Paula Yensen grew up in a traditional farming community just north of Lansing, Michigan, and is the daughter of Paul Yensen, a Danish immigrant from Copenhagen. The elder Yensen served in the Navy during World War II, and was lucky to survive perilous convoy duty in the North Atlantic. Her mother, Retha, was employed as a war-time factory worker — and was one of the archetypes for "Rosie the Riveter."
After the war, her father hauled raw milk to pasteurizing plants for local farmers. Paula's mother became a nurse at a local hospital, where Paula herself later worked as a dietary aide. After high school, she married and became a member of the AFSCME labor union when she began working in the bakery at Michigan State University.
As a young mother of two children, Paula enrolled in college to pursue studies in community service. Paula later earned a Ph.D. in Education, with minors in Urban Affairs and Family and Child Science from Michigan State University.
Paula served on the Ingham County Women’s Commission and was a co-founder of the Fair Housing Center in Lansing, Michigan. She also founded the Michigan Economic Justice Task Force, and offered consumer advocacy testimony before the Michigan State Legislature. While active in Michigan politics, Paula was admired and respected by friends on both sides of the political aisle, including Republican former Michigan first lady Helen Milliken, and Democrat Debbie Stabenow, now a U.S. Senator. Her bi-partisan approach to politics continues to this day.
More recently, Paula was elected to two terms as a village trustee in Lake in the Hills and three terms on the McHenry County Board. She quickly became known for her hard work and effective leadership. She recently retired as Executive Director of United Way of Central Kane County. She has also taught classes in fund raising, grant writing, board governance and leadership at Harper College.
Dr. Yensen's daughter Jamie is an ordained minister currently serving as a chaplain for several local hospitals. Her son Jason does marketing research for the automotive industry in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- Ph.D., Michigan State University
- Major: Adult Education, Urban Affairs Programs and Family and Child Sciences.
- M.A., Michigan State University
- Major: Adult Education. Minor: Family and Child Sciences.
- B.S., Michigan State University
- Major: Consumer-Community Services. Minor: Sociology.
When Dr. Yensen began her undergraduate career at Michigan State University, she never dreamt that one day she would earn a Ph.D. while studying with some of the world's most respected urban theorists and policy makers. While a graduate student, she received the Women in State Government Scholarship, based on academic excellence and community service. Her graduate studies included in-depth research in affordable housing and employment issues, non-traditional learning, and urban planning issues.
Her study of family structure and mechanisms led to an interest in domestic violence and sexual assault prevention. Her interest was far more than academic: she became the executive director at a shelter for battered women. She also helped develop an early version of the rape evidence collection protocol ("rape kit") later adopted by the Michigan State Police and law enforcement nation-wide.
Her Ph.D. dissertation was focused on adult learning behavior at a shelter for battered women in Hamilton, Ohio.
Her high energy and dedication to community activism drew the attention of leading faculty at Michigan State, who recruited her to take part in several ground-breaking studies of urban development during her graduate program. Dr. Yensen is still intensely interested in the dynamics of public and private intervention in local and regional economies, affordable housing policy, and fostering new employment opportunities in economically challenged communities.