Making a New Life at BC

Making a New Life at BC

Student Affairs VP is upbeat as she begins second semester

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Cheryl Presley didn't just leave a job when she decided last summer to become Boston College's vice president for student affairs. She left a whole way of life.

Moving east from her native Colorado was a major transition for Student Affairs Vice President Cheryl Presley. But after one semester, she says, "I truly feel as if BC is a good fit for me. I believe I made the right choice in coming here."
A native of Colorado, Presley had spent most of her professional career in the Rocky Mountain State. Accepting the top student administrator's position at BC meant pulling up stakes and moving to another region of the country - and to a very different kind of university than she had known.

The transition was made all the more difficult for Presley by a death in the family, and the diagnosis shortly thereafter of an illness for which she is currently receiving treatment.

But with her second semester at BC underway, Presley prefers to dwell on the road ahead of her. Interviewed recently at her Donaldson House office, Presley exuded confidence and enthusiasm as she discussed her west-to-east odyssey. She has enjoyed her initial introduction to the University community, she says, and looks forward to making a place for herself within it.

"All my impressions of BC have been validated," said Presley, who worked at Colorado State University for 10 years as assistant and associate vice president of student affairs. "I knew the students here were of a high academic quality, but when you talk to them their brilliance stands out so clearly. It makes you proud to know they are BC students.

"What I like is that they are honest with you. They tell you what needs to be changed, and they tell you why. Students like that truly care about their college, and those are the students you want to work with."

Even in her relatively short time on campus, Presley says she understands why BC inspires such devotion among its students and alumni. She points to the University's strong reliance on Jesuit and Catholic tradition, and the caring nature of its administrators, faculty and staff, as integral to its success in attracting some of the nation's best students.

"I can point to any number of things that make BC a whole new environment for me," said Presley. "It has a proud, unique history. And, of course, as a private, rather than a state institution, BC is under a different kind of governance and with different stakeholders.

"But I truly feel as if BC is a good fit for me," she said. "I believe I made the right choice in coming here."

Alvin Barnett, '01, president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, agrees whole-heartedly.

"I have been so impressed with Cheryl, on a personal and professional basis," said Barnett, a member of the search committee that interviewed Presley. "At the beginning of the school year, she visited our office and just started talking with the students about all kind of issues. She hit it off right away with everyone.

"When she left, they asked me, 'Alvin, who was that?' They loved it that a top administrator could just drop in and strike up a rapport like that."

Presley says that one of her chief priorities will be to evaluate how her division is faring in its mission to serve BC's approximately 14,500 graduate and undergraduate students. She sees the months ahead as a time "to look at our mission statement, to ask where we want to be 10 years from now, and how we're going to get there."

A more immediate Student Affairs initiative will be the opening of a service learning and volunteer center later this year, as part of a gift by Trustee John A. McNeice Jr., '54 and his wife Margarete to support student service learning and volunteerism. Presley says the center will be an additional asset to the University's outreach efforts, as well as its affirmation of Jesuit and Catholic values.

"A Jesuit-Catholic institution emphasizes service to others," she explained. "The center will be a clearinghouse of information, it will provide training, and in general will help our University community to better understand the nature of volunteerism, service learning and reflection."

Presley also expects the ongoing conversation about diversity, and its manifold aspects in American education and culture, to be part of her Boston College experience. Ongoing diversity dialogue and training is sometimes not welcomed, she acknowledges, but is vital nonetheless.

"You have to keep talking about, and providing awareness and training opportunities for, diversity," she said. "You don't undo hundreds of years of history with a few seminars and workshops. We can't be afraid of extending ourselves in some way, of working to alleviate our biases. We don't want to make people feel unwelcome, nor do we want multiculturalism to mean simply being assimilated into the norm.

"I know that, as an African-American woman who grew up in the West, I may offer a different perspective than most here," added Presley. "We all bring the sum total of our experiences with us, and I think that is one aspect of the diversity we need to explore, and celebrate."

Another concern for Presley is the long-delayed student center project, whose fate is still in the hands of the Massachusetts Land Court.

"For an institution like Boston College, having a student center will greatly enhance student life on campus," she said. "The benefits would be enormous, not only for the University community but the communities around us. I am aware of the misgivings and anxieties expressed by some regarding the project, and I will do what I can to help the University address these."

As she gears up for these and other challenges in her new life, Presley says she is fortunate to have a strong, supportive family.
"I don't believe we ever truly travel alone on any of our journeys," she said, "and I know it is certainly not the case here."


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