Cheryl Vawter’s Whitworth story is one of ambition, perseverance and timing, like the stories of many nontraditional students who come to campus on evenings and weekends to pursue a mind-and-heart education.
A newly single parent of two small children, Vawter had just landed back in Spokane in 1990. She stayed for a time at the home of Whitworth professor Lee Fish and his wife, Julie, who worked in Whitworth’s admissions office. Though Vawter held a real-estate license, the scheduling demands of a real-estate agent were not ideal for a single mom. At Julie’s urging, Vawter met with a Whitworth admissions counselor, found scholarship money, and began attending her first-ever college class that summer.
As a traditional day student Vawter soaked up the college experience, but managing multiple roles wasn’t easy. During that same summer she worked part time in a temporary job in Whitworth’s student-life office; that fall, she moved into a part-time position in continuing studies that provided extra funds for school and made it possible for her to attend classes full time and provide for her children.
When Vawter graduated, in 1994, with a B.A. in philosophy and communication studies, she was an advisor and assistant director of continuing studies at Whitworth; from there, she continued to soar. She earned a master’s degree from California State University in 1996 and became Whitworth’s director of continuing studies that same year; she added graduate studies to her administrative oversight in 2008, and in 2011 she was named associate vice president of enrollment management for graduate and continuing studies, and now serves as associate vice president of graduate admissions and continuing studies.
If anyone understands the transformative experience of a Whitworth liberal arts education, it’s Vawter. Talking about nontraditional students who have taken the bold step to pursue higher education, she says, “I want them to feel the passion of learning, see the world in a whole new way, and walk a little taller knowing they were smart enough and persistent enough to earn their degree.” Through Vawter’s leadership, Whitworth’s adult-education programs have nearly quadrupled as the higher-education landscape has evolved in the last 20 years. Attending college while working and raising a family is more challenging than ever, but the relevance of a mind-and-heart education – at any point in a person’s journey – remains decidedly clear.