2020 Spotlight

Staff Spotlight: Cheryl Valko

Cheryl Valko wears a lot of hats at the PRC.

As the center’s associate director, she helps guide the administration of a variety of activities, from communications to strategic planning and the reviewing of grants. And like most everyone, she’s facing the challenges of balancing home-based work with household responsibilities, including caring for her 2-year-old daughter during the COVID-19 pandemic. When life will return to normal is anyone’s guess, but what Valko is looking forward to when it does is easy: her mugs.

A pottery enthusiast, she had to put her classes on hold, first with the birth of her daughter, Ava, and now the pandemic.

“I’ve had to take a long break from pottery,” she said. “It’s hard to have hobbies with a baby. I’m hoping to start taking classes again, even on a limited basis. Pottery helps with mindfulness and stress relief. It’s also a great creative outlet that gets me away from the computer.”

Her preferred creations on the wheel? Giant coffee mugs (favorite color: teal).

Valko has been at the PRC for 14 years, first as a research assistant, project manager and now as an administrator, charged with helping to form the center’s mission, vision and values, as well as more ground-level tasks, like bringing aboard new staff and students.

She got her undergraduate degree in nutrition, became a Registered Dietitian and planned to help others learn to eat healthier. But after she began working as a research assistant for Amy Eyler (Deputy Director of the PRC), she realized she was more interested in population health and got her master’s degree, joining the PRC when it was at Saint Louis University and moving on with the crew when it moved to Washington University.

“St. Louis has a way of pulling you back in,” she noted. (Helping with that St. Louis pull is her husband, Phil, Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Sustainability at WashU.)

But Valko has no interest in leaving in any case.

“The PRC has become my second home,” she said. “I enjoy the work and the support I get from Ross (Brownson, the center director), Amy (Eyler, the center deputy director) and all the other PRC members. The culture and the atmosphere at our center, as well as mentors like Amy and Ross, have taught me a lot about leadership and what matters most at an organization: the people.”

It’s a value, she knows, that’s especially important now.