Introducing Uni's new director of advancement: A conversation with Karen Cooley
By Bethany Hutchens
Gargoyle staff reporter
Posted Friday, April 27, 2007, The OG, features
But the school now has the dynamic Karen Cooley to fill the position, which has been renamed “director of advancement.”
Today marks the end of Cooley's first week on the job, but she is no stranger to the University of Illinois campus — or to the responsibilities of fundraising and working with alumni.
Cooley arrives here after working full time for the U of I's Office of Student Affairs since June 1993 in the fields of development and donor relations. She worked part time for Student Affairs from August 1985 to June 1993 while she earned her bacheor's degree in program management. Her most recent position with Student Affairs was director of stewardship and donor relations.
One of Cooley's major responsibilities was administering the James Newton Matthews Scholars Program, a campuswide merit-based scholarship program.
Under Cooley's guidance, the program grew from 15 students receiving $1,500 per-year renewable scholarships in 1996 to its current size of 150 students receiving $2,000 per-year renewable scholarships.
Only five days into her new role in the Uni community, she already has some bright ideas for bringing in funds. Senior staff reporter Bethany Hutchens spoke to Cooley this week to learn more about her thoughts on Uni, her new job, and her ideas for the future.
What do you think you will bring to the Uni community?
I think I bring experience from a perspective of working with undergraduate students, seeing how they operate. I think I can transform them over to Uni and work with the high school students here.
My job over at Student Affairs was to work with students on leadership programs, obtaining scholarships, taking classes, and just being there to give advice. I hope to be able to transfer that over here. It may take awhile because I'm not quite sure of everything that's happening with Uni. I like to be informed before I make any decisions of how it should go.
I also want to see what Uni is about so I can try to incorporate the passions of the alumni into fundraising. Everyone has been extremely welcoming, and I'm just trying to get a feel for Uni. I'm going through Marilyn's files; she left some great files.
Do you feel like you fit in with the Uni community so far?
I think [that Uni] is a wonderful experience. I worked on the University side for so long; I really am looking forward to the change and just trying new things. I think that's going to be the nicest thing, just the opportunity to learn of all the wonderful things Uni students are doing. Just looking through the files I see all the wonderful accomplishments that the students have achieved in the last few years — it's overwhelming, and I just think that's great. I'm looking forward to seeing what's going to happen in the future, and what students are going to do next.
Do you have any plans in the works for bringing in funds for Uni?
Kassie [Director/Principal Kassie Patton] and I are really going to need to sit down and decide what our top priorities are for the school and then go from there and see how we can accomplish those goals. I think there are alumni out there, and I think there are friends and parents who, if they can find out what is needed for Uni and if we can really get the word out there and let them know what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish in the next five years, should be able to accomplish things.
How do you feel stepping in for Mrs. Upah-Bant, since she was beloved by Uni? How does it feel to take over for someone who has already made such good headway?
That's probably the hardest part, because when you fill in for someone who's been as loved as Marilyn was, that's tough. I don't want to beat Marilyn, that's not my goal. I'm going to use her as much as I can; she's a wealth of information. I hope I can step in and do some good things for Uni. It's tough taking over for Marilyn because she did a lot of wonderful things, she was here a long time, and she knows the ins and outs of Uni that are going to take me a long time to learn.
Are you in contact with Mrs. Upah-Bant personally, or are you just learning through the files?
Prior to my coming here I spoke to her on two occasions, and I'll stay in contact with her as long as she'll allow me to. Why reinvent the wheel when I can have someone who knows how to do it?
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
I just want to say it's so good to be here. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to work with the faculty and the students. I have a lot of ideas that I'd like to put in place, and some of those involve the use of students to help achieve goals and the use of faculty. What better resources than the Uni students and faculty? I think that as an alumna you come back and you relate to the faculty that you had when you were here, and you also relate to the students since you were one of them at one time. I hope to use both the students and the faculty in my fundraising efforts.
You're planning on using current students in your fundraising?
Yes, I'd really like us to start a “student ambassador” program, to take students who would be interested in meeting with our alumni, like if they come to campus — students who would be willing to sit with alumni and talk about what's happening with Uni and what Uni's needs are, and what we're planning to do in the future, and also be a tour guide, show alumni what has changed, and how Uni works now. Alumni relate to students, because they were here once, and I would really like to take advantage of that.
That seems like a good opportunity for students as well, to meet and talk with alumni.
Yes, it's a great resource. What a wonderful opportunity for networking — because Uni alumni go on to accomplish so much.
— Gargoyle coverage: New director of advancement named
— Gargoyle coverage: A tough act to follow: Uni bids farewell to Marilyn Upah-Bant