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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Values and Community at Maryland University of Integrative Health

Oct 27, 2013 06:12AM

When Cheryl Walker first entered the Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) in 1998, as a student in a community education program, she had no idea that one day, she would be setting a new standard for university education as the nation’s first Chief Values Officer. Nor did she realize she would be creating a transformational educational experience for the attendees at the Laurel-based graduate school.

Maryland University of Integrative Health, formerly known as Tai Sophia Institute, is nationally recognized for its pioneering work in the fields of acupuncture and oriental medicine, yoga therapy, nutrition, health coaching, health education and herbal medicine through their master’s degree and graduate certificate programs. Upon receiving university status in March by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, the name of the school was formally changed to reflect the school’s new status as a university.  Along with that recognition, MUIH President and CEO Frank Vitale thought it was the appropriate time to take a deeper look at the principles and values of the university—to see how these foundational elements were manifested in all the work and relationships of the school. 

Walker was asked to lead that inward journey and was named Vice President for Institutional Development and Chief Values Officer (CVO), a position that is utterly unique among universities and organizations. Her mission is to insure that the university maintains its values and principles “honoring them not just as words and intentions, but as dynamic and essential components of their communal life.” Walker revealed what Vitale has said about the importance of an organization to live its values. “It’s fairly simple,” she explains, “By living our values, we create quality in all that we do, which then produces the organization’s reputation in the world.”

Students and faculty will readily tell you that MUIH has something special to offer, as evident in the more than 80 percent retention rate among students—a number unheard of among post-secondary schools. Prior to being named CVO, Walker lead a group of faculty, staff, students and alumni to explore the elements that draw so many to MUIH, the components that underlie all of its programs and lead its students to becoming a “healing presence.” In the course of that exploration, this group spent a year and a half setting to paper the school’s guiding principles. Their work included a statement on mission, vision and laying out the school’s foundational principles, which include interconnection, holism, transformation, diversity and resilience, as well as its values of community, mindfulness, integrity, inquisitiveness and discernment. Each of these points and values are elegantly defined and lived out through the lives of students, faculty and staff.

According to Walker, it is precisely the teachings of healing presence that make MUIH so special. Because this concept is central to all they teach, it is currently the subject of an ongoing formal conversation among faculty and alumni. Walker describes the term as, “a way of being—a composure that a practitioner has, which inspires others to want to be their best self and to want to make positive change. It is to cultivate practitioners with qualities of empathy, compassion, responsiveness, openness and most importantly, the capacity to hold for others, a belief in the innate wholeness of another person.”

In her new role as CVO, Walker is tasked with building leadership and community in such a way that the healing presence is infused in every academic program, decision and action, thereby creating a community of nurture and support among students, staff and faculty. Even John, the “ambassador” at the front desk, exudes this value of the healing presence, as each visitor walks through the university’s door, they are welcomed warmly. 

This presence leads to a second component of Walker’s mission, who along with faculty and staff strive to provide an “exceptional student experience”, whereby the values and foundational principles of the school are woven into the curriculum for each class. Staff and faculty model practices that promote relationship-centered healing and in doing so, they are cultivating practitioners among their students who develop these practices to utilize in their post-university professions.

The final component of Walker’s mission is to infuse the school’s values into its development program, making MUIH the first university to combine leadership in ethics with leadership in philanthropy. As the primary fundraiser for MUIH, Walker approaches potential backers and collaborators as the CVO, thereby sending the message that the values and integrity of the university are at the heart of her work.

For the past 30 years, and in our own backyard, MUIH has been a national leader in defining new ways of approaching wellness and healing and has grown considerably, having conferred more than 2000 graduate degrees and certificates. The best is yet to be, according to Walker, there are active plans to boost enrollment from the current 800 to 2000 in the next five years, both on campus and online as the reputation of the university grows and word spreads of the innovative programs that are offered by MUIH.

For more information about Cheryl Walker and the Maryland University of Integrative Health, visit 

Robin Fillmore is the publisher of Natural Awakenings in Washington, D.C.


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