By Karenna Glover
Cheryl Hilton considers two places home, and her hope in 2020 was to bring those homes closer together. Not physically, per se, but for each of her homes to have a larger footprint in the other.
Northwest Roanoke, specifically the community in the 24017 ZIP code, is Cheryl’s true home. She resides there, goes to church there, and more. But for the past 16 years, Cheryl’s career home has been Virginia Western Community College, where she currently serves as a Success Coach with Student Support Services and an adjunct faculty member.
Prior to working at the College, Hilton’s relationship with the school was one she shared with her friends. They enrolled in aerobics classes or a foreign language class just for pleasure. “It was our go-to place for fun,” Hilton recalled.
But just a few years ago, she came across data about 24017 that both surprised and motivated her. She realized that enrollment from the 24017 community was much lower than she expected, and she wanted to make sure her two worlds collided – that her neighbors know what a “treasure” the College is to the community.
“I wanted to bring Virginia Western back to northwest Roanoke,” she said. “I wanted to make sure connections were made and that every home in our neighborhood has some touchpoint with the College.”
Hilton found the Innovation Grants program, funded by the Virginia Western Educational Foundation, as a viable way to create the connection between her two homes. In 2020, she received $5,000 for her grant, titled “Virginia Western – Northwest Collaborative United for Impact.” This collaborative project involves neighborhood, nonprofit and grassroot organizations to promote health, education, training and community development. Specifically, her goal was to increase enrollment among graduates of 24017’s main high school, William Fleming. and to increase applications and retention of adult students from northwest Roanoke.
Then the pandemic hit, and in-person activities were halted or restricted, but that didn’t stop Hilton. She partnered with Melrose Library, Carilion, Anthem, Villa Heights Community Center and others to host a health and wellness fair. Virginia Western students who lived in northwest Roanoke had paid positions, funded through the federal work-study program, to help organize the event. They were recognizable with the community, which helped build trust and generate interest with their friends and family.
These student workers’ experiences had an impact. One student, Roger Basham, graduated from Virginia Western and went on to Radford University. There, he earned a marketing internship, and he credits the community outreach and public relations work he did as part of the United for Impact grant as landing him the internship.
Other outreach activities included celebrating Virginia Western graduates from 24017 by placing yard signs around their homes, as well as churches and businesses within the community.
The anecdotal and data-driven results demonstrate that Hilton did connect her communities. The College enrolled 20 more William Fleming High School students in 2021, and adult enrollments and student retention also increased year over year.
The project has been awarded a new Innovation Grant for 2022-23 to continue the work.
“To know that we were successful with this outreach, in the middle of a pandemic, is just huge, and those things make a difference to me,” Hilton said. “I don’t hear every story, but when I hear the stories from my neighbors, friends and family in 24017 on how Virginia Western is impacting them, I’m happy to see that.”
The Virginia Western Educational Foundation awarded more than $26,000 in Innovation Grants for the following projects in the 2022-23 academic year:
A New Lab Manual for Undergraduate Microbiology: A low-cost alternative emphasizing a student-led, inquiry-driven approach
Recipients: Jacqueline Biscardi, Richard Juneau, Kristylea Ojeda, Biology Instructors, School of STEM
Back is the Future: An initiative to bring students back to campus, increase involvement in orientation, decrease “summer melt” and improve retention.
Recipient: Allison Dooley, Recruitment Coordinator, Student Services
Credit for Prior Learning Phase 2: Alleviating barriers for adult learners through portfolio assessment
Recipient: Cathy Ferguson, Career Services Specialist, School of CCT
VWCC/Northwest Collaborative: United for Impact – Building Stronger Partnerships
Recipient: Cheryl Hilton, Academic Success Coach, TRiO Pathways
Movies in the Arboretum: Free movie series to raise awareness of the Community Arboretum and Horticulture Club
Recipient: Tonya Judd, Horticulture Technician, School of BTT
Bridging the K-12 STEM Gap: increase awareness of VWCC’s programs in our service region high schools by increasing communication with high school guidance counselors.
Recipient: Heather Lindberg, Associate Professor, School of STEM
(This story was published in the Winter 2023 edition of Impact magazine, a publication of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation.)