Announcing the Cheryl Birkelo Scholarship

Announcing the Cheryl Birkelo Scholarship

Cheryl Birkelo
Retiring but will never be forgotten

From a rural farm girl to first generation college student to international traveler to 17 years at UCCS, Cheryl Birkelo has been an inspiration not just for students but for colleagues as well.

Raised by parents with a strong belief in the power of education, Cheryl learned the value of hard work and perseverance early on and kept at it as she earned her B.A. and M.A. from South Dakota State University as a first-generation college student.

After graduating with her master’s and moving to Woodland Park with her spouse and kids in the late ‘90s, Cheryl spent a few years working in the technical communication private industry. She transitioned to teaching in 2006 and became a valuable instructor at UCCS, watching the university -- and the TCID program, known then as PTW -- grow. Along the way, she helped countless students, spending time outside her regular teaching schedule to make sure they succeed.

“I've been in the same boat as many of them, working my way through school and being overwhelmed by everything,” explained Cheryl.

Alongside the hard work and perseverance that shaped her character, a deep empathy and kindness informs Cheryl’s teaching. Facing her own obstacles in college gave her firsthand experience of how difficult it can be, something she remembers in her approach to helping students. Originally planning to work as a veterinarian, Cheryl changed majors after struggling with some of her classes and left college to raise her children for a few years before returning to graduate with an English degree.

“I had it rough the first year or two as an undergrad, and I didn't go and ask for the help that was readily available. Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Cheryl emphasized.

Cheryl is quick to offer that help in any way she can, whether it be taking the time outside of class hours to help a student or volunteering for a literacy nonprofit while in Ethiopia. She’ll also tell you she’s not one for technology, though that’s hard to believe after learning about her teaching background. Long before hybrid and virtual learning became the norm, Cheryl used it to teach from Ethiopia when her husband, Carl, received an opportunity to relocate there for work. Their family moved to Ethiopia in 2011, and Cheryl started teaching remotely almost a decade before it was a COVID necessity.

“We managed to get a generator put in our home in Ethiopia. I had the backup and in all those years, there was only one time in 11 years I couldn't get the satellite connection,” Cheryl laughed.

As she now prepares to retire from teaching, Cheryl isn’t slowing down. She’ll be returning to her rural roots by cultivating lavender at her Washington farm while also continuing to volunteer with the Literacy Center in Ethiopia.

Cheryl has left a lasting mark on UCCS, the TCID program and the many students she’s helped over the years. She believes building relationships are what drives the program, whether it be faculty to faculty or faculty to students and has backed this belief with her own hard work and empathy. To honor this legacy, TCID has established the Cheryl Birkelo Founder’s Scholarship.

“The scholarship is so important to me because as an undergrad I received a departmental scholarship, and that kept me in school that semester,” said Cheryl.

The scholarship will be awarded each year to a rising junior to recognize the student who best embodies the character that inspired so many for so long. Cheryl might be retiring, but she will never be forgotten.