Campus Colleagues: Theresa Cry

December 4, 2023

Enrollment Program Specialist Theresa Cry is on a mission to connect youth to the transformative power of higher education.

Photo of Theresa Cry, Enrollment Program Evaluation Specialist

Enrollment Program Specialist Theresa Cry is more than a new face at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She’s a crucial connector between underserved and underrepresented students and a life-changing education.

At UM-Dearborn, Cry, who joined the UM-Dearborn Enrollment Management team earlier this year, focuses on cultivating relationships with K-12 institutions, community colleges and community partners in efforts to help students access opportunities.

Growing up on Detroit’s west side, she understood from an early age that education had the power to change her life — and this shaped her career path. 

“If you have access to an education, it can change outcomes for your entire family. it's not just an individual endeavor. I’ve watched first-generation students become doctors, attorneys and more,” says Cry, who has a bachelor’s in finance and communications, a master's in higher education administration and a doctorate in education. “Education has the power to change lives and I want to be a part of that change.”

There were obstacles on her journey, but Cry says her education always pulled her through. Now she works to connect others to an education that can help propel them to success too.

Empowering youth through campus experiences

Cry advocates introducing young students to the university campus environment by providing them with a firsthand experience of college life. “It is important to connect K-12 students to college experiences, so the students know what is possible,” she says. “You don’t know outside of your immediate area of what you can be. So, if all I know is what’s in my family, I don’t have a full scope of what can be offered to me.”

In Cry's role, her goal is to help UM-Dearborn faculty and staff identify and build new relationships with local schools and community partners to support college enrollment.

For example, Cry is assisting on an initiative where she works with several Detroit schools to help high schoolers, who are taking online UM-Dearborn courses, complete a college certificate program. Cry says UM-Dearborn has a variety of opportunities for high school students to dual enroll, which means they earn college credit before they graduate.

She says the initiatives are important because they play a vital role in unlocking opportunities for students and creating accessible pathways to higher education. Cry says her education inspired her to start a college advising business. It also gave her the confidence to travel the country and speak to large audiences about topics she is passionate about like equity initiatives and the importance of financial support for students in need. She says these experiences led her to her current position at UM-Dearborn.

“The older I get, the more I realize the importance of education and how it’s opened more doors for me. I have lived in different places because of the skill set that I have. I’ve had great career opportunities,” she says. “I can enjoy life because of my education. I want others to have these options and opportunities too.”

She says it’s important to engage children in discussions about college at an early age because exposure to college can spark children's enthusiasm and eagerness for a higher education experience.“Take them to sporting events or an art show. Walk around and show them what there is to do on campus,” she says. “That way, they will want to come back to this fun and familiar place.” 

Finding purpose in what you do

Cry has a knack of analyzing numbers, systems and patterns, and she thought a finance major would be a good degree to have no matter what career path she chose. But, in her early college years, Cry encountered challenges as she pursued her degree. 

She was one of only three Black students in her cohort. There were no faculty members of color. And one faculty member suggested that Cry, an honors student, change her major to something easier.“I had voiced a concern about a class. Instead of directing me to resources or offering encouragement, I was told to change my major to something easier like communications, which was my minor,” she says. “If that professor was trying to discourage me, it didn’t work. It had the opposite effect. I was even more determined to succeed.”

Not only did she complete the degree for herself, she also saw it as a way to help the people in her Detroit neighborhood. “My degree in finance and communications provided me with the opportunity to work in financial aid and to do workshops for my community on the financial aid process,” she says. “I used my knowledge to empower students and families who did not think it was possible for them to attend college.”

Sharing the importance of higher education

Cry worked as a banking professional prior to her career in higher education. Then she saw a U-M job posting for a financial aid advising position. She says,“I thought, ‘that’s a good way to merge my financial and communication background and to help the community.’”

But she didn’t get the job. Instead, something unexpected happened: U-M called Cry and let her know there would be a new position posting — and she’d be a good fit.“They had an outreach position that would allow me to focus on Detroit and work with underrepresented populations. It’s exactly what I wanted to do,” she says. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it actually worked out better that I didn’t get the first job.”

Over the past 20 years, Cry has seen the power of higher education — first with herself and then with the young people she’s worked with.She continues to receive expressions of gratitude from students, in the form of thank-you notes and letters, for her assistance and guidance throughout their journeys. “I’ve watched students go through this entire process and change the trajectory of their legacy,” she says. I see how I’m making a difference in their lives and how they make a difference in mine. This is the work I was meant to do.”

 Article by Darlene A. White and Sarah Tuxbury