Cheltzie Miller-Bailey’s journey from event planner to advocate

Cheltzie Miller-Bailey, the assistant director for the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success, has worked at Iowa State since July 2019 and has been part of the Center since January.

Logan Metzger

The Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success gained an assistant director just three weeks ago after a year of only having one staff member, but what is her story?

Cheltzie Miller-Bailey, the assistant director for the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success, grew up in a part of West Des Moines, Iowa, known as Valley Junction, where she lived in a single-parent household with her mother and three siblings.

In Valley Junction, Miller-Bailey said she lived in a good neighborhood and often played with the neighborhood kids. Miller-Bailey said everything from her childhood has influenced her still to this day.

“I would say my childhood impacted where I ended up,” Miller-Bailey said. “We grew up very low income, and because of that, we were assisted by a lot of social services organizations and by a lot of people who dedicated their lives to serving others, essentially. I think knowing that from a really young age definitely influenced the path that my career has gone.”

During her teen years, Miller-Bailey attended Valley High School where she participated in a lot of extracurricular activities from softball to dance. She said that dance will forever be one of her favorite activities.

She said dancing was a huge part of her childhood. She started to dance around the age of seven, and it took up time five days a week for her until she graduated high school.

“I think being in any type of team environment as a child can really help develop you in different ways,” Miller-Bailey said. “I learned how to support other people; I learned how to let other people support me. That is really crucial in dance, especially when you are doing some really dangerous things like lifts where you have to physically and literally lean on other people. I think that the way that I learned how people can help other people and impact other people, that grew a lot through the team environments I was a part of as a kid.”

Miller-Bailey graduated from Valley High School in the spring of 2011, but that time has still left an impression on her to this day.

“I had a really close-knit group of friends in high school, and I think that more than anything else is sticking out about what influenced me from high school,” Miller-Bailey said. “The way that specific and close relationships really matter and how powerful they can be is what I continue to take away the most from my high school experience.”

After high school, she had that one trouble many newly-graduated-from-high-school teenagers have: deciding what college or university to go to.

“My dream was to go to the University of Oregon to study to be a sports photographer,” Miller-Bailey said. “I remember reading ESPN or something, and there was this picture of a baseball player sliding into home base, and the catcher was right there with the ball; and it was a near-miss situation. I just remember being enthralled by that photo, and that is what I wanted to do.”

Miller-Bailey had applied to the University of Oregon and was actually committed to going there until June of 2011 when she and her mother took a road trip to Oregon to visit the college, and she realized just how far away from home Oregon was.

She then decided to pick her second choice of college, the University of South Dakota, which was a lot closer to home than Oregon.

Miller-Bailey said she wanted to go to the University of South Dakota due to its reputation as a good business college.

When she entered in the fall of 2011, she started out as a double major in marketing and kinesiology, but that did not last long before she switched to advertising and public relations as her single major.

Miller-Bailey said one of her most important decisions she has ever made was joining a sorority at the University of South Dakota.

“I joined a sorority at South Dakota, and that was really impactful and important,” Miller-Bailey said. “It was a pretty guiding force throughout my college career.”

Other activities she was part of at the University of South Dakota included being a student ambassador and Dance Marathon morale captain.

In 2013, Miller-Bailey transferred to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where she said a program drew her in. Another large reason she decided to move to UNI when she decided to transfer was that her sorority also had a chapter on that campus.

When she moved to UNI, she switched her major to “leisure, youth and human services” with a certificate in “nonprofit and youth administration” and “tourism and hospitality.”

After transferring to a new university, Miller-Bailey was an upperclassman and said she felt like she should step up more in her extracurricular activities.

“I started holding more leadership roles in those clubs instead of just a member,” Miller-Bailey said. “In my sorority, I served as the philanthropy chair, and I did alumni relations as well. I was on Dance Marathon exec. while I was at UNI in an event planning role. Plus, I had lots of campus jobs and internships while I was at UNI as well.”

The last biggest thing that happened before graduation for Miller-Bailey was getting an internship her senior year at McElroy Trust, a trust fund for educational programs in Iowa, in Waterloo, Iowa.

She said this internship was super important to her because not only did she need the internship to graduate, but it was also one of the first times she had seen all of her years of education come to fruition.

“It was a 40-hour-a-week, full-time professional internship,” Miller-Bailey said. “I had a really great supervisor who was a very well established and well-known professional in the Cedar Valley, and I learned so much from her that year that I still carry to this day.”

