Retired staff member Cari Phipps, who worked in Student Affairs for 13 years, passed away February 1. She was 40.
Born May 19, 1980, she earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Chico State in 2004, followed by a credential in 2006. Phipps had planned on becoming an elementary school teacher when the opportunity arose to work in higher education.
She was hired at Chico State in 2007 as an evaluator trainee in Enterprise Technology and Support. She eventually served as department lead in degree audit programming, during which time she made the University a leader within the CSU and the nation for several programs.
It was with her guidance that Chico State became the third campus in the CSU to launch Smart Planner, and she was one of the first in the 23-campus system to set up rules that allowed automatic processing of transcripts. Phipps’ work was also critical in transforming Chico State into a “easy button” graduation campus, thanks to an accurately programmed Degree Progress Report, accurately representing students’ remaining requirements to complete their degrees and ensuring their degrees were processed in weeks instead of months.
English Professor Laura Sparks and Phipps met as transfer students in University Village in 2001, were roommates for many years, and remained lifelong friends. When Sparks was hired at Chico State in 2014, she was overwhelmingly grateful that they could be together once again.
“Cari was an absolutely stellar human being. I could write for ages about what an excellent, loving, kind, and joyful person she was,” Sparks said. “She also had a really uncanny way of knowing what people needed; she was such a rock. She had a good way of understanding the logic of a problem and had a real practical approach to challenges, so she was someone I could always count on for a new—and valuable—perspective. I couldn’t have imagined Chico without her, and still can’t.”
In 2015, Phipps was nominated as Staff Employee of the Year. She also served as a member of Staff Council and tutored students in mathematics for free.
Assessment analyst Pamela Dunlap describes Phipps as the most considerate person imaginable.
“Even as she battled cancer, she was the first to offer help if someone was going through a rough patch. She’d coordinate people to deliver you meals if you were sick, pick you up coffee on a rough day and often just to show appreciation for you as a colleague and a friend,” she said. “She always had showing love for other people on her mind and you knew it walking around campus with her, so many people would stop to chat with her and their faces would brighten up as soon as she spoke to them. She made time for everyone.”
Earning her MBA was a longtime dream, and Phipps kept education a priority, even while fighting cancer, working full-time, raising a family, and losing their home in the Camp Fire. In 2018, she completed her graduate degree with an option in project management.
Phipps medically retired from Chico State in 2020. Outside of her campus contributions, she coached running groups with Fleet Feet and VIP Fitness, and was a camp counselor for Camp Adventure Korea. She also enjoyed hosting get-togethers, camping, and visiting Lake Almanor.
In 2015, Phipps joined Chico State’s Relay for Life team as a cancer survivor and became deeply involved. She and her family contributed in many ways, from attending and creating fundraisers to finding a solution to displaying all the Chico State luminaria at the event—which caught the attention of all relay attendees.
“Cari was such a vibrant and energetic person and a joy to have as part of the team,” said communications studies staff member Peggy Armocido, Chico State Relay for Life’s team captain. “I am grateful to have known her. I wish we could have walked many more survivor walks together, but felt so lucky to have had her with our team for all the years we did.”
Phipps’ strength was a source of inspiration to all who knew her. When Jene Rabo, a staff member in the School of Social Work, met her 15 years ago, they developed an instant connection, forming a friendship that would continue to uplift one another in both times of need and celebration.
“Cari loved a good party and we celebrated every step of her illness, even the bad ones,” she said. “Cari fought hard down to her last day. She is a true warrior and is missed immensely.”
Phipps is survived by her husband, Vince, daughter Emmi, parents Becki and Paul Stewart, sister Cathy Stewart, and grandmother Donna Fillmore. In lieu of flowers, her loved ones have asked for donations to her daughter’s college savings account, so she can pursue her educational dream just like Phipps.
The University flag will be lowered Tuesday, May 25, in her memory.