Mount Mary University in Milwaukee has named Isabelle Cherney as its 13th president.
Cherney previously served as vice provost for graduate education at Merrimack College near Boston. She will assume her new role July 1, upon the retirement of current president Christine Pharr, who has led the university since 2017.
A social scientist and educator who was invited by the Obama administration on four occasions to participate in White House conferences, Cherney’s academic research focuses on the effects of gender on STEM education and career pathways. She has experience in launching new programs, supporting educators and establishing early college and dual degree programs that provide high school students early exposure to college, according to a news release Thursday.
"Dr. Cherney’s professional accomplishments reflect her deep appreciation for educating the whole person, the importance of life-long learning, the Catholic intellectual tradition and charisms, the promotion of peace, social justice, truth, global citizenship and the common good,” said Stephanie Russell, president of Mount Mary's board of trustees. Russell and fellow board trustee Mary Jo Layden oversaw the presidential search.
Cherney's six-year stint at Merrimack College included roles as dean of the Winston School of Education and Social Policy and founding director of the Merrimack Institute for New Teacher Support. Under Cherney's direction as dean, the school of education saw enrollment nearly double and revenue increase over 30%. As vice provost for graduate education during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, graduate enrollment increased more than 20%, resulting in 24% boost in revenue.
Prior to Merrimack College, Cherney spent 15 years at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, serving in multiple capacities including professor, director of the honors program, associate dean of the Graduate School and College of Professional Studies, and founding director of the interdisciplinary doctoral program in leadership, where she worked with the school’s nine deans to create an innovative and transformational program.
"I am well prepared to continue to refine, update, implement and assess Mount Mary University’s bold strategic plan and expand and build on its pillars of strengths," Cherney said. "I am excited at the prospect of being able to shape the goals around women’s education to inspire and transform not only women, but society as a whole."
As Mount Mary president, Cherney will focus on growing and supporting community partnerships. She plans to broaden awareness of the university’s goals and build partnerships with regional, national, governmental, religious and private organizations to promote its mission and vision.
"I am particularly excited at the prospect of collaborating with the surrounding community partners and creating ways for them and alumni to be engaged in the institution’s life,” she said. "I bring diverse people together to work on a common vision and goals, and persuade everyone to work collaboratively."
A native of Switzerland, Cherney speaks four languages and has spent time in 32 countries in five continents and visited 48 states in the U.S. Her husband, Mike, is a Milwaukee native who grew up one block away from Mount Mary's campus, located at 2900 N. Menomonee River Parkway in Milwaukee. Mike and many of their nieces and nephews have been educated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the university’s sponsor organization. Cherney's sister-in-law graduated from Mount Mary with an undergraduate degree and one of her nieces with a master’s degree.
During outgoing president Pharr’s tenure, Mount Mary has established and grown several programs, including its Compass Year first-year program for undecided students. The university also launched this year its four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program after the construction of a $2.5 million Health Sciences Center.
Mount Mary recently opened Trinity Woods, a new intergenerational housing community developed in partnership with the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Milwaukee Catholic Home. Pharr led efforts to raise $2 million for the $45 million project.
Cherney earned her Ph.D. in educational psychology and cultural studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her M.A. in developmental psychology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Creighton University.