Transformation and Trailblazing | Rochelle Dickey

Between an eponymous award being established, decades of devoted service, a space named in her honor and several awards for her work over the years, it’s safe to say Rochelle Dickey left her mark on Colorado College in her career of over 30 years there.

The UCCS College of Education alumna began her education at Colorado College (CC) as a first-generation student, graduating from there in 1983 with a drama degree. She then returned in 1990 to join its staff as the first Director of Minority Student Life, which would kick off an impressive three-plus decades of service to the college in multiple roles throughout that time.

“I’ve had such tremendous opportunities and support over the years, which allowed me to do quite a bit along the way, coming in at the director level and leaving as a Vice President of the institution and a member of the President’s cabinet,” Rochelle said. “After Director of Minority Student Life, I took over International Programs. At one point I served as Interim Director of the Career Center, Interim Director of Outdoor Education, and then was promoted to the deanship. I’ve been Associate Dean, Senior Associate Dean and finally landed as Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Life.”

Alongside the career opportunities Rochelle encountered, her time in higher education gave her the chance to make strides in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts and push for real change in the field through her roles advocating for minority students and other additional work, like her involvement in the African American Youth Leadership Conference. The organization’s annual event introduces students from all paths to opportunities for higher education and helps them navigate the process, while also providing a parallel track for parents unfamiliar with the steps to college but wanting to learn ways to aid their children.

“Sometimes when you’re in the trenches it’s difficult to see the trailblazing,” she noted. “To think back on being the first Black female dean at the college, or the first Black female vice president at Colorado College, and all of these wonderful opportunities – to have that acknowledged in some type of way is rewarding and humbling, because you think about the shoulders of the folks that you stood on to get where you are.”

Rochelle’s work at Colorado College was also the catalyst for her decision to pursue a graduate degree from UCCS, which she earned in 1996. The Education and Counseling master’s aligned perfectly with what she was already doing daily and allowed her to build on that work.

“I would do research and do things for class and say, ‘this is 100% transferable to what I’m doing in my job on a daily basis,’” she explained. “It was transformative to be able to take those skills and that new knowledge from the classroom, it just reinvigorated me. I was still really excited and in love with my work at Colorado College, but my experience at UCCS helped to heighten that again – to put the theory into what I was already doing as practice, and to be able to work with my colleagues, faculty and students and to learn new and different ways that we can be addressing student equity and mental health on campus.”

Considering DEI and wellness efforts weren’t nearly as prominent at most schools when Rochelle was attending UCCS and working at Colorado College, she’s grateful to have been part of two institutions that helped pioneer those changes.

“Kee Warner, Professor Emeritus of the Sociology department, was so pivotal in my master’s work at UCCS,” she recalled. “Another one who, back in the day, was so attuned to making sure to incorporate DEI. He was magnificent.”

“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be at the forefront of these efforts, and that was because of the work that I had done at UCCS,” added Rochelle. “I had the undergrad experience of a small, private, liberal arts school, and then got to experience being part of a larger, statewide network. The two meshed together very well. My work at UCCS transformed my career, transformed me personally, and I think really helped to transform Colorado College as an institution.”

A symbol of that transformational work is the Rochelle T. Dickey Multicultural Lounge, Colorado College’s first-ever multicultural center, which they named in her honor. What made the dedication even more unexpected for Rochelle was the fact that it was kept a surprise until the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“You could have bowled me over,” Rochelle said. “I knew they were going to renovate the space and name it after somebody – they even came to me and asked if I had any suggestions, and if I’d say a few words at the lounge’s dedication. So when they hold the event I go there with my speech notes, then I look around and see that my dad’s there, people from my church are there and some of my best friends from town were there. Then they drop the curtain, and I see Rochelle T. Dickey Multicultural Lounge and I just lose it.”

“They really strung me along,” she laughed. “But it touches my heart in so many ways, as a first-generation college student, to know that my family name is enmeshed with Colorado College, hopefully for a long, long time.”

It’s fitting that the space named for Rochelle is a student lounge, with her constant devotion to supporting and connecting with them throughout her many roles. She often found ways to get to know students better by hosting dinners, doing office open houses and offering meeting times like “Donuts with the Dean,” where students could come by her office and grab some food while sharing about themselves.

“To get to know the students and to have them let me into their lives was such a tremendous honor, and sometimes their families would even come to campus and they’d introduce me to them,” said Rochelle. “To have those lifelong connections with so many people over the years, and particularly those relationships with students where they allowed me to be part of their lives and their journey, I’ll never forget that.”

Now that she’s retired, Rochelle plans to get even more involved in her community and spend more time with her family, including her son, Donovan, and 90-year-old father, George, with whom she’s been traversing Niagara Falls and Canadian glaciers. Donovan is also following in Rochelle’s footsteps as a CC alumnus and staff member, though he’s been part of the community since his early days.

“I’ve loved being able to raise my son in the community. I first started bringing him on campus at CC at three months old,” Rochelle said. “I have a lot of personal pride in my journey as a mother and being able to support my son through his educational journey. I think he demonstrates on a daily basis not only the lessons that I’ve taught him, but the lessons the community has taught him.”

Rochelle has learned plenty herself over her years of experience, and two things that she urges other to keep in mind is to be authentic and compassionate as much as possible.

“Authenticity is really important to me,” she stressed. “All of us are different with our friends on Friday night than we are in the boardroom, but there’s still ways to find bringing your authentic self and bringing your perspectives of who you are as a person and not letting those perspectives be silenced. Just be yourself. But, part of being yourself means learning how to negotiate in different environments. That’s part of the power of yourself, and it’s not being fake, it’s about finding that balance between bringing your authentic self to the table and knowing how to play the game – because we all need to learn how to play the game so we can CHANGE the game!”

“The other thing that I would talk to students about and that is part of my leadership journey is that whenever I would do executive leadership coaching or other assessment tools, I was always proud that I ranked high in empathy and compassion,” she continued. “To me, that was more important. I don’t want to be a leader that people feel intimidated by, or fear, and get respect that way. Sometimes compassion is exactly what our students needed on any given day.”

About the UCCS College of Education

The College of Education offers undergraduate and advanced degrees, initial and advanced licenses and additional endorsements across three departments: Teaching and Learning, Counseling and Human Services and Leadership, Research, and Foundations. The college is home to more than 1,000 students and offers 12 bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degrees. It is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP). Learn more about the College of Education at UCCS.