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From Adversity to Achievement: A Student’s Remarkable Journey in Chico State’s College of Business

Cherie Higgs presents in front of a screen that reads, "I am remarkable."
Matt Bates / University Photographer

When Cherie Higgs’ mother sees her going non-stop, she sometimes likes to remind her, “You can’t save the world.”

Higgs, of course, knows this. She also knows she can’t uplift all the students she meets as a successful Chico State College of Business mentor and prominent Black student on campus—but that doesn’t mean she isn’t still striving to reach as many of her peers as possible.

However, before she could get to any of that, she first had to heal from a rough childhood and save herself. The list of obstacles Higgs has overcome to reach this point is long. She entered the foster care system at age 15 and emerged a single mother. She dropped out of high school, got her GED, and then attended Butte College off and on before obtaining her associate degree and finally transferring to Chico State during the pandemic.

“I’m not even supposed to be here,” Higgs said, referring to beating long odds to excel in college. “But Chico State has given me a second chance and that has meant everything to me.”

Higgs is scheduled to graduate in December with a bachelor of science in public health and a minor in entrepreneurship, and she has taken advantage of every opportunity she has been provided.

When Higgs needed extra financial assistance to bridge the gaps in her financial aid, Eva Shepherd-Nicoll, her mentor and director of the Chico State Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE), suggested that she look into #CaliforniansForAll College Corps, which at the time was a brand new statewide initiative that provides college students with up to $10,000 in assistance if they perform 450 hours of community service in their community.

So, Higgs signed up. She cleared brush in Bidwell Park to help reduce wildfire risk and she built garden boxes that she delivered to her old neighborhood in South Oroville. Not only did she earn financial assistance (in the form of a $7,000 living stipend and a $3,000 education award), but she turned her experience with a shovel into a summer job with the US Forest Service. Her enthusiasm for the program earned her a job the following year as project assistant and lead recruiter at Chico State’s College Corps.

And how successful has she been in the role? The state has allotted Chico State’s College Corps 90 positions, and the 2023–24 cohort had more than 200 interested students. 

“Cherie’s inspiring story is an example of what can happen when people are given an opportunity to realize their potential,” said Shepherd-Nicoll. “And she certainly has—she is the central resource of information for CFE. She knows where everything is and stays on top of scholarships, grants, events, and all other opportunities for students.”

Higgs has certainly taken advantage of her time on campus. She is a PATH (Promoting Achievement Through Hope) scholar; co-president of the College of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurship (CEO) Club; vice president of the Black Student Union; an intern at local small business and tech incubator ChicoStart; and owner of her own small business.

Higgs founded Beautifully Blended Essentials after recognizing the lack of hair products available for Black women in the region’s retail stores. The lifestyle company assists Black women with finding the right products, and will ship hair and beauty products across the country. She also serves as a consultant of sorts, helping connect clients with local hair stylists. Her long-term career goal is to found a community-oriented non-profit that builds on her public health degree and business acumen. 

“I would like to implement skills-based programs within low-income and minority communities,” said Higgs. “I know from where I came from our community needs training on how to apply for an apartment lease, how to open a bank account, and how to create a résumé. These are skills that perhaps others take for granted. I want to help people, provide resources, and teach real skills. And I’d like to do that all from grant funding.”

Higgs has developed her entrepreneurial skills and gained experience writing grant proposals by working at Chico State’s Center for Entrepreneurship—a center for excellence that serves more than 300 students a semester—and during her time within its associated organization, the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) club. Originally, she attended a club meeting as an extra credit opportunity in professor David Rahn’s management class, but she soon became the organization’s marketing assistant and is now co-president with Nataly Chavez. 

“Cherie is a natural mentor who easily connects with both director-level employees and students. She has become the eyes and ears of the College of Business,” said Shepherd-Nicoll.

CEO is a development organization for young professionals who have started, or who would like to start, a business one day, and is open to all majors. It provides workshops for students who want to develop their ideas, assistance with business plans, training on building websites and apps, offers networking opportunities, and brings in guest speakers. This year, several members of the club have founded Fresh Haven with the assistance of a $5,000 donation from the Scott Bedford Micro Business Fund. The company offers environmentally friendly laundry detergent sheets made from natural ingredients. 

Cherie Higgs speaks at the podium during the Black Graduation Celebration in May 2023.
Higgs, who graduates this December, was selected to speak during Chico State’s Black Graduation Celebration in May 2023.

Higgs and Chavez are also busy preparing for CEO’s national conference, which takes place in November in Tampa, Florida. At the event, Higgs will speak on behalf of Chico State’s CEO chapter about development for the second year. At last year’s event, Higgs and her peers in CEO were awarded the best co-collaboration award for their work with Woodbury University in developing a West Coast conference. This year, Chavez along with her partner Cassidy Corboline, will be presenting Fresh Haven in a $10,000 national pitch competition. Higgs is advising.

“Cherie is a powerhouse on campus, helping to bring peers and organizations together, share any resource she knows of to help build up those around her, and just has this ability to put a smile on your face,” said Chavez, who will graduate with a degree in business administration in May 2024. “But even beyond that, she is a mentor and close friend who is always there to keep me going and lift me if I’m having a bad day. She is the reason I am able to take on CEO this year.”

As vice president of the Black Student Union, Higgs is focused on creating a common space where all Black and minority students feel welcomed on campus. In addition to formalizing how information is sent to Black students, she often leads tours of the campus that visit the Student Services Center, the HUB, and the Financial Wellness Clinic, and she provides an introduction to the various clubs on campus that provide a sense of belonging to minority students. Higgs is also working with Vice President for Student Affairs Isaac Brundage on initiatives to increase enrollment of Black students, particularly from Chico State’s service area.

“Black students are less than 5 percent of the student population on campus, which is kind of disheartening,” said Higgs. “Especially because Butte College is one of the most diverse junior colleges in the state. Before I leave, I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to bring Black students from our rural areas to Chico State.”

Higgs has been such a force on campus that she was invited to speak during the Black Graduation Celebration, even though she won’t officially graduate until December. And, though she is a little nervous to leave campus, she is addressing the challenge head-on like she has done countless times before.