Revolutionary, outspoken, and dedicated, are all words that describe the essence of Loretta H. Cheeks. Her devotion to advancing technology, STEM K-12 outreach, and disability and women’s advocacy has been the driving force behind her passion for pursuing a PhD. Loretta is a full-time PhD graduate student as an Adobe Foundation GEM Fellow at Arizona State University, Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering in the Department of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering. Her research focuses on news frames of conflict over dynamic complex problems and its’ migration path across online social networks. Prior to starting a PhD program, she enjoyed a rich career as a system & software engineer. She has developed, deployed, and led various teams within the communications, radio, avionics, instrumentation & control and chemical industries for Fortune 500 corporations. Loretta was selected as the 2014 GEM Fellow of the Year, an award that recognizes the significant contribution of a graduate student.
Loretta is a leader and active member of her community and is deeply committed to programs aimed at increasing STEM student interest, particularly in communities that are under-served and under-represented. Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Loretta earned a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in Computer Science from Southern University A&M and a Masters of Business Administration degree in Technology Management from the University of Phoenix.
She is married to Michael Cheeks and has two sons, Ashton and Jordan.
“How has being selected as a GEM Fellow and or the GEM Fellowship program impacted your graduate education endeavors?”
Simply put, the GEM Fellowship is the lifeline to my graduate education. When all things, seemingly fell apart and came to a halt, GEM Consortium, extended the net so that my dream and lifelong goal would live. I started the Ph.D. program as a part-time student, while working full-time as an industry professional. Earning a Ph.D. is a lifelong goal that was set over 20 years ago. Intentionally, I wanted to gain both breadth and depth of industry experience; knowing that this would lead to a more impactful life contribution. When I started the Ph.D. program, my funding source was secure; however in 2011 I was laid off. Yes, laid-off. This life event introduced many uncertainties. I did not know if I would be able to finish my lifelong pursuit of a Ph.D. or if my dream would soon become a nightmare. Simultaneously, my mentors and advisor were admonishing me that it was imperative to focus solely as a full-time student in order to complete the Ph.D. program. Even though this gift was presented and packaged in the most unlikely gift wrapping; I recognized that this was my opportunity to shift my life course toward becoming a researcher－a seed that was sown by Dr. LeRoy Roquemore, Department Head of Computer Science, while matriculating at Southern University. After searching high and low for funding support, I applied at the advisement of a mentor to the GEM Consortium Fellowship program in November 2012. In March 2013, I received a call from Jamie Hicks, a GEM representative, letting me know that I had an award waiting for my acceptance. This call took my breath away; I could breath again and carry on. As a GEM Fellow, I was afforded wonderful mentors by Adobe who provided excellent guidance and support. I am perfectly positioned with excellent collaborators including social scientist, mathematicians, and computer scientist, all of which are required for my interdisciplinary research. Because GEM Consortium, with the support of Adobe Foundation, invested in my education, I will soon complete the Ph.D. Computer Science program at Arizona State University. This is the impact of the GEM Fellowship program on my graduate education.