Volume 52, No. 29
Susan Cook Taking Charge
Every one of Emory's 10,000-plus employees has a need for the Employee Council. Every one of those employees, through his or her department, is represented on that council. And for every employee concern that reaches the ears of Emory's administration, more often than not the council is the organization that brings it up.
Communication--both to University administrators and to the everyday employees working their 40 hours a week--is the mission of the Employee Council; and communication will be the focus of the council's new academic year, according to Susan Cook, who officially ascends to the council presidency on April 19.
"The main thing for this year is communication," said Cook, who has spent the past year as president-elect. She is also the representative for the support staff and custodial personnel in Campus Life. "We will use our website more for communications purposes, because a lot of people still don't know we exist."
And that was pretty much Cook's reaction when she was asked about joining the council back in 1997 by Joseph Curtis, administrative director for Campus Life, where Cook is a senior secretary.
"I said, 'Sure, what is the Employee Council?'" she recalled. "I didn't have any idea what the Employee Council was about."
She quickly learned.
In her second year, she chaired the elections committee. The next year it was the membership committee. Last year, she got the job of president-elect, which is basically on-the-job training for the presidency. Going along with the position is chairship of the special issues committee and a seat on the University Senate.
By its very nature, the Employee Council is a structural smorgasbord.
With about 50 members, plus alternates, and a constituency ranging from Facilities Management to the hospitals to the libraries to Campus Life, it would appear that all the participants' agendas would be too varied to mesh. According to Cook, that is not the case, which makes her job less stressful.
"The group of people I'm working with is very determined. They're anxious to work together, so all of the pressure isn't on me," Cook said.
"We all work together. It's not like, 'This is my committee, or this is your committee.' This is our committee; this is our council."
Cook's theme for this year is "Building on 30 Years of Service in the 20th Century, Leading by Serving in the 21st Century." Now, that slogan may be a bit too long to stitch onto a t-shirt, but the message is perfectly clear: The Employee Council exists to make the lives and jobs of Emory employees a lot easier.
Cook has quite a bit planned for the new academic year. The council will hold a weeklong 30th anniversary celebration over the last week of September. It will offer open houses at Grady in November and Oxford in February so that employees can learn more about the group. And the council plans to continue its town hall meetings with President Bill Chace.
It will also continue lobbying the administration on a variety of issues that concern Emory employees. Last year these included an increase in tuition reimbursement for classes taken by employees, sick leave, blood drives, an environmental fund and a seat on the Lullwater Management Task Force.
Cook's presidential year starts Wednesday, when the council will hold its monthly meeting. She takes over for Ann Rouse, who rotates out of the position. Cook plans to devote the meeting to new member orientation, the first time this has been stressed, to her knowledge. It's something she hopes will help new members become acclimated to the council.
"When I came in, there wasn't really a sit-down orientation-[orientation lasted] maybe 30 minutes," she said. "What I want to do is have this particular day focus on orientation so people can ask questions about their responsibilities."
She has also lined up an all-star team of guest speakers such as Chace; John Boli, outgoing president of the University Senate; Claire Sterk, incoming Senate president; Alice Miller, vice president of Human Resources; and Bob Ethridge, associate vice president of Equal Opportunity Programs, which is the office under which the Employee Council falls.
A native of southwest Atlanta, Cook graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, one of the first all-black institutions in Georgia and also the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr., and earned a bachelor's in psychology at Spelman College.
Cook came to Emory seven years ago as senior secretary in the Office of International Student and Scholar Programs (ISSP). She supervises work-study students and works with exchange students to Emory as well as other international students and visitors. It's a job Cook finds extremely satisfying.
"There's always new things," she said. "You have to learn how to appreciate people in order to get along with people regardless of where they come from. I have made so many friends in the past seven years from so many countries."
She keeps in contact with several of her former students and on two occasions has supervised individual work-study students for four years.
"Most of my work-study students first look at me as a supervisor, then as their friend," Cook said. "I'm somebody they can talk to. We just have a ball."
Cook contributes to Campus Life in other ways, as well. She is the co-founder, sings with and directs the Campus Life holiday choir, which performs during the division's holiday lunch in December. She took a voice class while a student at Spelman and can play clarinet, saxophone and hand bells. Cook has sung semiprofessionally, and several of her relatives are musicians. One of her cousins was in the 1980s R&B group the S.O.S. Band.
Cook said the Employee Council has changed since she joined in 1997. "There's more participation, a little bit more visibility, and it's taken on more staff issues. I also see where Employee Council is getting more involved with other committees on campus."
If Cook has her way, all of those qualities will continue increasing over the next 12 months.