By Olivia du Bois, ’22

Waking up with about four hours of sleep to run on, Lisa Cheney, C’17, crawled from her bed at 4:30 a.m. to get ready for a board meeting. The night before she had stayed up past midnight taking a final exam after an eight-hour work day. This was one of those moments Cheney questioned her decision to return to school on top of her already demanding job, thinking, “I don't need to do this.” 

Cheney has been a student at SPCS since 2007 when she earned her professional certificate in fundraising through the Institute on Philanthropy. After dipping her toes back into the world of academics, Cheney decided to get a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, which she finished in 2018. Now, she is working on her Master of Nonprofit Studies with plans to graduate in 2022 or 2023.

It’s in moments like that 4:30 a.m. wakeup that Cheney thinks of all the benefits and opportunities she has gained from her time at SPCS. Her first certificate was a résumé building training opportunity that gave her a leg up in her fundraising job. Later, while working at Bon Secours Richmond Healthcare Foundation, Cheney was able to transition to Director of Operations & Advancement Services because she was earning her bachelor’s degree. 

Cheney explained that she will be the first person in her family to get a master’s degree after dropping out two years into her undergraduate studies at Ferrum College.

“I’m gonna blow everybody’s mind!” Cheney said. 

At SPCS, the lessons and theories taught in the classroom are often applied at work the next day. For example, in her Law & Ethics class, Cheney learned fundraising policy that she was able to implement at her job, improving upon the fundraising work she was doing. 

Students also make professional connections in SPCS courses. In Cheney’s course on Philanthropy in the 21st Century, her professor Mark Constantine opened doors to her in the world of fundraising. In this way, her education has been a bridge between her professional and academic life as she learns from people who are able to base their curricula on professional experience. 

Alongside academics, Cheney is an active participant in the SPCS community. In 2011, she joined the Student Government Association Board of Directors, serving as President from 2012 to 2014. Cheney has served on the Board Development Committee, President's Council and Strategic Planning Committee. She is also a current member of the Dean’s Ambassadors Council

Her involvement has made her a mentor to students and prospective students. Cheney said she feels as though she is the number one ambassador for SPCS, taking students for coffee and talking on the phone to those who need help or are on the fence about going back to school. 

“It’s never going to be a good time to go back to school, but I think that the SPCS program makes it flexible and adapts to peoples’ schedules,” Cheney said. “Not that it’s easy. It’s not easy. I will not say that. But if you take it all in stride and one step at a time, I think people will meet their goal.”

Cheney emphasized that students can learn on their own time. Cheney earned her bachelor’s degree in about 10 years by taking one to two classes per semester, including during summer terms. She’s earning her master’s degree with the same schedule excluding the summer semester, and has four more classes and her capstone left until she graduates.

As Director of Donor Relations at the Sheltering Arms Foundation, Cheney is eligible for tuition reimbursement from Sheltering Arms for her graduate degree. Cheney advises prospective students to take advantage of employers’ tuition reimbursement programs. Having a degree has become essential to career growth in today’s world, and SPCS offers programs that improve workers’ skill sets with every class, Cheney explained. SPCS also offers scholarships. 

Cheney said she would like to take classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute come graduation, but conceded that she might take a year off first. 

Sheltering Arms, the physical rehabilitation hospital where Cheney works, views itself as a partner for life offering a continuum of care. For Cheney, the University of Richmond offers her a continuum of learning. 

“There’s always gonna be something for me here to learn,” Cheney said.