Colorado State University, Former Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, 1990-2000
Cheryl Presley is the eldest of five children born and raised in Denver, Colorado. Both of her parents were from segregated states in the south and did not have the opportunity to attend high school; her mother from Mississippi and father from Texas. Learning played a major part in Cheryl’s formative years as her parents’ primary focus was on educating their children. Although her parents rarely discussed what segregated life was like for them, the long-term effects of their life experiences shaped how Cheryl and her siblings were raised. For instance, Cheryl’s parents always emphasized the importance of education and told them that an education is something that can never be taken from you.
CSU Undergraduate Involvement and Education
From the time Cheryl was in kindergarten, she was encouraged to always do her best and strive for academic excellence. During her junior and senior years in high school, Cheryl participated in Upward Bound, a college preparatory program for first-generation college students. She selected CSU to major in fashion merchandising to become a buyer for women’s clothing in a major department store. However, once she was on campus, Cheryl participated in Project Generating Opportunities (Project GO) and her academic interest changed. Her first work-study job assignment was with Project GO.
Project GO began in the 1970s and focused on recruiting African American and Chicano students to pursue higher education at CSU. The Project GO participants received support on campus that included access to culturally sensitive advisers; they were encouraged to participate in student organizations and were taught about the importance of creating community on campus as well as giving back to their communities. Cheryl found that she really enjoyed and worked well with the students on campus.
During her sophomore year, she married a CSU student she had met in Upward Bound and they both became active in the Black Student Union at CSU. During her senior year, they had twin boys and later a daughter while she was in her master’s program. Due to her involvement on campus, Cheryl quickly realized she was more passionate about working with and helping students. With that, she decided to change her major from fashion merchandising to social work.
The social work curriculum helped Cheryl see the world differently. She learned to observe and appreciate differences while also finding similarities, even in varying perspectives. She also learned how to be an active listener, a life skill that she deeply values. Cheryl felt that the social work program was in line with her values and beliefs about understanding and helping people, especially students.
Cheryl graduated with her B.S. in Social Work in 1974 and enrolled the following semester in CSU master’s program in Adult Education. While pursuing her masters, Cheryl continued working at the CSU Learning Lab as a tutor which she had begun during her senior year. In this role, she worked for Eva Smedley, Reading and English faculty, and met Robby Nyman, former director of the counseling center; both encouraged Cheryl to pursue a career in advising and providing academic support to college students.
Continuing Education and Beginning Her Career
After getting her M.Ed. in 1975, Cheryl became an administrative assistant for Atlantis Community Incorporated, which was a community organization that advocated and helped disabled young people live independently in Denver. Two years later, she was hired as the Assistant to the Program Director for the Capitol Hill Area Planning Council (CHAPC), another community organization that coordinated support programs and provided advocacy for senior citizens living independently in their homes. While Cheryl enjoyed the social justice advocacy of both these organizations, she missed working with college students. When the community development funding cycle for CHAPC was coming to an end, the Director asked what she wanted to do with her life. Cheryl stated that she wanted to work with students on a college campus. He advised her to only apply for positions working with students at a college or university.
In 1977, Cheryl was successful in being hired for the Counselor Coordinator position in the Health Careers Sciences Program (HCOP) at Metropolitan State College (MSC). One year after joining MSC, Cheryl became the Project Director for the Health Careers Science Program. She remained director for three years before applying and being selected as the Assistant to the Academic Vice President at MSC. Cheryl was a member of numerous administrative committees that made policy recommendations. She learned a lot about academic administration in higher education. The impact she had on policies made by senior administrators was a compelling factor in her decision to pursue a Ph.D.
In 1985, Cheryl was accepted to the University of Michigan’s doctoral program in Higher Education Administration. While working on her dissertation in 1990, Cheryl saw an announcement for the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs position at CSU. She applied, interviewed, and accepted the offer to become the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Assistant Professor, in the Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE) Program in the School of Education. She completed her Ph.D. in 1995.
CSU Work History, Achievements, and Awards
On July 1, 1990, Cheryl joined the Division of Student Affairs at CSU. In 1996 she was promoted to Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and stayed in this position until 2000. While in Student Affairs, Cheryl provided leadership to 11 departments and centers in Student Affairs which include: Counseling Center, Help/Success Center, Center for Educational Access and Outreach, Career Center, Academic Advancement/Student Special Support Services, Service Learning and Volunteer Programs, Undergraduate Student Retention, Alcohol Education, Judicial Affairs, Student Legal Services, and the Student Ombudsman Office. She also taught classes on diversity in higher education for the SAHE Program.
