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Marquette University Alumni Association

All-University Recipients

Professional Achievement Award

Cherryl T. Thomas


It’d be tough to find a Marquette graduate who has influenced as much of Chicago’s landscape as Cherryl.

For 30 years, she worked for the city of Chicago in positions ranging from research scientist in the Department of Water and Sewers to deputy chief of staff for infrastructure for then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to her role as the city’s first woman building commissioner. As building commissioner, Cherryl oversaw the second-largest building department in the country, a department charged with reviewing architectural plans to build or renovate approximately 450,000 buildings. She was appointed by U.S. President Bill Clinton to chair the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, which she did for five years, and to date is the only woman to serve in that position.

“For most of my career, I have been a public servant without the necessity of being elected to such a post,” she notes.

Today, Cherryl is founder, president and CEO of Ardmore Associates, a Chicago engineering consulting firm that oversees the construction of complex roads, bridges and other major building projects. Ardmore’s projects have included Toyota Park, where the MLS’ Chicago Fire play; renovations at O’Hare International Airport; and a new University of Chicago residence hall.

Although she didn’t set out to become an engineer, Cherryl was fascinated with building at an early age, sneaking out in the middle of the night to construct windmills with her older brother’s prized Tinker Toys. She excelled in science at an early age and was encouraged by her family, especially her mother. “We had rules and regulations to follow, but she was nurturing and supportive of whatever I chose to do,” she says. At Marquette, Cherryl majored in chemistry and biology and then received a master’s in physiology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Once she started working for the city of Chicago, Cherryl benefitted from the mentorship of two civil engineers, Richard Pavia and James Hedges, “who convinced me that I could change course and career and be successful,” she says. She later returned to school for engineering courses to help her in her work.

Cherryl says Marquette has had a lasting impact on her life and career.

“Much was expected of me from family, friends and business associates because I had attended Marquette,” she says. “The sense of values, camaraderie and serving others is the fabric of Marquette, and it is with me always.”

In addition to her leadership on the boards of several Chicago-area nonprofit organizations, Cherryl has served on Marquette’s Board of Trustees for more than a decade and was elected vice chair in 2014. She’s also a big believer in the power of scholarship aid: She has established scholarships for financially needy students at grammar schools, high schools and two universities, including Marquette. At Marquette, she supports scholarships for students majoring in biology, chemistry, physics or engineering.

“What am I most proud of is the people who sacrificed to help me and the people whom I hope I have assisted and made a difference in their lives,” she says.