By Tamara Johnson
James Cook, professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, is the first recipient of the Provost’s Faculty Award for Community Engagement.
Established in 2012, the award honors a tenured faculty member whose teaching, research and service embodies the university’s commitment to civic involvement and whose work strengthens the relationship between UNC Charlotte and the larger community.
In the three decades since he joined UNC Charlotte, Cook has actively and consistently engaged in community-based participatory research with local community groups, provided hands-on community training for students and served on the boards of several local organizations.
A community psychologist, Cook has established collaborative relationships of reciprocity and trust with community partners. According to Chancellor Philip L. Dubois, Cook is “a leader in developing community-university partnerships that can foster and sustain changes that improve the quality of life for North Carolina’s citizens.”
Cook has dedicated his career to working with some of society’s most marginalized and neglected populations: the homeless, the economically disadvantaged, people with physical or mental disabilities, the elderly and the families of children with serious emotional or behavioral problems. Some of Cook’s key collaborations include assisting with strategic planning, community outreach, grant-writing and research support for such local programs and organizations as Community SUPPORT (Solving Urban Problems through Partnerships of Research and Training) Project, the Homeless Services Network, ParentVOICE and the Reid Park Academy Initiative.
On campus, Cook was integral to the development and sustainability of UNC Charlotte’s Institute for Social Capital. According to Jim Woodward, chancellor emeritus, Cook “was the single most important person in the development of the institute, enabling us to move ahead and gain community involvement through his engagement with community agencies.”
Cook’s extensive work with community partners has not stifled his publication record. During his UNC Charlotte tenure, Cook has published and presented approximately 65 book chapters, articles, reports, conference papers, books and monographs. Additionally, he has been the primary investigator or co-primary Investigator on grants and contracts totaling more than $3.5 million. Community organizations have received greater than $24 million through grant funding for which Cook served as a consultant.
Through his engaged teaching, Cook works with community groups to develop applied experiences for undergraduate and graduate students to increase their knowledge and skills by addressing community needs and evaluating the impact of those interventions. Every undergraduate class Cook has taught in the past 10 years has had a community engagement component.
In addition to his faculty role at UNC Charlotte, Cook has been an active board member, leader or participant for numerous community and professional organizations including the Society for Community Research and Action, the Mecklenburg County System of Care Community Collaborative, the Cleveland County Community Collaborative, the Mecklenburg County Area Mental Health Authority Policy Advisory Committee, the Mecklenburg County Partnership for Children, the Homeless Services Network, the United Way, the Belmont Task Force, the City of Charlotte Neighborhood Grants Committee, the Mental Health Association Board of Directors, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Citizens Forum and the Mecklenburg Open Door.
The recipient of the Provost’s Faculty Award for Community Engagement receives a $2,500 grant and will be UNC Charlotte’s nominee for the Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award given by Campus Compact.
Cook’s commitment to community engagement has been recognized through the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Public Service, the Pete Peterson Distinguished Service Award from the Mecklenburg County Mental Health Association and the President’s Award of the North Carolina Mental Health Association.
Photo: Provost Joan Lorden and Eddy Souffrant (right), president of the Faculty Council, congratulate Cook.