When Cheryl reflects on her tenure at CSU, she is the most proud of three things:
- Serving as a role model, mentor, and advocate for students and administrative staff.
- A particular pride point of Cheryl’s were her efforts to advance women and improving the salary inequities between females and males.
- Helping launch service-learning and volunteer programs at CSU.
- In support of Director of the Office of Community Services Victoria Keller’s vision and leadership efforts to infuse and integrate service-learning into CSU classrooms, Cheryl played a significant role in advocating with faculty and senior administrators to gain university support for the Office of Service-learning and Volunteer Programs.
- Serving on institution-wide committees that helped advance students and the student experience.
- Cheryl served on the Undergraduate Education Experience Committee. This committee focused on increasing the retention rate of first-generation college students and providing the supports and networks for student success. Thanks to this committee and Paul Thayer’s advocacy, one of the Committee’s outcomes was the development and implementation of Key Communities at CSU.
- Cheryl also chaired the Career Services Taskforce. This taskforce provided a report for the re-design of career services at CSU by partnering with academic departments to have Career Counselors jointly appointed and paid for by Academic Affairs and Student Affairs.
Cheryl’s impact on the CSU campus was profound and the ripple effects were far-reaching. She received several awards that acknowledged her achievements and service to CSU. Some of her awards include:
- CSU Minority Distinguished Service Award – received in 1996
- Blanche Hughes Award – received in 1997
- CSU Distinguished Faculty and Staff Award – honored in 1997 and 1998
When asked to reflect on memorable mentors while at CSU, Cheryl quickly identified Karen Wedge. As a senior in college, Karen helped Cheryl find her voice and come out of her shell. Cheryl took an assertive training seminar from Karen and attended women empowerment workshops and lectures; this information helped changed her life. She also shared that Paul Thayer was an important colleague and mentor. Paul and Cheryl understood the needs and advocacy required for the success of First-Generation College students at CSU. Cheryl recognized Keith Miser, former VP of Student Affairs, as being another critical mentor to her. Keith taught her that not everyone understands student affairs and that she would need to teach faculty and senior administrators about the value of student affairs. In sharing this advice, Cheryl was able to draw connections between CSU’s academic course work, the student affairs programming, and services that help develop and enrich students’ lives. Lastly, the former CSU President, Albert C. Yates, was a significant role model in helping Cheryl to be a successful senior-level administrator at CSU and a Vice President at both Boston College and Earlham College.
In 2000, Cheryl left CSU for Boston College (BC) to be the Vice President of Student Affairs. While at Boston College, Cheryl continued her advocacy and support for student cultural groups. She found that BC students were very supportive and attended other student cultural groups’ activities. Cheryl remained at BC for 7 years, overseeing departments similar to CSU with the addition of First-Year Experience, AHANA Student Programs, Robsham Theatre Arts Center, and Learning Resources for Student-Athletes. Always a social justice advocate for students, Cheryl worked with student leaders to get LGBTQ included in the official non-discrimination policy at BC plus in addition to establishing Allies as a recognized and funded student organization. She obtained funding to professionally staff the Women’s Resource Center and professional counselors for the AHANA Center. She was instrumental in securing funding to establish The Volunteer and Service Learning Center.
Cheryl later accepted the position of Vice-President and Dean of Student Development at Earlham College in 2009 and had similar responsibilities and achievements as she did in her previous student affairs positions with the addition of Athletics and Multi-cultural Affairs.
In all of her positions, Cheryl Presley was known for her warmth, kindness, and dedication, as well as her ability to bring people together to address the difficult issues that improved programs to better serve students.
What is Cheryl doing today?
Cheryl retired in 2013. She currently lives in Hudson, Massachusetts with her husband, Michael Baker. Family is very important to Cheryl and Michael who are very active in supporting and participating in the lives of their children (4), grandchildren (14) and extended family members. Cheryl continues to mentor and provide professional guidance to former student mentees and colleagues in addition to participating in her local Senior Center. She is informed and involved in today’s educational, political and/or social issues by volunteering and participating in community forums.