In 2006, Lisa Cheney was working full time as a fundraiser for Bon Secours Richmond Health System. She was a hard-working, career-minded professional who figured a professional certificate would look good on her resume.

Since she was involved in fundraising, Cheney decided to pursue a professional certificate in fundraising through the University of Richmond Institute on Philanthropy, one of the programs of the School of Professional & Continuing Studies.

She paced herself and spent two years completing the certificate. The satisfaction she felt at completing the requirements of the certificate encouraged her to consider starting a degree program at the School.

Around the same time in 2008, a restructuring of Cheney’s Bon Secours Foundation office led to an uncomfortable career-related realization. “I was stuck on the middle rung of my career ladder.... My climb into a leadership management position was being prevented due to the absence of a college degree.”

Right out of high school, Cheney enrolled for two years at Ferrum College, then fell in love, dropped out and got married. As a result, even though she had worked over 20 years in the development field, she could not advance her career without a degree.

From her experience in IOP, Cheney felt confident she could return to school. But she also knew she would be making a long-term commitment that would influence or affect her personal and professional life for years to come.

To help her through the decision-making process, Cheney attended an information session and met with a student advisor to discuss possible transfer of prior coursework. After researching the School, Cheney knew she’d apply. “It felt like the right place to be.”

Cheney was accepted into the Liberal Arts program, and in fall 2009, with the encouragement of her family and friends, she enrolled. She nervously attended those first few classes, worried about who her classmates would be, remembering how to study, tensing up about exams and generally feeling overwhelmed by the pace and assignments.

But in time, Cheney realized her classmates were experiencing the same worries, that her professors were available and eager to help—and that her determination and drive were more than adequate for the challenge of classes.

Cheney has returned to school with a plan. She sets attainable goals for herself; for example, she currently takes one class per semester plus an additional class in the summer. She finds this planned approach to school enables her to manage professional and personal time. “I can juggle a full-time job along with class time, homework and family... [and] enjoy and manage my education with my work schedule.”

But she’s quick to point out that SPCS offers many scheduling opportunities and scenarios for working professionals. “There’s an opportunity to create a college learning experience that will accommodate your timetable.”

Cheney discovered that she rather likes college life, especially getting involved in student events and affairs. She encourages fellow students get involved. “Take advantage of as many [opportunities] as you can and embrace your return to college.” And she practices what she preaches: last year, she joined the School’s Student Government Association (SGA), and this year she will begin her term of office as SGA president.

In a few years, Cheney expects to graduate with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts. She knows it may take another three or four years to complete her degree, but she also knows she can do it following the same path and plan that has worked thus far.

Telling her story during a recent information session, Cheney encouraged prospective students to enroll. “Even though my journey is gradual, I have composed a strategy that complements my lifestyle and routine. I challenge you to do the same—you will not regret it!”