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Her ‘Aha’ Moment

College advisor shares her story to reduce stress and encourage mindfulness.

Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) Academic Advisor Cheryl McBride has a story to tell. It is a story of grit and grace, of anxiety and reassurance, of perseverance and patience—a story she shares to better educate students, coworkers, veterans and community members about the benefits of meditation to help reduce stress and bring about inner peace and self-awareness.

“I was sitting with a student advising her about classes, and it was an ‘aha’ moment,” recalls McBride. “She started talking about the stress of college and some of the elements taking place outside of school. I decided to share with her a little bit about my life and how I learned to better handle stress.”

McBride, who has worked at the College for 15 years, is unfortunately very familiar with stress. Newly divorced in 2005, she was a stay-at-home mother with three children and a high school diploma before taking a part-time job at Gloucester County College (now RCSJ). Lacking confidence, but encouraged by those around her, she enrolled in classes with the goal to earn an associate degree as a way to improve her financial situation. Five years later while pursuing her bachelor’s degree, McBride fell in love and remarried. Together for less than two years, the devastating diagnosis of stage IV colon cancer rocked her world, and made her a widow. Adding to the sadness of losing her husband and the stress and anxiety that accompanies it, four months later their home in Margate was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, ruining cherished keepsakes and leaving her homeless.

“Sharing my story is an important part of my journey to fully healing, learning to let go, and moving on,” says McBride, who in the years since has rebuilt her home, earned a master’s degree, become a certified yoga and meditation instructor, and fallen in love again. “I realized the importance of letting myself off the hook for all of the things that I did or didn’t do, and for recognizing what lies ahead can be bright and beautiful so long as I choose that for myself each and every day. My meditation and yoga practice ground me. The teachings of these tools have transformed my life.”

Inspired by the importance of education, McBride—who started her own business, Grit and Grace Meditation, in 2019—shares her knowledge and experience with others on campus through “Lunch & Learn Mindfulness Meditation” sessions, classroom presentations and speaking engagements for clubs. With stress ranked as the #1 reason employees don’t show up for work and the World Health Organization labeling burnout a disease, McBride imparts the physical and mental value of disconnecting, slowing down, and becoming more self-aware and mindful of everyday life. Practiced on a daily basis, meditation has been shown to produce a wide range of emotional and physical benefits—something progressive businesses like Apple, Google, Nike, Procter & Gamble and HBO know and have provided employees access to for years.

“During the lunchtime workshops, Cheryl really opened my mind to the practicality of mindfulness and the overall need for it in our everyday lives,” notes Health Science Advisor Rachel Emig-Tait. “To many, mindfulness may seem like something that is optional, but it truly is a necessary practice in today’s world. Cheryl spoke to us about the applications of mindfulness as professionals in higher education, and that really spoke to me.”

RCSJ Psychology Instructor Tanya Johnson has invited McBride to speak to her Introduction to Psychology classes many times during the past two years. Johnson likes to offer meditation as another coping mechanism resource.

“So many of my students from the past to the present love her and were grateful that she came to the class to discuss meditation. It gave them a deeper insight and understanding of how meditation can truly help them with their own life challenges,” says Johnson.

Laura Easter, a psychology major and Phi Theta Kappa honor student, recently worked with McBride to host a meditation workshop for veterans. “Cheryl shared her story with a group of 40 veterans and really reached them on a different level than what the service members are used to. Having been around veterans for a long time, I know that they think differently from civilians,” says Easter, spouse of an army veteran and treasurer of the College’s Student Veterans Organization. “Many of the soldiers had trouble sleeping, among other stresses that the meditation helped them to ease. She taught them some stress management techniques that they could use as well.”

Before the start of the fall semester, McBride will speak to 100 freshman nursing students to offer guidance in what has long been considered one of the most stressful professions. As she continues to combine her love of academics with personal and spiritual growth, McBride sets out on another venture, this time as one of the 30 women co-authors featured in Women Who Illuminate, the fifth book in Kate Butler’s “Inspired Impact” series, available from Amazon on August 28.

“While we think life is happening to us, it’s actually happening for us,” notes McBride. “I view my obstacles as the actual journey and the path itself. Although strenuous, they prodded me forward and guided me home to my truest self. My intrinsic grit is what helped me survive my journey, but my meditation practice has brought me to a place of grace.”

For more about “Women Who Illuminate” and Grit and Grace Meditation, visit