Finalist for academic chief gratified by connections to students

Meet the finalists

Note: The TCC Connection is reporting on open forums featuring the four finalists for Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer. One forum will be held each day April 27-30. This story will be regularly updated on the TCC Connection website.

After working 25 years in higher education, Dr. Sharon Warren Cook has developed entire college major programs, overseen millions in grant projects, and worked at high levels of college administration.

Yet, when asked to name her proudest contribution, Cook pointed to the personal connections she has made with students.

“So, the proudest accomplishments for me are not those basic things that are work-related … it has been the personal contacts. It has not been the flashy things. It has not been publications. It has not been speaking. It has been the one-on-one conversations, and the one-on-one impact that students now come back and tell me that I have had on their lives. That’s why I got into this. It was to make a difference. It was to be a servant. It was to work to help and strengthen whatever community I’ve been in,” Cook said.

Cook answered questions about her accomplishments and credentials during an open forum held via Zoom video on April 28. The forums have been scheduled for each of four finalists for senior vice president and chief academic officer at Tulsa Community College.

Cook currently serves as assistant provost and vice president for academic affairs at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York, an institution that she described as very similar to TCC in mission, programming and student populations. Kingsborough is part of the vast City University of New York (CUNY) system of colleges.

Cook shared that if we could visit her campus, we probably would not see her too often in high heels, which she only wears on special occasions.

“I am on campus in flat shoes. I am walking around. I am talking to students. I am going to student events and student activities. I am attending induction,” she explained.  You know, I am out and trying to be visible and to hear what needs to be done on the campus from the people who are doing it every day.

Cook indicated she did her homework to prepare for her interviews at TCC. She commented on things like the TCC strategic plan, the Pathways Model to help students complete degrees or transfer, and the system of shared governance between faculty and administration. Throughout the forum, she noted places where her background in assessment, accreditation, data and research could help TCC.

Cook stressed that as a newcomer to TCC, she would build on the foundations and planning already in place at TCC.

“My five-year plan would be to support and enhance the good work that you’re already doing. There would not be a five-year plan that is inconsistent with the direction that you’re currently moving in,” she said.

Cook did promote the concept of an “academic master plan” as part of the larger strategic plan to “flesh out” certain priority projects.

TCC’s motto of “community is our middle name” caught her eye when she was applying. “I do understand that commitment, and I embrace those types of challenges,” she remarked.

Cook spoke of her belief in a “holistic” approach to supporting students, not only academically but with life challenges. In her current role at Kingsborough, she has worked with programs to help students with food security, transportation, mental health, behavior guidance, and career planning.

One notable idea she shared is her work to put “co-curricular” involvement like volunteerism, clubs and civic engagement on student transcripts.

Dr. Sharon Warren Cook (bottom center), a finalist for TCC Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, answers questions April 28 during an open forum on Zoom. Also pictured are forum moderator Dr. Kirk Brewer (top left) and sign language interpreter Leah Owens (top right). Photo by Kevin Shank

Asked about how she would promote shared leadership with faculty, Cook cited her long career as a faculty member and encouraged the spirit of engaging with faculty and building consensus.

Cook spoke of her past outreach to adjunct faculty, saying that as faculty chair she strove to be accessible to them at all times of day when they are on campus. The college should engage adjuncts to help shape the departments, guide new initiatives, and participate in the strategic plan, she said.

“The love and the respect that we have for them (adjunct faculty) has got to be acknowledged in a demonstrative way with how we pull them into a conversation, to say, help us figure out how we might support you at the departmental level, since many of them are the backbones of some of the departments that we have. They’re the ones that are really shouldering this.”

Asked her thoughts regarding diversity, inclusion and equity, Cook advised that she has a leadership role in Achieve the Dream programs at Kingsborough, which she said is a leading college in that program to address equity and access for students in underserved communities.

Equity and inclusion should “permeate the campus” from things like food choices and student activities, to classroom pedagogy and cultural demographics that students see on campus.

“You have talked about your values and belief that ‘You Belong Here,’ and everyone can learn.’ If I belong there, then I need to see myself. If I don’t see myself in the library, in the hallway, in the cafeteria where I buy foods, on cards, on books, in the classroom or being acknowledged pedagogically, it is very hard, potentially, for you to convince me that I belong here,” she said.

She encouraged programs that track persistence, saying the commitment to equity requires hard work.

Cook holds a bachelor degree in psychology from North Carolina Central University, a master of social work from University of North Carolina, and doctorate in curriculum and teaching from University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has taught and served as faculty chair in the areas of sociology and social work, in addition to directing outreach and research in related fields.

To visit other finalist profiles see below:

Dr. Greg Stone

Dr. Deanna Romano

Dr. Angela Sivadon

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