MPPA graduate Taylor Cook lands director position at Covenant House after internship in chancellor’s office

by | May 28, 2024

Cook assisted with coordinating and communicating events and activities around the 60th anniversary and Transform UMSL as the project management and communications intern.
Taylor Cook

Taylor Cook has started working as the director of development for Covenant House Missouri after spending the past year and a half as the project management and communications intern in the Office of the Chancellor. She assisted with coordinating and communicating events and activities around the 60th anniversary and Transform UMSL. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Taylor Cook got to experience the University of Missouri–St. Louis from a unique vantage point over the past year and a half.

When she wasn’t in class or doing course work for her Master of Public Policy Administration, Cook, who graduated earlier this month, served as the project management and communications intern in the Office of the Chancellor and had a hand in planning, coordinating and communicating some of the biggest activities on campus.

Cook helped to organize events around the year-long celebration of the university’s 60th anniversary and had a role in sharing developments around the Transform UMSL initiative reshaping the campus. She typically worked behind the scenes, occasionally stepping out to do tabling or lead visitors on a tour of a building or future renovation site. She even appeared on camera in a social media video encouraging participation in the UMSL Serves initiative.

“It was really fun to be a part of these big things,” Cook said. “Then, when I’d go into class and everybody would be talking about school or something that’s going on at school, I was able to know what was going on behind the scenes. Having an inside perspective, I could see how people were reacting.

“It was a very special position to be in, and I was very blessed to have gotten the opportunity because it wasn’t a thing before.”

Chief of Staff Adella Jones didn’t have a specific job description in mind when she decided to create the internship position in the fall of 2022.

“It was untraveled road,” Jones said. “We just knew that we had the 60th anniversary, and Transform UMSL was rolling out, and there was a lot of on-the-ground communication that was going to be needed. We were just figuring it out as we went along.”

The first step was finding someone with the organizational and communications skills to contribute to those efforts, and Jones feels lucky to have discovered Cook.

She had reached out to Professor David Kimball, who chairs the Department of Political Science, and Associate Professor Adriano Udani, the director of the Public Policy Administration Program. Cook was among three candidates they helped identify and quickly emerged as a top choice when Jones interviewed her.

“She’d done a lot of public-sector, not-for-profit work that aligned with various elements of what we do here at UMSL,” Jones said. “Then upon talking to her, it became clear that she’s very adaptable and a quick study.”

Cook had earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Missouri State University and had gone to work as a lead advocate at Harmony House domestic violence shelter in Springfield, Missouri. She later transitioned to a job as a case manager with a foster care agency.

In both roles, Cook found herself frustrated with some of the barriers she ran into while trying to connect her clients with the resources they needed. She started to realize the only way to remove them was through policy changes, but she needed more education on how to accomplish that. That’s what prompted Cook, who grew up in the Dogtown neighborhood of St. Louis, to move back to her hometown in 2021 and enroll in the MPPA program at UMSL.

“After talking with Dr. Udani, I just really could tell that the program was going to fit me and also fit my what I needed for my lifestyle in terms of working,” she said. “They make it really flexible and achievable for people who work full-time or have families. I really liked that, and you could make it your own thing.”

In her coursework, she decided to follow the policy research and analysis track. Cook spent her first year in the program serving as graduate assistant in the College of Arts and Sciences. She worked in the administrative office, assisting academic advisors and co-taught a section of the First Year Experience class. In her free time, she served as a research assistant for Udani and former faculty member Sapna Varkey.

Though she enjoyed her work, Cook knew she didn’t want to end up working in academia after graduation, so she jumped at the opportunity to intern in the chancellor’s office when Udani first told her about it.

“I wanted to be learning about donors and how the bigger systems work, and obviously the chancellor’s office has its hands in a little bit of everything,” Cook said. “So, the opportunity to be able to see all of that just felt like I couldn’t pass it up.”

Over the past year and a half, she got to be in meetings where plans for big events like Red & Gold Day, the Founders Celebration or a visit by the governor to tour the newly renovated Geospatial Advanced Technology Lab took place. Without the example of a previous intern to follow, Cook figured out how she could add value to preparation and communications efforts.

“She was a quick study, asked a lot of good questions and did not wait to be invited into the conversation,” Jones said. “She’d say, ‘Hey, I was listening, and here’s some notes on this.’”

Cook gained lessons on building and managing relationships with donors and other community partners. That proved valuable in helping her land her first job after graduation.

This May, Cook began her role as the director of development for Covenant House Missouri, a nonprofit organization that assists youth facing homelessness or who have survived trafficking. She’s being tasked with coordinating special events, increasing annual giving and raising awareness of the work being done at Covenant House and the services it offers.

“I really do kind of believe if I didn’t have this experience, I wouldn’t be in the place I am,” Cook said of her internship in the chancellor’s office. “Being able to see all the events that they put on and how those events come together, who you have to reach out to, what communications and scheduling you need to do – without all of that experience, I don’t think I would feel as confident as I do going into this position.”

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Steve Walentik

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