Cherisse is Saylor Academy’s Open Education Accelerator Manager. She is a valuable member of our Strategic Relationships team and was in the Peace Corps serving as public health educator under the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Here is what she had to say about her journey as a Saylor Academy employee.

Saylor Academy: How long have you worked for Saylor Academy?

Cherisse: I’m coming up on four years this year, later this year. So in the fall it would be four years so, I’m kind of new-ish.

SA: Can you tell us about your work? What is it that you do at Saylor Academy?

C: Well today for instance, I’ve been given a list of countries that I’ve got to look up their profiles, find out more about them, and pick out the top 10 or 20 universities as potential candidates for partnership. Doing a lot of outreach in that regard, identifying key personnel at those schools and corresponding with them, keeping them aware of what we’re here for, and what we can offer. The other half is the Manager of the OER (Open Educational Resources) Accelerator, which is a kind of outreach that gets more involved in partnering in actual course development. There’s a project right now with Florida International University we’re working on building some learning content that consists of mini-courses for teacher candidates to help them prepare for their state exams. So that’s course development in a strategic outreach context. So I’m doing a little bit of both right now.

SA: What does a typical workday look like for Cherisse?

C: Well, a lot of is spent right here in front of the laptop, getting to know these schools and managing my contacts and follow-ups. Setting up workspaces and enabling the SMEs on the course development side to do course development just as we’re doing with the education team, working with them to gather this content and build instructional prose around it.

" I was just really taken with the whole idea, the notion of it (Saylor). I thought that this is what I could be doing for not just myself, but for others." — Cherisse Gardner Click To Tweet

SA: What is it that you like the most about your job?

C: I like working with people, I like collaborating with people. I get energy when, for instance, I get a new set of countries and our Director of Strategic Relationships (Jackie) points me to some people that I can get to know. I enjoy reaching out and sharing what the Saylor Academy is, does, and can do for them. I get excited when they get excited. Right now, I think that we’ve got a couple of potential schools in Pakistan that I hope will follow through on the excitement I got from them during the interview. So that’s fun too, meeting them and talking with them, using Zoom, and really connecting, and kind of sharing that understanding. Especially when they get it, when they know what Saylor is, and how it can help… when they look for us, when they’re glad we found them. It’s getting to be that kind of a tipping point, it feels like that sometimes and that’s exciting.

SA: Speaking of Saylor Academy, how has the organization helped you advance in your career?

C: This is kind of where I’ve wanted to be. I started a long time ago in online education in the early 90s, building some of the first web courses with the UMUC which is where I started. I was kind of having this feeling of what this could really do, and as the whole thing (online ed) blows up I’ve always kind of watched Saylor. I’ve watched them from a distance when I first became aware of them around 2010. I’d gotten to know Jackie through a colleague of mine at UMUC (now known as UMGC) and that’s how I got invited to one of the Saylor Academy summits. I was just really taken with the whole idea, the notion of it (Saylor). I thought that this is what I could be doing for not just myself, but for others. I guess that’s the former Peace Corps volunteer in me getting excited about something in that way. So when the opportunity came to be here, I jumped at it. I was at George Washington University at the time and I was just like, I’m ready for that. This is something I really want to do and here’s my chance.

SA: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

C: Either I’m back in Maryland puttering in my garden or hanging out around here at my cabin in West Virginia. I just like being here out in the mountains with my partner Kate. We both work remotely. We’re just here taking in a nice weekend just being outside. It’s been something I’ve been enormously blessed to be able to do, I’m not taking any of this for granted.

SA: Do you have any fun or random facts that you might want to share with us?

C: Michael Jackson walked through my backyard when I was a kid but I wasn’t there. We lived in one of the historic houses in Colonial Williamsburg and the Jackson 5 are taking a shortcut through my back yard and, of course, his sightseeing entourage is like, “No, no, we’re going this way”. I was just a couple of miles away at my grandparents’ house and my mom calls me and tells me what happened. I was just like “Come get me now! This isn’t happening!”. For my 13-year-old self, it was a devastating moment… yeah, I was so distraught.

SA: How do you see Saylor Academy fitting into the education landscape in years to come?

C: I see Saylor Academy as a great equalizer making higher education goals and professional aspirations more within reach and affordable to all. Rich or poor, the current crisis has thrown more of us into the realm of self-study vs face-to-face learning, and many who once were unsure of this mode of teaching and learning are finding their comfort zone. Schools and employers are responding with growing recognition and collaboration around what was the topic of a 2018 Saylor Summit, the “credentialing economy”, as viable a plan as the traditional path from high school, to college, to work. So all of this put together tells me that Saylor is and will continue to be a key strategic tool for both people and institutions. Add to that growing public recognition of Michael Saylor as a prominent spokesperson on cryptocurrency and business in general, I think Saylor Academy will become more widely recognized and regarded as a solid resource.