Michelle Chavanne ’01 uses legal degree to help shape higher education in Ohio
When Michelle Chavanne ’01 graduated from law school, she knew she did not want to spend her career in a courtroom. “I loved learning about the law but I sensed I wasn’t litigation material,” said Chavanne, who has served as the general counsel for the Ohio Department of Higher Education since 2013.
Upon the recommendation of her father, a longtime public servant, early in her career she pursued a job with the Legislative Service Commission (LSC), a nonpartisan agency that provides drafting, fiscal, research, and other services to the Ohio General Assembly. “I loved the work. I loved the people,” said Chavanne, who spent four years working for the commission.
The work gave her substantial experience drafting legislation and a solid understanding of state government. “The work was very mentally challenging,” she said. “I was a neutral party in the background contributing to the work of legislators. It was exciting.”
Working with the LSC also introduced her to the responsibilities and duties of numerous state agencies. Chavanne found that she particularly enjoyed tasks related to education.
When a position opened at the Ohio Department of Higher Education in 2007, she applied for it. “I love academia,” said Chavanne, who studied political science as an undergraduate at the University of Akron. “I loved college. I loved law school. It’s nice to have that connection with higher learning.”
As general counsel for the agency tasked with authorizing and approving new degree programs, managing state-funded financial aid programs, and developing policies that maximize higher education’s contributions to the state and its citizens, Chavanne has a variety of responsibilities. “The legislature gives us good direction about what we need to do,” she said.
She continues to have opportunities to draft legislation and work with lawmakers. She also devotes a lot of time to reviewing contracts the agency, which used to be called the Ohio Board of Regents, has with the various colleges and universities around the state. She also fields questions about human resources, student discipline, public records, and other matters that might require a legal interpretation.
The job exposes her to much of the exciting research and innovations taking place on campuses throughout the state. “I have the opportunity to hear about what they’re doing and ask questions,” she said. “Hopefully through my work, I can make things go more smoothly and make sure everyone understands the expectations.”
She likes that the job incorporates a lot of the critical thinking that she learned in law school. “I don’t often get the perfect facts so I have to break them down and analyze them and see how they apply to the situation,” she said. “That’s very much what I do daily.”
While the job involves plenty of research, Chavanne said she almost never finds herself looking at case law. “I deal much more with the legislation and administrative codes and ethics laws.”
When she’s not at work, Chavanne enjoys being outdoors. She plays golf and soccer. She can often be seen running with her dog through her neighborhood of Victorian Village.
Earlier in her career, Chavanne worked and volunteered as a girls’ basketball coach for Bexley City Schools and Grandview Heights High School.
“I love the game and it was a way to remain close to the game,” said Chavanne, who played basketball at the University of Akron. “The best part of coaching for me was teaching young players the fundamentals passed onto me by the coaches of my youth.”
Earlier this year, The Ohio State University Alumni Association presented Chavanne with the Alumni in Government Award that recognizes graduates whose work as public employees provide extraordinary benefit to Ohio residents.