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End of an era: a final Q&A with President Roberts

Cheryl Roberts, President of Chemeketa Community College

Cheryl Roberts, President of Chemeketa Community College

By Matthew Skog

Saying goodbye is seldom easy, but there comes a time when goodbyes must be said.

For Chemeketa president Cheryl Roberts, that time is now.

Roberts, who recently accepted the position of president at Seattle’s Shoreline Community College, is in her final days at Chemeketa. Her last day at Chemeketa is June 30.

Chemeketa CFO Julie Huckestein becomes the interim president on July 1.

Roberts agreed to sit down with the Courier for a Q&A interview to reflect on her achievements, fond memories, regrets, and legacy as president of Chemeketa.

Question: What was your favorite moment or memory from your time at Chemeketa?

Answer: There are so many, and some of them are so simple. Talking to students in the halls about what they’re learning. Visiting with staff as they shared the work they care about. Talking with faculty about their teaching and being invited into their classroom to learn and listen. Getting to know our civic and business leaders and hearing how we’re meeting their expectations and how proud they are to have Chemeketa in this community. These are memories about the fine relationships Chemeketa has developed and I got to cultivate while president. It’s very satisfying to be part of people’s stories.

Question: What were your most important accomplishments as president?

Answer: The bond comes to mind, but for a different reason than you’d expect. It stands out to me because it really pulled us together as a college, and it pulled us together as a community. There’s nothing more poignant and clear than voters saying they’ll be willing to tax themselves to support us here at Chemeketa.

But I think my most important accomplishment would be the people we hire and the students we serve. I think we’re providing a better educational experience for our students, and the data show it: They’re staying, they’re graduating, they’re completing at higher rates. That’s what it’s all about.

We hold our students’ hopes and dreams in our hands. Students often come here searching for a path in life, thinking, ‘What do I want to be in my life’ and ‘What do I want my life to stand for.’ And often times, what we do here is a big piece of that search for personal meaning. So when people come to our college, we get to walk alongside them on that journey. I’m very proud to be a part of that.

Question: How do you think you’ll be remembered?

Answer: I hope people will remember me as someone who had a heart for Chemeketa – that I really had students and their success at heart. It’s important to me. That’s why I taught every year: to be in the classroom and be close to the student experience, and to bring that into our decision making.

I love our tagline here: Discover. You have a chance here to discover who you are, and who you can become. It’s a chance to see yourself with new eyes. There was a legacy of those values here before me, and I feel like I’ve kept them moving forward.

Question: If given the opportunity, is there anything from your presidency that you’d do differently? Do you have any regrets?

Answer: I think the hardest part of this job is that there’s just never enough time to spend with students and staff, because it’s such an external job. A lot of my work is getting resources for the college, so I spend a lot of my time in the community, or at the legislature, fund-raising, friend-raising, all those things that go into creating the conditions so that you don’t – it’s like you don’t notice the quality of the air until the quality of the air is bad, and that’s kind of the job I have: creating those conditions where people can do their jobs without encumbrances.
But as a result of all of that, and because of the economic climate we were in, I feel like I didn’t have enough time just to be at the college. I wish I could have had more time to be with everyone. My personal sensibility is to be with people and to be present with them. I lament that, but I did the best I could.

Question: Are you comfortable with the current state of the college?

Answer: I am. Our student success initiatives are strong. Our finances are strong. We’re getting ready to build the last piece of the bond, employee relations are good, and we know what areas need to be improved, and our community has a lot of confidence in us.

I feel like it’s a good time right now at Chemeketa.

Question: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for the interim president? How about for your successor?

Answer: A couple of things. I think he or she should try and get to be known by the college. … Staff and students need to get to know who this person is. People want to get to know him or her. People want to know what his or her priorities are going to be for the year.

People need to be able to identify with this person who’s going to lead the college through an accreditation visit. That’s big; that’s huge. There are a lot of important things coming up next year.

So be visible, communicate, and finally, find time for his or her self. This job is all encompassing; it’s a lifestyle, not a job. You need to make time for yourself to recharge.

Question: Is there anything that you’d like to say?

Answer: I’ve just felt really quite privileged to lead an organization that reflects a lot of what I value in education. I have a lot of gratitude towards the people who have supported me in this work. Thank you seems woefully inadequate; I am eternally grateful.

I’ll always hold Chemeketa in a very special place in my heart. I wish the college the best. It’s quite bittersweet leaving, actually. A big piece of my heart will still be here.

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