exciting study. 

So, instead of heading home to Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Pennoyer spent the summer after her sophomore year calling Minnesota and Wisconsin households to determine the likelihood of someone supporting a woman as president. Pennoyer led a team of other research assistants working alongside former UWL faculty member Kara Lindaman.

Pennoyer then presented the results with Lindaman at a national conference and conducted her senior capstone project on a similar topic. Her extensive research experience as an undergraduate propelled her into graduate school in public administration. 

“It was this faculty member making an investment in me — thinking I could handle this work — that was the change,” says Pennoyer. “I felt more focused after that.”  

Today Pennoyer is deputy chief of staff for Gov. Tony Evers. She handles a range of issues before they rise to the level of the chief of staff and oversees several teams that work for the governor’s office. It has been fascinating to be a voice at the table as important state decisions are made, she says. 

When Pennoyer left to attend graduate school in Chicago, she missed her Wisconsin home. It was a connection with Sen. Jennifer Shilling, also a UWL alumna, that brought her back.  

Pennoyer worked for Shilling for nine years, eventually becoming her chief of staff before accepting her new position with the governor’s office. She says Shilling’s team became like a family and it was hard to leave.  

But Pennoyer is glad to be joining another supportive team and continuing to work for the state she loves.  

This story was printed the summer 2019 Lantern magazine.