In the spring of 2015, Miller-Bailey graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from UNI. She said that after graduation, she had been looking into this one job that she really wanted, but due to not getting the job, she decided to go back to UNI for graduate school in the fall of 2015.

This time around, she decided to major in post-secondary education: student affairs due to being influenced by professionals in her life.

“It was not what I anticipated at the time, but it was the only option I felt like I had, so I went to grad school,” Miller-Bailey said. “I had been so wildly involved in school, and I have always had a deep and passionate care for education that it made sense for me to continue going to school. I knew that I had been supported and encouraged by a set of specific professionals that did a very specific thing, and when I learned you could study that specific thing, I decided to stay at UNI.”

She said that it was at this time that she was fully out in the LGBTQIA+ community, and most people in her life knew. Miller-Bailey said this was an important part to her because identity is an important part of student affairs.

As most people will say, graduate school had an influence on Miller-Bailey and most of what she has done in her life.

“Graduate school was so impactful for me,” Miller-Bailey said. “The two things coming to mind as influences are two-fold. One is the necessity of acknowledging intersecting identities, you just explore that so deeply in higher ed graduate programs. In doing that, I learned so much about myself and my identities significantly more. The other thing that I take away is how dedicated, genuine, compassionate professionals can change a person’s life. I just have these images of these people in grad school that gave more to me than they ever needed to.”

After graduating in spring 2017, Miller-Bailey moved to Denton, Texas, right away for a job.

She said this was her first professional role outside of college, and it was at the University of North Texas (UNT). She was the coordinator for campus-wide events for the Student Activities Center there.

In that role, she was in charge of planning campus-wide events throughout the year. This included five main events yearly, with some involving over 10,000 people.

The biggest and most important event that Miller-Bailey oversaw was Homecoming Week. She worked on planning this week of events with a team of 12 to 15 volunteer students.

“Homecoming at UNT is really really large and is very impactful; students are really involved and alumni come back for it,” Miller-Bailey said. “When they say everything is bigger in Texas, they mean it.”

Miller-Bailey said some of her proudest moments come from planning Homecoming Week.

“[The students and I] did some really impactful things together,” Miller-Bailey said. “I did not make change; WE made change. Student voice was such an important part of systemic changes that happened while I was at UNT.”

Miller-Bailey and her team worked together to establish the first gender-inclusive homecoming royalty process. Her team also reestablished relationships with students of color, where before, the program had alienated that community from being involved.

Another event that Miller-Bailey worked on was Earth Fest, which is a large Earth Day event at UNT. She helped establish an all-vegan menu there.

Then in July of 2019, after working two years at UNT, Miller-Bailey decided to move back to Iowa. She said her career focus had changed, and she wanted to be closer to home as she was figuring things out.

“Because of some of the things I did and how involved advocacy was in my role, my career focus shifted in that time frame,” Miller-Bailey said. “I still loved events and campus programs, and I understand and believe in their impact, but I also believed so strongly in advocacy-based work, and I was able to recognize how under-served marginalized groups were, even on campuses where they should have a voice. That lit a fire under me that I wanted to pursue.”

She said she knew she wanted to work at a large public institution, but it also had to be near Des Moines, so Iowa State fit all of her requirements. And due to her knowing many professionals at Iowa State, she fit even better.

Miller-Bailey started with the Lectures Program at Iowa State in June 2019 where she was the events and technology manager, which means she coordinated events and speakers.

She said it was a good introduction to Iowa State, and she got to meet a lot of different groups across campus.

One of the first individuals to reach out and welcome Miller-Bailey to Iowa State was Brad Freihoefer, director for the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success. She said this small kindness made her feel a sense of the community at Iowa State.

“When this role opened up, it just felt like, ‘Oh, this is it, this is what I came back for, this is why I came to Iowa State; this is a job that fits what I want to be doing in the place I want to be doing it,’” Miller-Bailey said. “I took a leap of faith, and I don’t know, I got lucky that I landed here.”

Miller-Bailey has been in her position for three weeks now, but she has goals she is hoping to accomplish. These include designing programs and initiatives for the Center and getting students involved.

“I just want LGBTQIA+ identifying students at Iowa State and in Ames to know that there are people in the Center and outside of the Center who are willing to see them, who are willing to hear them, who are willing to push them and support them and care about them,” Miller-Bailey said.