She traces that confidence to her family. Scarnecchia was born in steel country near Youngstown, Ohio--both her grandfathers worked in the mills. So did her father--until she was in third grade, when he quit to enroll at the U-M. The first of his large, immigrant Italian family to go to college, Lou Scarnecchia worked his way through school as a U-M custodian. "He would bring us to work when my mom was working sometimes, and we would go out with him to the Diag and take the flag down." Scarnecchia remembers. "And it was this big huge thing that we got so excited about."
Lou Scarnecchia got a degree in industrial design and landed a job at General Motors. His wife, Sally, worked her way up from an entry-level job at University Microfilms to a management position in rare books and collections. Suellyn's sister, Kathy, is now principal of Mitchell Elementary School; her brother, Tim, is a professor of African history at Kent State University.
Scarnecchia herself zipped through Northwestern in three years then returned to Ann Arbor for law school. She worked at a small firm in Battle Creek for six years before taking the job at the U-M child advocacy clinic. She was coordinating all the law school's clinics when, in 2003, the University of New Mexico hired her as its first female law dean.