When Cherith Norman Chalet steps into the storied halls of the United Nations building, she knows that she is doing work that will make a difference at home and in countries around the world. Over the course of her career in public service, including as the U.S. representative for UN Management and Reform at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Cherith has worked to advance US priorities and ideals, including through the reform initiatives the UN is implementing. “Working at the United Nations is a high privilege, and I think about it every time I walk through the door,” says Cherith. “Every day I get a chance to see different cultures, different ideas, and different ways of living and thinking. And while we might not always agree, it is such a rich, diverse environment and it is a privilege to be around so many cultures at work every day.”
PREPARED TO SERVE
When Cherith came to Bob Jones University as a student, she never dreamed that one day she would serve in the role of deputy under former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley at the United Nations.
“I was a history major with a minor in political science, but I had no idea what I would be doing. I presumed that being a history major, I could always go into teaching like my parents.”
But God had another plan. During her senior year at BJU, Cherith volunteered for then-Congressman Jim DeMint. Working in his office, she was primarily responsible for immigration and visa casework, and that gave her a window into the State Department.
“At the time I thought that’s all they did,” says Cherith. “I shouldn’t admit that, but it was something that interested me and I really enjoyed working with people from all over the world who were trying to immigrate legally.”
WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER
Over the next several years, Cherith’s path led her to the State Department in Washington where she accepted an opportunity in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, worked alongside members of Congress, and finally moved to New York where she began working in the ambassador’s office.
Cherith worked closely with former Ambassador Nikki Haley, with whom she developed a strong relationship.
“Ambassador Haley routinely told both her staff and the U.N. that we need to work smarter, not harder,” says Cherith. “Our goal with every decision is to determine how we can operate better and get the best value for the dollars we are spending. It’s a good motto for us to keep at the forefront.”
WORKING MOM, PUBLIC SERVANT
As a working mom with a demanding public service job, Cherith has found creative ways to invest in her three children. When her oldest son was just a baby, she often brought him to work with her where he would sit and play or nap in her office.
“He’s actually experienced quite a number of UN meetings in closing sessions where I hadn’t seen him for 72 hours or longer,” says Cherith. “I would bring him in at the end. He has even sat in the General Assembly. As a working mother, I believe it’s very important to have your children with you when you can and for them to see what you do. I’m always looking for opportunities to incorporate them.”
People often ask Cherith how she balances being a mom with the intense schedules and demands of her job. She has just one answer: “I do it one day at a time and with a lot of prayer.”
And while many women face hurdles in their careers due to the conflicting demands of work and family, Cherith has encountered few boundaries as a result of being a working mom. “I’ve been very blessed in that regard, and I think it is very important for those of us who have reached high levels to ensure that is also happening for women in other roles.”
A GLOBAL CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY
Cherith credits her education at BJU with introducing her to a global perspective. Though she didn’t know it at the time, interacting with students from all around the world and attending a diverse array of cultural events served as excellent preparation for the kind of work she would be doing in her role at the U.N.
But BJU offered more than just a diverse cultural environment. It also challenged Cherith with a rigorous academic program and provided a strong biblical foundation, which she saw modeled in the lives of her professors every day.
“BJU professors are some of the most talented people, people who could be doing many other things besides teaching at a university,” says Cherith. “You might never know who they are, but they apply their whole passion and knowledge into every student. I carry that with me as a public servant, making sure that I bring that same passion, vigor, and integrity to every aspect of my life. I think about it every day.”
BEING SALT AND LIGHT
Serving in the public office brings Cherith into contact with people from many different cultures and belief systems, but it’s a secular environment that can be very lonely at times. Rather than trying to blend in, however, she looks at her role as an opportunity, and that’s a mindset she adopted while a student at BJU.
“I still remember a chapel program where Cal Thomas was the guest speaker. He talked about believers being the salt of the earth and said that if the salt has lost its flavor, it can’t preserve anything anymore. It was a powerful analogy that still remains with me today.”
Cherith looks for ways to show her faith through her interactions with people by listening to them, responding to situations with integrity and being the best she can be in her job.
“I’ve been amazed at the number of people who share the same faith or the same principles that I do,” she says. “You find pockets of salt everywhere. And it’s encouraging.”
CHRIST IN THE PUBLIC EYE
It’s not always easy to be a Christian in the public eye, but Cherith hopes more Christians will be open to public service. It is there, she believes, that a Christian worldview can truly make a difference. While we often hear the call for Christian pastors, teachers, and private sector professionals, the public service sector is often overlooked as an avenue of Christian impact.
But Christians have the opportunity to bring love, compassion, honesty, integrity, and a strong work ethic to their roles in the public sector. And when they do, their secular colleagues take notice.
“It’s absolutely critical to have believers in public service,” says Cherith. “The worldview, work ethic, care, passion and honesty that we bring, based on our belief, make that environment more vibrant. It’s being salt.”
TAKE THE NEXT RIGHT STEP
While public service may not be a fit for everyone, there are many “doors and small windows” open to those willing to explore them. So how should people who want to pursue a role in public service proceed? Sometimes the next right step means volunteering or going beyond your comfort zone to pursue an opportunity.
“My path was one that I would never have envisioned, so I say explore those things that make you passionate. Keep your eyes and ears and mind open. If it’s what you’ve prayed for and what you think is the right thing, go for it. You never know where it will take you.” – Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet