For passersby office CA-102 in the Visual Arts and Media Studies Department (VAMS), it looks like a regular workspace. But for everyone on campus who knew longtime PCC administrative assistant Cheryl Cornelious-Ayala, it will always be a special place because of her kindness, generosity, and warmth.
Cornelious-Ayala worked at PCC for over 20 years and passed away over the summer. She was born and raised in Homestead, Pennsylvania, a small town southeast of Pittsburgh. She was a middle child in a family of ten kids.
Her daughter, Ashlee Cornelious, says her mother was a free spirit from the start.
“She followed the beat of her own drum, and was always independent,” Cornelious recalled. Looking for a change of scenery, Cornelious-Ayala moved by herself to Arizona at the age of 17, and later relocated to Los Angeles. She started working at PCC in the late 1990s, and made an impact on those she encountered on campus.
“Cheryl was always very friendly. She had such a bright personality, and she was someone you looked forward to seeing in the office,” said digital arts instructor Mark Harvey. “ She’ll be profoundly missed.”
Lisa Daniel, VAMS office services assistant, knew Cheryl for more than 22 years.
“She was a fantastic person, beautiful inside and out. God has a new angel by his side,” Daniel said.
In CA-102,Cornelious-Ayala was able to work the busy front desk with ease while maintaining her amiable and thoughtful nature.
“She was a very pleasant person, very helpful to people. I don’t think I ever saw her get mad. She just had a really lovely personality,” said film and mass communication professor William Rod Foster. “She was conscientious and very good at her work.”
Cornelious-Ayala also had a caring and considerate touch.
“She was like a mother to the students. She was so empathetic,” added arts professor Sandra Haynes.
Cornelious-Ayala was well-loved not only amongst her colleagues, but also by students.
Maribel Ruiz, a former student, worked alongside Cornelious-Ayala for three years, and describes her as a “role model [with]a charming personality.” Ruiz said she misses her “beautiful smile [and] uplifting energy.”
Ruiz said Cornelious-Ayala wrote letters of recommendation that helped her obtain scholarships in Cal Poly Pomona’s architecture program, and contributed to her academic planning.
Cheryl’s generous nature will forever be cherished by Ruiz.
“I know for a fact I wouldn’t have made it this far in my career if it wasn’t for her constantly cheering me on,” said Ruiz. “[Cheryl was] encouraging me to always give my best during the toughest school days.”
Other students enjoyed Cheryl’s giving and considerate presence, including PCC alum Christen Austin.
“For the little bit of time that I have known Cheryl, I will forever remember her as someone who was true to herself,” said Austin. “Her confidence was shown through her personality, the way she dressed and how she carried herself. She was so supportive of me and so many students who she interacted with.”
Cornelious-Ayala was also known for her love of fashion. She sought out anything with cheetah print, and scoped out a good deal.
“She loved thrift stores, shoes, and jewelry. She had probably over 3,000 pieces of jewelry,” Cornelious remembered.
Professor Haynes and Cornelious-Ayala bonded over their shared interest in clothing and accessories, particularly earrings. They would often compliment each other’s ensembles, and on occasion, exchanged earrings as gifts.
Haynes still has a pair of rainbow earrings given to her that say “Queen.” The note that was attached with the gift remains on the bulletin board in her office.
“From one queen to another. Love, Cheryl.”
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Cornelious herself now works on campus in Disabled Student Programs & Services and credits her mother for her career success.
“She pushed me and made me value how important work ethic is. She taught me to make sure that wherever I was I brought value to that office,” Cornelious said.
“She was a light, a breath of fresh air. She tried to share herself with everyone, and made this place so enjoyable. I still feel her energy.”
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