After serving at Western Michigan University for over 30 years, Executive Director of University Relations Cheryl Roland will be leaving her office on the third floor of Walwood Hall for the last time on Thursday, May 31.
A graduate from Michigan State University’s journalism program, Roland’s early career included time as a student writer for MSU, a freelance journalist and a writer for Albion College’s public information office.
“I kind of gravitate toward this kind of work and I responded to a help wanted opportunity (for WMU),” Roland said.
Roland began work at WMU in November 1987 shortly after the WMU president at the time, Diether Haenicke, challenged the faculty to double their research output in five years. The faculty pulled it off in less than two and were working to triple those efforts.
“There was just this huge explosion of research going on on the campus and he wanted to make sure the research — as well as being undertaken — was publicized and recognized by people around the state and nation,” Roland said. “He approved a new position — in what was then the Office of Public Information — that was all about writing about research at the University. I applied for that position and was lucky enough to be hired.”
Roland’s job was to find out what was happening in research labs across campus and, “find something interesting to write about.”
“I was intrigued by the description of the job and it really was a dream job for a writer,” Roland said.
She remained in the position for 11 years. After that, she added a variety of titles to her resume in academic communication and research communication at WMU until she was appointed interim executive director of university relations in 2006, and then appointed to the position full-time a year later.
“I have met the most spectacular, committed, joyous people here,” Roland said. “They’re almost like family.”
Roland says she owes that privilege to being able to wander into offices on campus and chat with the staff for her early work at WMU.
“Because I had that opportunity, I got to know a lot of people here on campus really well and establish a lot of friendships that have survived the test of time,” Roland said.
Over the years, Roland has observed how much the staff at WMU puts into their work. Specifically, she has admired the care they have for their disciplines, students and each other.
“I’ve been the recipient of a lot of that care over the years,” Roland said.
Roland’s plans post-retirement are to sell her Battle Creek, Michigan home and move to be closer to her daughter and family in the Washington D.C. area sometime this fall. She plans to continue writing in the form of blogging and potential freelance opportunities. Despite the move, she will still be watching what happens at WMU.
“When you invest 30 years into an institution that you believe in, you don’t give up wondering how it’s doing just because you’re not working there any longer,” Roland said.
Given her work at WMU required that she check WMU News multiple times daily, Roland joked that she will probably be cutting back on that number as she enters her retirement.
Former Kalamazoo Gazette Higher Education writer Paula Davis will be serving as interim executive director of university relations beginning June 1 and has a three-month appointment. Roland says Davis will be “wonderful” in the role.
“She will be every bit as responsive as I’ve tried to be, I know,” Roland said.