After six years in the United States Marine Corps — including a five-month tour of duty in Iraq and Kuwait as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom — Chris Pyanowski came home to Elyria in 2003 with plans to make an impact as an attorney.
“Serving in the Marines instilled this service piece in me,” he says. “I wanted to be a part of the community and fully involved in it. I wanted to be someone who provides solutions and guidance, and who makes the community stronger.”
To achieve that goal, Pyanowski needed to bridge the gap between his military career and the education that would lead to his civilian career, and he found it at Lorain County Community College.
Finding the right path
Pyanowski says attending LCCC was an easy choice for him.
“I grew up in the area and always had a positive impression of LCCC, the opportunities it presented and the benefits to the community,” he says.
Transitioning from the Marines into college was a dramatic change in culture, but he says LCCC’s accessibility, small campus feel and supportive faculty made the shift easier.
“It really helped me in that transition and made it seem more doable,” he says.
Pyanowski started by putting his GI Bill benefits to use at LCCC, working with the college to transfer credits from the associate’s degree that he had earned in Texas during his time in the Marines. He also took a Prior Learning Assessment to earn college credit for his military training and life experiences.
“I met with counselors to make sure I was on the right path and figured everything out early,” he says. “I didn’t waste a lot of time finding my way, because the advisers and professors made it clear to me what was necessary, what was expected and how to be successful. They did a really good job of helping me accomplish that and meet my goals.”
Pyanowski completed an associate of business management degree, then earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Kent State University through LCCC’s University Partnership program.
“The University Partnership helped me get started and gave me a strong background,” he says. “The classes were challenging, but the professors were always available.”
Pyanowski says he appreciates the opportunity to access a high-quality education close to home — at a fraction of the cost of attending a four-year university. That cost savings allowed him to continue his education and earn an MBA from Cleveland State University and a Juris Doctor degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
“I didn’t leave LCCC with a burden that I couldn’t handle, as far as cost and time,” he says. “When you graduate with a bachelor’s degree and don’t have a large amount of debt, it makes moving on to the next level of education easier.”
A new appreciation
Pyanowski’s efficient route to his law degree brought him to the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office in 2010, shortly after he passed the bar, where he started in domestic relations doing child support and then juvenile delinquency prosecutions. And with his drive and education, it didn’t take long for him to make an impact.
“When I first met him, I could tell he was a humble person who wanted to learn and take on responsibility,” says Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will, Pyanowski’s supervisor. “He demonstrates the opportunities that are here in Lorain County, and he’s an asset to this office.”
Today Pyanowski serves as assistant county prosecutor, representing Lorain County in employment issues and serving as legal counsel for many Lorain County public offices and services. And he says his time in the military has helped him understand the people he works with on the job.
“It gives me some perspective,” he says. “Sometimes when you deal with challenges — like being away from home, away from family, away from the normal conveniences of life and being part of that type of structure — you gain an understanding of people coming from different backgrounds and working together.”
Will says Pyanowski’s path is an example of the opportunities that are available in the county and at LCCC.
“Economically, it’s within people’s grasp,” he says. “That background has made Chris an asset to this office; he’s picked up the slack on programs when we had trouble with the housing market and became lead adviser of the Lorain County Land Bank and recovering taxes for libraries and the school district.”
As his responsibilities with the county have grown, so, too, has his appreciation for what LCCC has given him. Now 40 and living just a block from the college, he drives by the campus often and reflects on how essential it was in helping a veteran pursue his academic passion.
“LCCC is a place where people can access education and opportunities to improve themselves and their lives,” he says. “That’s what it did for me.”