Cheryl Hyman '06
Showing others they have the tools to succeed
by Sara Langen
Looking back on her childhood, Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), recalls a lot of hardship.
Growing up on Chicago’s West Side, Hyman was raised in the Henry Horner Homes, one of the city’s bleakest housing projects. Sometimes, when she was reluctant to return home, she did her homework under the glow of a streetlamp. At age 17, Hyman dropped out of high school and left home with just one bag. She rented a modest studio apartment and took a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Hyman quickly realized she wanted more out of life. So she moved in with her friend’s parents, went back to school and eventually earned her high-school diploma. Then she enrolled in Olive-Harvey College, a CCC school, and continued on to earn a bachelor of science degree in computer science from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Hyman isn’t shy about telling her story. In fact, she wants it to be well-known — and to serve as an example to the 120,000-plus students who walk through the doors of CCC’s seven community colleges every day. Many of these students, Hyman notes, face their own obstacles, and it’s important to show them what they can achieve.
“It’s not enough to stand before [the students] and say, ‘You can do it,’” she says. “They need to see somebody who can say, ‘I did it.’ I believe it’s my duty to share my experience and show others that they have within themselves the tools to succeed.”
Indeed, Hyman’s drive to succeed accelerated her own career. After graduating from IIT, she joined ComEd as a development analyst, then rose to become external affairs manager and eventually director of government and legislative affairs. Wanting to broaden her business background, she enrolled in Kellogg’s Executive MBA Program — a decision that she credits with helping her eventually achieve a promotion to vice president of operations.
“Kellogg helped prepare me to take on a major change initiative at ComEd, where I created the department of operations strategy and business intelligence,” she explains. “Without my education, I don’t know if I would have been capable of doing that.”
After 14 years at ComEd, Hyman received a personal phone call from then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, who offered her the job of CCC chancellor. She accepted, and started in April 2010.
In the past year, Hyman has stepped up to the challenge of managing 5,800 employees and a budget of nearly $500 million. To better support CCC students, she has hired more advisers, tutors and mentors; invested in capital and technology; and launched a major change effort called “Reinvention.”
These efforts “give us the potential to become a best-in-class institution and ensure that all of our students are successful,” she says. “We can be a model for how community colleges can couple access with success.”
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Kellogg World alumni magazine.