Cheryl Jensen is the first ever female President of Algonquin College.
With a Degree in Chemistry and a Certification in Metallurgy, Cheryl took the path less travelled, at least for women, early on. “I always loved school,” Cheryl reveals. “I loved science and music. In fact I thought I might become a music teacher,” she adds. Although chemistry, math and science didn’t come easy, “it was fascinating,” she explains.
As a student Cheryl assumed the ‘system’ would help her, but in the end it was a grade 9 teacher who told her to keep her options open; to pursue her education in both her fields of interest. Upon graduation, it came down to two post-secondary options: Music or Science. And science won. “I chose science and chemistry,” she explains. “I liked applied chemistry, and chose that path.”
It was a perfect fit
At university, “it was a great time,” Cheryl enthuses. “Employers came to campus to interview us. I was offered a job on the spot as a Product Developer for Procter & Gamble.” The work was interesting and the pay was significant. But after two years, Cheryl moved on. “I didn’t know if making a good shampoo was what I wanted to be known for,” she explains.
Her next move took her to the Stelco Steel Mill. “I love heavy manufacturing,” she laughs. “I love the machinery, the size, the idea of making something.” Cheryl loved it so much that she took a Certificate of Metallurgy, which is essentially the science of metals; the process involved in taking ore and making carbon and steel, or adding nickel to make stainless steel.
A layoff in Stelco lead Cheryl back to her first love: teaching. “Mohawk College needed someone to train Libyan men on the steel industry,” Cheryl states. “This was much harder on them (to have a woman instructor) than me,” she laughs.
I want to leave Algonquin a little bit better than when I came
“Often during this time industry would call,” Cheryl confides. “And I always said no. I have always wanted to help people, so this was a good fit for me.”
During her time at Mohawk College the Dean, a man she looked up to and feared at the same time, informed her that a position in electro-technology was available. And he was looking at her to fill the position. “Hans was my mentor,” she reveals. “He empowered me to believe I could do anything”. She credits getting her confidence from him.
This led to a Chair position then once the Dean left, the Dean of Technology and Trades and then VP of Technology, Apprenticeship and Corporate Training. “I was responsible for all of the technology and apprenticeship programs at Mohawk College,” Cheryl confides. “My philosophy was to always make decisions that were good for the students; to ensure their well-being and interests came first.”
A new President at Mohawk led to the position of Vice President, Academic.
In 2014 Algonquin College was looking for a new president. It was a perfect fit. Cheryl became the first female president at Algonquin and its 8th President in 50 years.
Be confident and know your stuff
“Everyone looks to Algonquin for what’s next in post-secondary education,” she says. And the offer came at the right time. Her husband was retired, her children were grown and Cheryl always loved trying new things. “I have a natural curiosity,” she reveals. “I miss teaching, but I am still able to make a difference in their lives being the President of the college. I love to meet new people, work with them and serve my community.”
Engagement of students and the community is a key mandate for Cheryl. She conducted a school tour upon her at arrival Algonquin asking everyone (students, faculty, stakeholders) what needs to be improved at Algonquin. These results have informed her and her mandate for the future. “My purpose is to make a difference in the students and employees lives. I want to leave Algonquin a little bit better than when I came,” she adds.
In her free time, Cheryl loves spending time with family, including her husband, her three children and her grandchild. She has been an avid runner and loves to spend time outdoors, including camping. Throughout her career, her family always came first. “My career was never at the expense of my kids,” she states. “I had absolute determination to be with my kids.”
Family comes first
On her role in traditionally male dominated fields, Cheryl says it can be lonely and she was often the only woman in the room. “I had to be comfortable with that and learn to speak my mind,” she advises. She was always well prepared and fact based in her meetings and interactions with colleagues and industry. “Be confident and know your stuff. Show people you know what you can do,” she advises.