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2019-2020 Jakubik Family Endowment Staff Award

Jessica R. Cook, Associate Director, Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program

Since coming to UMBC in 2013, Jessica Cook has leveraged her extensive academic and personal experience with service learning and international education to enhance the Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program. She has built a reputation as a talented and innovative  program manager and an empathetic advisor and caring mentor who both current students and alumni regularly seek out for guidance.

As Associate Director of the Sondheim program, Cook advises 60  students, recruits future Retrievers for the program, plans public service-related events for Sondheim scholars, co-teaches English and public affairs service-learning courses for first-year program participants, and partners with colleagues across UMBC on a variety of issues and events.

An innovative program manager, Cook has developed and implemented initiatives to strengthen the Sondheim program. She increased community-building opportunities for Sondheim scholars by collaborating with campus colleagues to add activities to the honors orientation program to enable incoming Sondheim scholars to bond with each other as they begin their higher education journey. She built on this by supporting a group of Sondheim scholars in designing and leading a new weekend retreat to orient incoming students to the program and enable cross-cohort community building.

In addition, Cook drew upon her experience in international education to develop, propose, and gain approval to lead a new study abroad service-learning course open to all UMBC undergraduate students that will focus on contemporary social issues in South Africa.

Colleagues and students most often describe Cook as an empathetic, caring mentor and advisor who goes above and beyond for her students, often sacrificing her personal time to answer student questions and provide guidance topics such as coursework, public service internship opportunities, and the practical aspects of the transition to university life. Many have stated that Cook’s insightful advising and mentorship changed the trajectory of their future plans by making them aware of the importance of public service  and service learning and the varied post-baccalaureate educational opportunities and career paths in the public service arena. Since Cook joined the program, it has produced a number of Fulbright scholars and Newman Civic Fellows, and many alumni have gone on to graduate studies in public service-related topics.

Cook earned a B.A. in psychology from Macalester College, an M.A. in leadership in student affairs from the University of St. Thomas, and is working toward a Ph.D. in international education policy from the University of Maryland, College Park.