For 40 years, Dr. Cheryl Peters has worked diligently to improve higher education for college students. For that, she is the recipient of the 2011 Wise Woman Award She has provided guidance that has had a significant impact on the outcome of the lives of others.
Peters was nominated by Elizabeth Gregory, director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Houston, who said, “Over her long career, Cheryl has never forgotten her roots as a teacher, mentor and scholar, making her the best possible faculty and student administrator.”
Peters is executive dean of Instruction and Student Services at Houston Community College – Central where she impacts the lives of 23,000 students each semester.
Peters says she knew early on she would pursue a career in education. That dream was reinforced by a high school English teacher who had a powerful influence on her.
“She was one of the first women I had been in contact with who seemed so powerful and so passionate about her work,” said Peters. “I thought to teach just had to be the most wonderful occupation in the whole world.”
Peters took steps to fulfill her aspirations of teaching literature. She began her teaching career in 1969 as an assistant professor at Eastern Kentucky University. In 1970, she moved to Houston. She began teaching freshman English at Houston Community College in the spring of 1972, the first semester HCC offered academic courses. She continued as an adjunct professor for 11 years; it was a good career to combine with raising a family that included two young sons. After her divorce, she needed a full-time job, and HCC gave her the opportunity to become a full-time faculty member.
“HCC is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. I feel like I have been here all 40 years,” she says. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending my career here.”
Over its 40 years, Houston Community College has evolved from a technical and vocational night school to one of the largest higher education institutions in the country — with more than 70,000 students each semester.
Throughout her career, Peters has served in various roles — as a professor, assistant dean, academic dean and, now, executive dean. Over the years, she has made significant contributions that have shaped the college.
While pursuing her degrees, Peters found very few other Mrs. Watts to look to. In the mid 1980s, she turned to Women’s Studies in her teaching.
“I felt women had been underrepresented in literature and survey courses and in the professoriate,” she said. “We weren’t reading women’s literature or women’s history, and I felt that needed to be rectified.”
She developed a Women’s Literature curriculum for HCC, writing course materials, taking it through Curriculum Committee approvals and teaching its first sections. The curriculum is now taught across the Houston Community College system.
For more than 20 years, Peters has been involved in evaluating HCC’s core curriculum, 42 course hours that a student must take to receive a degree. She chairs the committee that determines which courses are included in the core, how those courses are evaluated and how degree plans are put together.
A lasting mark that Peters will leave with HCC is the development of the HCC Honors College. Modeled after the Miami- Dade Honors College, it offers students a rigorous curriculum, leadership opportunities, internships, study abroad opportunities and service learning opportunities. Peters serves as the Academic Dean of the Honors College and oversees admission of new students, advising and scheduling and study abroad. She also assists with graduates’ transfer admissions to prestigious universities, which include Rice, Columbia, Purdue and The University of Texas. The Honors College is entering its fifth year and recently graduated its third class.
Though serving in an administrative role and no longer in a classroom, Peters continues to have an impact on students. She is an advisor for the Honors College students, travels with them and is very involved in writing letters for them as they apply to other colleges and continue their education. Because she is on campus daily, she has the opportunity to connect with students and assist them with whatever they face, whether that be registration or financial or work-life balance or academic issues.
Though she continues to influence her students and others around her, Peters also looks for positive examples to impact her own life.
“To aspire to wisdom is one of the highest things we can do as women because we use all of our life experience to get there,” she said. “I’m always looking for other women to be role models and mentors for me. Show me a good model of a woman who’s vitally, intellectually engaged. That’s who and what I want to be.”
2011 HER Award Sponsors
Fashion Design Department of Houston Community College
Houston Community College
Marnoble Computer Sales & Service
Shea Writing & Training Solutions
The Vicki Milazzo Institute
Unity Church of North Houston
Wright Pawn & Jewelry Co.
Thanks also to these Friends of the 2011 Nominate HER Awards Program for their support and generous contributions.
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