Dr. Cheryl Thompson-Stacy
LFCC’s beloved president, Dr. Cheryl Thompson-Stacy has embarked on her well-deserved retirement after a successful and productive career, but it was during her very early years in northeastern Ohio that she learned the value of higher education.
Her blue-collar parents worked long hours – her father with the Ohio Department of Transportation, and her mother at a bar owned by her own mother – in order to save money for their children’s education.
“My mom and dad both wanted a better life for me and my brother, which is the reason why my mom worked full time, to make sure we had the funds to go to college,” said Dr. Thompson-Stacy, better known as “Dr. C” around campus. “It was never a question of if I would go to college. It was where.”
In those days, it was rare to have a mother who worked.
“I had two extremely strong female role models,” Thompson-Stacy said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody who worked as hard as my grandmother.”
She was the one who opened up the bar at 7 a.m., and she remained there until it closed at 2:30 a.m.
“She did that for decades,” Thompson-Stacy said.
All of that hard work paid off. Thompson-Stacy went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Kent State University in Ohio.
While working as director of academic and student affairs at a branch campus of Kent State, Thompson-Stacy experienced a once-in-a-career moment. After earning her GED in her 40s, her mother had enrolled at the campus where Thompson-Stacy worked. She ultimately earned her associate of arts degree.
“I got to give her her college degree,” Thompson-Stacy said. “That was probably one of my most moving times in my career. There aren’t many people who get a chance to hand their parent their college degree at commencement.”
Thompson-Stacy worked at Kent State until a dean of business, humanities and social sciences position at a community college in Ohio opened up in the mid-1990s. Thinking it might be time to move up the career ladder, she applied for and got the job.
At the time, Thompson-Stacy had little awareness of the mission community colleges serve: providing higher education that is of excellent quality, while also being accessible and affordable.
“But when I got my first job at the community college, I immediately clicked with its mission, having grown up with blue collar parents,” she said.
While her mother didn’t live long enough to see her receive her doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of Sarasota, Thompson-Stacy knows she would have been proud of her educational and professional accomplishments.
Her most recent accolade came in the form of the Michael Bennett Lifetime Achievement Award, presented during the PTK Catalyst 2018 Convention. Phi Theta Kappa is the academic honor society for two-year colleges.
The Bennett Awards honor retiring college presidents who have provided consistently outstanding support to Phi Theta Kappa chapters and advisors throughout their careers. The award is named in honor of the late Dr. Michael Bennett, longtime president of St. Petersburg College in Florida.
“Dr. Cheryl tirelessly strove to support our Phi Theta Kappa chapters by making time to meet with us, by ensuring that we had funding to perform our activities and service, and by serving on the PTK Presidential Board,” said English Professor Jenni VanCuren, who advises the PTK chapters on LFCC’s two campuses. “Our successes are because of her leadership and support, and we can’t thank her enough for that!”
While Thompson-Stacey has known ever since her first community college job that such institutions have high-quality faculty, their status in the minds of the general public has gone up, she believes, which she finds “heart-warming.”
“When I talk to people who have come here, they’re very proud that they’ve attended Lord Fairfax Community College,” she said. “Twenty, 30 years ago, you would have people almost apologizing for their community college degree.”
While attitudes have evolved, so, too, have the possibilities community colleges offer.
“The mission has expanded over the last several years,” Thompson-Stacy noted. “Workforce training is certainly a larger focus of most community colleges. Our workforce training programs have done so much for our area in terms of helping people become qualified for well-paying jobs in a fairly short time period.
“The new programs that we offer, such as cybersecurity, the fact that we can adapt pretty quickly to the needs of our employers, developing and implementing new programs that are in demand are all areas in which we excel.”
As for her future plans, Thompson-Stacy doesn’t have it all mapped out yet. She and her husband, Larry Stacy, have four dogs, ranging from 5 pounds to 130 pounds, and she enjoys walking them in the woods. In addition, Thompson-Stacy enjoys hiking and reading psychological thrillers and murder mysteries. And, with a new grandson – their first – in Ohio, they will visit family.
Thompson-Stacy has been approached about working in professional development. She taught a summer class at Shenandoah University on ethical leadership at the graduate level, and has done some online teaching.
“I just don’t know yet what my professional future holds,” she said. “And, that’s kind of exciting.”
While she hesitated to discuss her preferred legacy – as that’s for others to determine – Thompson-Stacy is most proud of the work environment she fostered at LFCC. For six straight years, LFCC has been designated A Great College to Work For by the Chronicle for Higher Education.
“I do admire and respect the team here at LFCC,” she said. “It’s a special place with such terrific colleagues – the best I’ve ever worked with.”
Wide-ranging student satisfaction surveys have revealed that 97-98 percent of students would recommend the college to friends and family, another point of pride for the president.
Professor Emeritus James Guiliano was faculty chair during part of Thompson-Stacy’s tenure.
“She meant the world to LFCC,” the retired business management professor said. “What Cheryl brought was an enormous amount of stability to the college.”
He noted that Thompson-Stacy avoided knee-jerk reactions, instead giving thought to any potential issue.
“Not only is she capable, but she’s also got a degree of self-confidence that allows her to keep an open mind,” Guiliano said. “She will hear you out, and isn’t afraid to change her mind if your point is valid.
“In a very steady way she’s accomplished a lot at LFCC. I think she improved morale a million percent.”
And, it’s not just colleagues who feel strongly about Thompson-Stacy. Former LFCC student Jacob Whited, who earned a career studies certificate in IT Foundations and an associate degree in business administration from LFCC, calls her one of his few role models.
“Just look at all she’s accomplished in her tenure, all while being kind, caring and compassionate,” said Whited, now studying computer information systems at James Madison University. “She truly cares about the students and takes the time to get to know them. After my transfer to JMU, she continued to promptly and enthusiastically respond to my emails.”
LFCC’s impact on the community under Thompson-Stacy’s helm is immense, according to Whited.
“Just think about the kids who have barely graduated high school and could have easily turned to drugs and alcohol because of the lack of opportunities, but instead enrolled at Lord Fairfax and are on the path to a brighter future,” he said. “Dr. Cheryl has played a large part in their transformation by providing hopes, dreams, and opportunities for everyone.”