At the University of Charleston, South Carolina, we are extremely proud of our students and alumni. They are a unique batch of talented, hard-working, and intelligent individuals, many of whom found new inspiration during their time as a graduate student at UCSC. Such was the case for our August 2020 Alumna of the Month, Cherisse Jones-Branch, Ph.D, ’94, who earned a Master of Arts in History from UCSC in 1997 and is currently the Dean of the Graduate School and James and Wanda Lee Vaughn Endowed Professor of History at Arkansas State University.
As a Charleston native, Dr. Jones-Branch grew up in a place rich with history. While many study US history in textbooks, Charlestonians live it and see it every day. From the historic plantations to the downtown streets, nearly every aspect of Charleston tells a story of times long ago, although they are not always happy stories. As such, it makes perfect sense that Dr. Jones-Branch began to feel the pull to become a historian at a young age with a special interest in African American and women’s history.
When it came time for higher education, Dr. Jones-Branch, also a Persian Gulf War veteran, knew she wanted to stay close to home. She attended the College of Charleston for her undergraduate degree, and she continued to pursue her master’s here because she was not ready to leave Charleston to attend graduate school elsewhere:
I grew up in Charleston and so I have many memories. I remember spending time on the Battery, Waterfront Park, jogging in downtown Charleston, and hanging out with friends in Sotille House and in the Bull Street houses, where I lived as an undergraduate.
During her time as a graduate student at the University of Charleston, SC, Dr. Jones-Branch worked at the Avery Research Center, an ideal opportunity given her affinity for African American history. This one experience was paramount in shaping her professional journey:
I was able to work at the Avery Research Center for Dr. Marvin Dulaney who was instrumental in my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in History at The Ohio State University.
Dr. Jones-Branch left Charleston to pursue her Ph.D. at The Ohio State University. Her dissertation, which also became her award-winning first book, was on black and white women’s interracial activism in South Carolina.
Dr. Jones-Branch went to Arkansas State University in 2003 and intended to stay for two years and that was seventeen years ago now! She was promoted from assistant to associate professor, and then, to full professor in 2016. In 2017, she became one of the first three James and Wanda Lee Vaughn Endowed Professors at the university and the first and only African American in Arkansas State University’s history.
As Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Jones-Branch draws upon her experiences from the College of Charleston:
Because of the people who supported me and advocated for me when I was at the College of Charleston, I am now in a position to pay it forward to students at my university. Seeing them graduate and go on to be successful is very rewarding for me.
It is clear that Dr. Jones-Branch has made quite an impact on her students. Many of them have gone on to pursue Ph.D.s in History at Cornell University, University of Arkansas, University of Mississippi, and other institutions. She remains in contact with them, and they continue to seek her guidance and support. Dr. Jones-Branch has helped to shape these students lives, and, in doing so, has left a remarkable legacy.
With a successful professional career and many accomplishments under her belt, it is no wonder that Dr. Jones-Branch was chosen as the August 2020 Alumna of the Month. While her studies and profession have taken her away from the Low Country, she will always be a Cougar at heart:
Earning degrees from the College of Charleston has done a lot for me professionally. The minute people learn I went to school there, they know that I received a good education from a extremely well regarded institution. I can say that I am definitely “Cougar Proud!”