Mary Ashley Cherney was more than 2,600 miles away from Cal Poly Pomona, but she was here in spirit at the Investiture of President Soraya M. Coley.
Cherney, a political science student with minors in Spanish and multicultural leadership, signed up to attend the ceremony, but that plan conflicted with her attendance at the Teach For America 25th Anniversary Summit in Washington, D.C. In the end, her passion for teaching and the quest to help students from low-income communities won out.
“It was a difficult decision. I was disappointed that I would not be attending, that I was not able to witness this historic moment for our campus and that I was not able to show my support to Dr. Coley,” Cherney said after returning to campus. “But I knew that Dr. Coley would be disappointed if I missed out on the incredible opportunities that waited for me at the summit. “
Before leaving for Washington, Cherney felt compelled to send a note to the president apologizing for not being able to attend. Cherney has a personal connection with Coley. The president hand-picked Cherney as one of two participants in the Panetta Institute Congressional Internship in the nation’s capital last year.
“She believed I was more than capable to work in Congress,” Cherney said. “Dr. Coley believed in me and because of the Panetta Congressional Internship and Dr. Coley, I now believe in myself.”
Despite a hectic week of Investiture activities and planning, Coley took time out to send an email reply that encouraged Cherney to pursue her career aspirations.
“Your taking the time to send a note is valued. I am pleased that you made the choice you did,” Coley wrote. “And yes, we want students such as yourself advocating on behalf of others who are trapped in impoverished conditions. I know that your service in the classroom or elsewhere on behalf of children and youth will be impactful.”
Cherney, who plans to graduate in June, has committed to teach in Sacramento for two years under the Teach For America program. She chose the state capital so she could see how policies on education are formulated and enacted.
“As a member of Teach For America, I will fight to create a world that includes education equality for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, and focus my efforts on education policy,” Cherney said. “Teach For America is the first step in doing so.”
Attending the summit yielded benefits for Cherney. She was able to network with teachers and attend workshops on how Teach for America influences education policy.
However, getting to the summit provided to be difficult.
“I come from a home with a single-parent mother and three other siblings,” Cherney said. “I do not have the familial support, financially or emotionally, that most students have.”
Teach For America provided admission to the summit and a two-night stay in a hotel. Cherney had to pay for air fare, taxi costs and food while at the summit, and she thought that might derail her trip. She thought outside the box and created a GoFundMe page. In two days, donors came through with the funds for Cherney to attend the summit.
“This was an incredibly humbling experience. It taught me that while I may not have the familial support other students have, I have an extensive family of students here at Cal Poly Pomona and beyond, who were not only more than happy to donate, but who believe in me.” Cherney said.
Amid the packing and traveling, Cherney’s thoughts didn’t stray far from the campus and Investiture.
“While I may not be physically present this weekend, my Bronco pride will always be home at Cal Poly Pomona,” Cherney wrote in her email to the president.