As a first-generation college student, Cheri DeClercq enjoyed exploring psychology, architecture, and other diverse areas of study.
“My father would ask me: What are you going to major in this week?” says DeClercq. But when it came time to declare, the direction was clear. “I knew I wanted to be in business school.”
She started on her path to her current role as assistant dean, MBA Programs, at Michigan State University (MSU), when she received her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from MSU.
DeClercq entered higher education a bit by serendipity. She began her career as sales director for the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, but a move to a new home led her to higher education.
She joined Kirtland Community College as assistant director of the Kirtland Center for the Performing Arts. Later, as director of marketing and sales at the Grand Valley State University Institute for Training and Development, she helped launch a non-credit continuing education initiative.
To that aim, she applied her business expertise in marketing and relationship building to the challenge of a program startup. “We helped businesses in the region by offering relevant and timely professional development opportunities,” she says.
That experience led to new opportunities at Central Michigan University (CMU). At the time, CMU wanted to expand its reach, and DeClercq developed strategies and marketing that supported online educational offerings, as well as an international component.
Along the way, she continued her love of learning, which resulted in a master’s degree in administration with a focus on leadership at CMU. She decided not to stop there, instead, pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education at her alma mater, MSU.
Her Ph.D. looked at the business of education, most specifically the strategy and decision-making of business schools. The choice demonstrates her commitment to adult learners and the value that she places on higher education.
“What I love most about education is that you really feel you are helping people open new opportunities for themselves,” she says. “Higher education is such an important way for people to realize and fulfill their potential.”
When a position opened at MSU in the EMBA space, DeClercq was eager to work with this particular group of adult learners. As director of MSU’s EMBA, she assumed leadership of one of the world’s first EMBA Programs, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. In 2014, she also was named assistant dean, MBA Programs, adding the full slate of MBA Programs to her leadership responsibilities. In 2015, the dean tapped her for another role, interim senior director of marketing and communications for the college. She continues to oversee marketing and communications, as well as MBA Programs, for the Eli Broad College of Business.
DeClercq discovered EMBAC soon after she returned to MSU. Former EMBAC board member Lucy Maillette introduced the council to her and encouraged her to register for the annual conference, a month away at the time. She immediately saw the value of the conference and the council. “It is such a huge opportunity for sharing and supporting each other.”
She increased her involvement with the council, first attending regional meetings and annual conferences, then presenting at conferences and volunteering for the 2014 EMBAC Conference committee, and most recently, serving on the EMBAC board. She co-chaired the 2017 EMBAC Conference in Seattle, Washington, with Randell Hernandez from the University of Washington.
EMBAC helps its members improve the work that they do to help their students make their marks, she says.
At MSU, DeClercq continues to advance EMBA through new efforts, including expanding to a third location. EMBA students and non-profit organizations are both benefiting from the addition of social impact projects, where students work with non-profits to solve real-life issues. And changes are in the works to enhance the global experience through global project teams of students who study at different locations.
DeClercq enjoys working with EMBA students and appreciates their dedication.
“The Executive MBA space is awesome,” she says. “Students are very self-motivated. They choose to do this, and they really value what they get out of an EMBA.”
EMBAC members play an important role in ensuring that students make the most of their time in the program.
“I think it’s great that we are able to offer them knowledge and experiences that help them move forward while they can continue their career,” says DeClercq.