Indiana State University Newsroom

Aviation executive, non-traditional graduate to speak at winter commencement

November 11, 2015

An executive with the world's second largest aircraft engine manufacturer and an Indiana State University staff member completing her bachelor's degree at an age when many people are thinking about retirement will address graduates during the university's fall commencement.

"Be bold and take chances" will be the message from Cheryl Roberson, program director with the defense sector of Rolls-Royce, while Martha Reed, whose journey toward a bachelor's degree began in 1979, will call on her fellow graduates to follow their inspiration.

Roberson, a graduate of Indiana State's Scott College of Business with a bachelor's degree in business administration, took a bold chance when she set out to land a job at Rolls-Royce after completing her bachelor's degree in 1990. Working through a temporary help agency, she got a job as a secretary at Rolls-Royce's corporate office in downtown Indianapolis.

"I hadn't been there but a couple of months when the man I worked for said he noticed I had some talent," Roberson said. "He led a group of very technical people who wrote technical manuals for the engines and he said, ‘I think you could do this.'"

Roberson worked as a contractor for Rolls-Royce for about four years, left to start a family and worked part time for another company, only to return to Rolls-Royce in 1998.

"I didn't study aerospace at ISU, I just kind of fell into it," she said. "It was a personal interest of mine and I figured out a way for the education and training I received at ISU to get me in the door."

Roberson said she had not been very involved with her alma mater until spring 2014, when she accepted an invitation to serve on the College of Technology advisory board.

"Everything I have done on campus since then, I have enjoyed so much - working with students, talking with faculty," she said. "I've taken a lot of pleasure and personal satisfaction over every point of contact I've had with Indiana State for the past year and a half."

Roberson said she was "thrilled and honored" when university President Dan Bradley asked her to deliver the fall commencement address after hearing her deliver a recent speech.

"I graduated just over 25 years ago and still think about that time on campus as one of the best times in my life," said Roberson, a Mooresville resident. "I work for a company where I probably couldn't find more than a handful of other ISU graduates. One of my missions is to change that."

A native of Panama City, Panama who moved to Indiana with her parents, an American serviceman stationed in the Canal Zone and her Panamanian mother, Reed's nearly lifelong mission has been to complete a four-year degree and inspire others to succeed. She originally hoped to do that through music when she first enrolled at Indiana State just months after Larry Bird led the Sycamore basketball team to its only NCAA championship game.

When the Dana resident's planned music pathway "didn't play out well," she switched to recreation management. She worked two jobs while going to school fulltime but still ended up short of money and other roadblocks put her education on hold, returning to the university in 1986 not as a student but as a facilities maintenance staff member.

Her duties included cleaning the office of university President Richard Landini, who saw that Reed had potential and urged her to resume her studies, saying she was "capable of achieving much more."

But yet another mission intervened. Reed was volunteering to help victims of domestic violence and was hired full time by the Council on Domestic Abuse. She landed a job as administrative assistant at the university's Career Center in 1996 and she re-started her educational journey in 2001, one class at a time.

"I was afraid to take on much more because of family and full-time commitments, and I had several semesters where I had to lay out because of family," she said. Reed had met her husband, Paul, also a facilities maintenance worker, while working at the university.

In 2010, Indiana State launched its Adult Career Education program, which awards college credits for certain life experiences, offers eight-week courses and allows students with "some college" to customize their own course of study. Reed built her curriculum toward her goal of becoming a career counselor "because I found my passion working with students on their career path at the Career Center."

Reed, 55, will graduate in December with a bachelor's degree in adult career education, a minor in psychology and a certificate as a post-secondary facilitator. And she'll do it with a 3.7 grade point average on a 4.0 scale.

She plans to continue her education by completing a master's degree in student affairs and higher education and hopes to either remain at Indiana State or eventually return to the university that has meant so much to her for so long.

Reed said she plans to tell her fellow graduates that no matter where they may be in life, if they have their mind set on something, "you can do it and don't let anyone stand in your way. It's all possible with hard work and perseverance."

Commencement ceremonies are scheduled for Dec. 12 at noon at Hulman Center, with the processional of graduates beginning at 11:45 a.m. The event is free and open to the public. No tickets are required. The ceremony will also be streamed live at

Photo: - Cheryl Roberson

Photo: - Martha Reed

Media contact and writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or