Amy Cook

Putting Humanities Center Stage

Amy Cook: English

Amy CookAmy Cook, a professor and associate dean in SBU’s Department of English and College of Arts and Sciences, has fought to ensure the humanities get the attention they deserve as viable career options. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for a woman who’s spent her career pursuing endeavors that integrate research in the cognitive sciences with the arts and humanities to approach some of society’s biggest challenges from a new angle. Cook, who began her career as an actor and director, also focuses her energies on helping secure grants for fellow faculty doing interdisciplinary work.

“That’s where real growth and incredible innovations come,” said Cook, who was recently named the chair for the search for SBU’s new provost. “We’re not in the job of thinking what’s always been; we’re here to teach future generations what could be.”

She’s also dedicated to helping fellow educators find the funding grants they need to make that kind of impact. Matthew Lerner, associate professor of clinical psychology, is one of several beneficiaries. As research director of The Autism Initiative, Lerner is involved with an interdisciplinary group of scientists, stakeholders and students at SBU and in the community coordinating research, services and outreach to improve the lives of people on the autism spectrum and their families. Thanks in part to Cook’s perseverance, this university-wide center — engaging more than 20 departments, 70 faculty and 150 outside agencies — is now partnering with the School of Professional Development to grow and expand its reach     .. 

“Because it encompasses research, clinical and programmatic efforts, traditional granting and fundraising haven’t always been available,” explained Lerner. “When others found the nontraditional structure too difficult to understand, Dr. Cook spent months tirelessly exploring creative new ways to support its growth. The resulting impact on campus and across the region has been magnified beyond what otherwise could have been envisioned.”

Cook is also committed to expanding diversity in typically nondiverse fields and helping rising stars play their own leading roles in the humanities. One recent grant she secured will help diversify applicants in the geosciences. Five students from minority-serving CUNY Lehman College in the Bronx will spend this summer getting paid to work in our scientists’ labs.

And the Academy of Civic Life — available through another recent grant — is a free precollege, for-credit program where students spend three weeks on campus to study, read about and debate civics, politics, labor and the history of democratic movements. Following that, they take what they’ve learned into their communities to carry out civic engagement projects.  

“Our ultimate mission,” said Cook, “is to work with students and community leaders to support a diverse and civically engaged local community with equitable access to higher education.”

Ellen Cooke is the associate director of internal communications, Office of Marketing and Communications.

Ellen Cooke is the associate director of internal communications, Office of Marketing and Communications.