A full plate
She’s Clark VP of student affairs by day, but after hours, Dr. Cruse knows how to make a spicy organic ginger drink
Get to know the Clark College executive cabinet. These leaders of the college have long titles and lots of degrees but they’re also … people. Each month we’ll feature a story about these individuals so you can learn a little more about the people leading Clark College.
To any students juggling coursework with full-time jobs, not to mention families: Dr. Michele Cruse, Clark College’s vice president of student affairs, has a pretty good idea how you feel.
Before working at Clark, Cruse was dean of student development at Portland Community College. She worked all day at the college, then spent nights and weekends helping to run the Cuban restaurant she owned with her family.
It started small. She subleased part of a bookstore to open a juice bar, offering fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices and healthy snacks. It was successful, so Cruse opened a storefront in Portland’s trendy Alberta Arts district.
Cruse’s father was planning to retire soon. He had owned a vegetarian restaurant years earlier. And although the juice bar was popular, Cruse said it was hard to make payroll selling juice. She and her father decided to start a new business together.
“It was kind of his retirement plan,” Cruse says.
They researched restaurants in the area. Though Cruse and her father are African American, they saw room in the market for a good Cuban restaurant. They found and hired a talented Cuban chef.
“It was just fun,” Cruse says of the business. “It was busy, it had energy, it was full of people.”
Cruse got to know her customers well. She spent all day Saturday and Sunday working at the restaurant. The business hosted wine tastings and art walks. Once it hosted a poetry slam.
“It was pretty much nonstop,” she said. “We just became exhausted.”
They closed the restaurant before the pandemic started. Since then, Cruse has embraced something new—free time. She and her husband, Michael, have three adult children. The couple ventures out on weekends. They both love fishing, usually in local lakes and sometimes from the family’s pontoon boat on the Snake River.
At Clark College, Cruse leads a student affairs team with ambitious aims—to increase student success, improve financial viability, improve the campus climate and expand and deepen community engagement. Cruse and her team put equity at the center of their work.
Cruse herself is a proud product of community college. She earned her associate degree from the Community College of Allegheny County, her bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh, her master’s degree from Portland State University and her doctorate in education from Oregon State University.
Cruse isn’t planning to jump back into the restaurant business anytime soon but as an avid home chef, she still makes some of her favorite items from the juice bar and restaurant.
“I don’t know if this represents all of African American culture but in my family, we do pretty much everything around food,” she says. “It’s one way that we express love and engagement. We enjoy each other around food.”
Cruse still likes to come home from a long day at work and unwind by listening to soundscapes or an audio book while she cooks a recipe from scratch. She enjoys making empanadas, Cubanos, black bean soup and other recipes from the former Cuban restaurant.
As flu and cold season approaches, she’s just as likely to make one of the most popular orders from her juice bar—fresh pressed ginger. Cruse remembers that she once spent a lot of money buying a fancy espresso machine and Stumptown coffee to serve at the juice bar.
“Nobody cared about it,” she says, laughing. “People wanted fresh pressed ginger.”
Ginger is packed with immune-boosting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Cruse recommends this recipe:
Start with a high quality, organic ginger
Wash the ginger. Place one ounce in a veggie presser to squeeze and strain the root
Drink the resulting “shot” straight up
Or mix it with 8 ounces of hot water, along with honey or agave
“Squeeze a little fresh orange in there,” she adds. “The orange kind of offsets the spiciness so it’s easier to drink.”
Lily Raff McCaulou’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and Rolling Stone. Visit her online.