Austin Community College District (ACC) would like to thank Dr. Charles Cook for his dedication to the college and its mission for the last seven years. As provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, Dr. Cook oversaw three primary areas — instruction, student services, and academic planning, development, and evaluation.
During his tenure, ACC restructured its academic programs and services to support Guided Pathways and implemented innovative programs to increase access and close equity gaps. Some collegewide achievements include:
- Being invited to the board of The League for Innovation in the Community College
- Launching Open Educational Resources
- Implementing Texas Pathways Project
- Developing the Futures Institute
- Being awarded Achieving the Dream Leader College of Distinction
- Awarded National Seal of Exclencia
- Selected as a founding Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Center
Dr. Cook made an impact on so many lives and will be remembered fondly by many. Below are some memories and stories shared by his colleagues.
Dr. Missi Patterson, Full-Time Faculty Senate past president and Psychology associate professor: Having Dr. Cook as the Faculty Senate liaison really gave me the opportunity to work with him closely. I have always been incredibly impressed with his ability to stay organized. As a big fan of organization, I’ve learned a lot from him. One memory that stands out though, has nothing to do with organization. We were traveling (back when we could travel) by car to a conference in another city. As a faculty member, the thought of spending a couple of hours with my Provost was a little intimidating. Dr. Cook put me immediately at ease. We fell into such a fun conversation that the time flew past. I had such a good time that I wound up looking forward to our return drive, and it was equally as enjoyable. In our work at ACC, we aren’t always able to take time to connect at a personal level. My road trip with Dr. Cook showed me his kindness, his sense of humor, and how his focus on students is a part of everything he does.
Leona Gamerl, Professional Nursing professor: Dr. Cook — Here is a top ACC administrator who really invests in the faculty. I am a professor in the Professional Nursing Program pursuing my doctorate in nursing practice. For my coursework, some of my practice activities included interviewing people on various topics depending on the course. I emailed Dr. Cook twice in the last year for two interview opportunities. Each 20-minute virtual interview lasted about an hour because he made sure I got what I needed and understood what we discussed. We all know the Provost is a busy person, especially during COVID times, but he never appeared rushed or inconvenienced. He gave me his undivided attention as if he cleared his schedule that day just for me. After each session, Dr. Cook applauded my pursuits, encouraged me to persevere, and invited me to call on him anytime if he could help. Clearly, he meant every word. I will always be grateful for his contributions to my education.
Dr. Gaye Lynn Scott, Academic Programs associate vice chancellor: I have too many memories of Dr. Cook to include here, but I’ll offer a handful. The first is being in Room 502 at Highland Business Center right after he arrived, when those of us working on the required student success course presented on our plans for the launch. I put together a “one-pager” (who knew how much we would later come to associate that term with our Provost?) and offered what I hoped was a cogent argument about our process and approach. I thought we had convinced him that our noncredit — yet required — success course was the ticket. Within a week, I believe, he had asked us to pivot and envision a required credit course that would be put into every degree plan and added to the core curriculum. That was my first insight into the “think big” approach of Dr. Cook. He was happy to ruffle feathers and shake things up if it meant greater success for our students.
My second memory of him is the ice bucket challenge. I don’t believe he’d been here more than a few weeks before he was letting a bucket of cold ice be dumped on him in support of fundraising for ALS. I learned early on that he would do what he was asked – especially for a good cause, and especially for fun! In that vein, Dr. Cook is also a genial and gracious host. He always offers to take ACC conference attendees out to dinner with him — and it’s always a congenial and hospitable dinner with colleagues whom you may or may not know very well. (And yes, we had to buy our own wine — but he was happy to caucus about the wine choice!)
There are many more. I could mention the time he fussed at me after a meeting. Or the first time he put me in charge of something when I wasn’t looking. Or the time he told me I was a little too nice and sometimes I needed to be sterner. But I mostly remember all the times he supported, conferred, listened, collaborated, pushed, prodded, provoked, and engaged with me, my colleagues, our faculty, and our staff — ALWAYS putting students and their needs at the center of our work.
Dr. Gretchen Riehl, Workforce Education associate vice chancellor: My memory of Dr. Cook will be how he is always so laser-focused on student success. He never lost sight of the fact that we are here, first and foremost, to help students succeed. That has always motivated me to do the best I can to help move that vision forward. I will miss Dr. Cook and the spotlight he keeps blazing on student success.
Cynthia Hernandez, Student Affairs executive assistant I: I remember one day when Dr. Cook and I were walking out of the building at the same time. I forgot my umbrella and it was pouring rain outside. Dr. Cook offered to share his umbrella with me and walked me to my car. My car was at the bottom of the parking lot and the stormwater runoff was so bad that the water was up to our ankles. I had my shoes in my hand because I didn’t want them to get wet. But, Dr. Cook didn’t mind that his shoes, socks, and his pant legs got all wet. Dr. Cook was such a lifesaver that day. He has always been so caring and that day really showed me what an amazing man he was/is!!! I will miss him and will always be grateful that he was there for me. Thank you, Charles, and best wishes on your retirement.
Rachel Ruiz, Cypress Creek Student Affairs dean: I have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Cook on some exciting and innovative initiatives such as the Future’s Institute, Guided Pathways, Academic Master Plan, Chancellor’s Priorities, and the Quality Enhancement Plan. Under Dr. Cook’s leadership, these initiatives have truly paved the way for faculty members and Student Affairs’ staff to strengthen our relationships and to support the success of our students in meaningful ways.
Christian Raymond, Radio-Television-Film department chair: I was fortunate to get to know Dr. Cook during the Futures Institute back when we first began exploring Guided Pathways back in 2015. A distinct memory comes to mind from a research visit to the City Colleges of Chicago. While our ACC group waited for a train, there were several musicians performing in the subway tunnel. While subtly grooving a little (as required by my Detroit roots), I looked over to see Dr. Cook completely and unabashedly “busting a move” like there was no tomorrow, expression one of pure joy. This went on for quite a while. While before the age of TikTok, clearly today a few seconds of those dance moves would go viral!
Christine Stanley, Grant Development & Compliance resource development officer: I was inspired by Dr. Cook’s leadership during ACC’s implementation of Guided Pathways. It was such a huge shift, and controversial on many levels, and I just thought his leadership was so steady and clear, but also respectful of others. I learned a lot from him about how to be a good leader.
You’re invited to leave a memory or message. Visit ACC’s Provost Farewell Padlet wall here.