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Fort Lewis College provost takes new job

Cheryl Nixon, who came to FLC in 2019, will serve as president of a tuition-free school in Kentucky
Fort Lewis College provost Chery Nixon will be leaving after the spring semester to serve as president of Berea College. Nixon has previously been a professor at New Mexico State University and University of Massachusetts before coming to Fort Lewis. Berea College is known for its tuition-free liberal arts education. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Fort Lewis College provost Cheryl Nixon will move on from the school after the spring semester.

Nixon, who started as FLC’s provost in 2019, will take a job as the president of Berea College in Kentucky.

During her tenure at Fort Lewis, she guided the college through the COVID-19 pandemic and helped FLC get its new nursing program off the ground. But now, she takes on the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I never thought I'd be leaving, but it's an opportunity to be a president of another school,” Nixon said.

Berea College is a private liberal arts institution that offers a tuition-free education. Students who attend Berea are generally considered for Pell Grants for students who display exceptional financial need.

She was interested in the position because of the school’s similarities to Fort Lewis College and believes the school’s tuition-free education is a way to remove the financial barriers that often surround a liberal arts education.

As a former English professor, Nixon believes in the benefit of critical thinking – something that is emphasized in a liberal arts education. She also has a passion to help rural communities become educated.

“I wanted a small school where the ideas that you're working on shape the whole college,” she said.

She said higher education is facing a crisis in terms of people questioning whether a college degree is necessary, and it is important to understand the long-term benefits of a college education.

Nixon said two of her biggest accomplishments are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and helping start the nursing program at FLC, which will start in the fall.

She said it was a team effort to navigate COVID-19.

“Our biggest accomplishment was keeping our students safe,” she said.

In February 2022, Fort Lewis announced it would team up with University of Colorado Anschutz to provide a four-year nursing degree program. The nursing program is a way to boost the number of nurses in the Four Corners and hopefully help fill a demand in the workforce.

The program received funding from community members, federal funding and the Colorado Health Foundation.

The Zink family donated about $1 million to the program.

“We were also able to get a lot of scholarships, like Animas Surgical Hospital gave us scholarship money for students,” Nixon said.

Last year, the college held community sessions in which medical industry workers would come and talk to students about working in the medical industry. Nixon said there was strong interest from students, another indicator that health care programming is of interest in the area.

Nixon said it is important the nursing program involve the region’s Native American population.

“We're going to bring in a service to our Native Americans, and it’s one thing I should really emphasizes is serving our Native American communities and bringing a deep respect understanding our natives,” she said.

The program is dedicated to curriculum that emphasizes community and Indigenous approaches to health care in order to bring health and equity to Durango and its surrounding communities.

Nixon also headed a project that was able to obtain federal funding to remodel the library to create an academic hub that includes tutoring, career and undergraduate research services.

Nixon said it was a tough decision to leave Fort Lewis College because of the community and the mission it has for its students. She has spent her career working in academia after graduating Tufts University with degrees in English and political science and then pursuing secondary degrees at Harvard University with a focus on English literature.

She later took her first job at New Mexico State University and then University of Massachusetts. She then joined FLC, where she fell in love with the school’s dedication to serve the Indigenous communities.

She is excited to take her experiences from Fort Lewis and use them to help Berea College and those who may not have thought a college education was possible.

“We're doing innovative work around some of the hardest problems in higher education and also doing it with the idea of giving opportunities and access to students who usually aren't served by higher education,” Nixon said.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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