Bradley Cook inaugurated as 17th president of Snow College
By Suzanne Dean
EPHRAIM—Paraphrasing Emily Dickinson, Bradley J. Cook called on Snow College to “dwell in possibility” as he was inaugurated as the college’s 17th president in an event filled with pageantry, oratory and music.
As he began his address, he emphasized that the inauguration, which filled the Jorgensen Concert Hall in the Eccles Center to capacity last Thursday, Nov. 7, wasn’t about him.
Rather, he said, the event was about the legacy of Snow, and was also an “inflection point” in the college’s 131-year history.
“It’s also about the spirit of Snow,” an idea he said “represents a cross-generational compact to remain loyal to our past, but also faithful to our future.”
Throughout the inaugural, there were a lot of references to the past and to the tenacity of the pioneer founders of the college.
But there were also calls to “reimagine” education as the nation and world move into what Cook and other speakers said would be a tumultuous economic time exceeding the tumult of industrial revolution.
“Higher education is in the midst of…multiple, massive disruptions,” Cook said. “Technology, automation and globalization are affecting nearly every dimension of our world.”
The inauguration kicked off with a large processional of the faculty, all in cap and gown, which passed through the Rasmussen Bell Tower on the way to the Eccles Center.
The platform party included many of the Utah State Board of Regents, the Snow College Board of Trustees, five former Snow College presidents, five former Utah commissioners of higher education and legislators representing Sanpete County.
The program opened with four speakers representing various college constituencies. Ben Scheffner, student body president, spoke in behalf of students. Dr Larry Smith, a professor of physics and president of the Faculty Senate represented faculty and staff.
Michael Benson, president of Snow College from 2001 to 2006 and now president of Eastern Kentucky University, a personal friend of Cook’s, spoke in behalf of former presidents as well as Cook’s friends and academic colleagues. And Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox spoke for alumni.
The introductory speakers described Cook as a people person and hard worker, but also a global citizen, an intellectual and a visionary.
Scheffner talked about another student leader, who after meeting Cook, said, “As a student, I can see we are his top priority.”
“The rich traditions of academic excellence and caring atmosphere are the hallmarks of Snow College,” Dr. Smith said, adding that employees were “grateful for (Cook’s) appreciation of Snow’s heritage.” He added, “You have been personable and interested in people.”
Earlier in his career, Cook served as president of an American university in the Middle East. Growing out of that experience, he has become an authority on the Middle East. He has also traveled widely in Asia. According to Benson, these experiences have given him a broad world view.
But Benson said Cook is also down-to-earth. “What you see in Brad is what you get. There are no pretenses, no airs, no affectations. Brad is as real and grounded as Horseshoe Mountain to our East.
Lt. Gov. Cox, who attended Snow in the 1990s, described the inaugural as “a very special, and dare I say, sacred occasion.”
He said he counted himself among “hundreds of thousands of alumni from this incredible school” who have had the opportunity to learn “in an environment surrounded by incredible people who cared about us.”
But most of the lieutenant governor’s remarks focused on the need for change in higher education.
“Every president of Snow College had the exact skill set that was needed for that moment in time,” he said.
“…It is time to rethink how we educate our young people. We’ve kept education and work in separate buckets for far too long.” He said we need a system that enables people to gain knowledge, enter the workforce, return for further training and return to work again, and do that throughout their lives.
“We have to reimagine education what education is like, and that is why Brad Cook is here today.”
Following the introductory speeches, Nina Barnes, vice chair of the Board of Regents, and Leslie Keisel, chairwoman of the Snow College Board of Trustees, presented Cook with a ceremonial mace, or staff of office, produced by students in the construction management and industrial technology departments. The staff had an aluminum and gold “S,” for Snow, on top.
Then Barnes placed a chain around his neck that held the Snow College medallion. It contained the phrase, “Pursuit of excellence” and the names of former presidents of the college.
Several speakers thanked Cook’s wife, Jen, for her supporting role in his accomplishments. She and her husband are also parents of six children.
Before the new president delivered his inaugural address, Jen Cook, made some remarks.
“There really is a special kind of magic happening here,” she said.
She said she witnessed it when the athletic director from an opposing school commended the Snow College team for the best sideline behavior he had ever seen.
She saw the magic, she said, when a call came in from a student suffering from depression and hopelessness. Within minutes, the Snow care team and a resident advisor were face-to-face with the student saying “’Lean on us. We’re here for you. You matter.’”
Jen Cook said she saw it as she observed three faculty collaborate on an interdisciplinary general education course. The faculty members involved told her the most exciting aspects of the course was being able to model for students how to work with a team of other professionals.
“Nothing can compare to the high-touch, individualized experiences that our students get at Snow,” she said.
The new president, in the body of his address, talked about things he had learned in a 131-day listening tour around Central Utah (the 131 days reflected the 131 years since the college’s founding) as well as from surveys staff had taken since he arrived on campus.
The most important finding, he said, was that Snow puts students first. On every survey, people urged him to focus on accessibility, affordability and student success, including increasing the percentage of students who either graduate from Snow or transfer to another institution.
Then the president talked about where the college is going, including announcing several new initiatives. (See accompanying chart.)
For many rural students, the biggest barrier to going to college is financial, he said. Most scholarships are achievement-based, but these need to be balanced by need-based awards. And he announced a $5 million initiative to increase need-based financial aid.
He said Snow College excels in educating the traditional 18-to-21-year-old student who is bound for a four-year institution.
“There are many other learners who remain underserved,” he said, including Native Americans, home-school students, Hispanics and veterans.
There are also many nontraditional students who are working and raising children. “These working adults are often place-bound by circumstances.” He called for creation of a whole division of the college offering courses on line.
“Colleges are not close to keeping up with the digital skills needed” in the burgeoning Silicon Slopes area, Cook added.
He announced a potential partnership with Bottega, a computer science training school on Silicon Slopes. Students could supplement their Snow College courses with boot camps and short-course from Bottega to become more employable when they graduate.
He also said that while Utah has had remarkable economic success since 2008, rural Utah has been left behind.
“Snow College must find ways to meet rural students where they’re planted and help them stay in these places if they want to,” he said.
To that end, he announced plants to build the Mark and LeAnn Stoddard Center for Rural Studies and Community Development. Various programs and departments housed in the building “would give students the skills and competencies to understand the economic, social and political dynamics of rural places,” he said.
The center would be paired with the GRIT Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, to help students “bootstrap businesses” that they can operate in rural communities.
Finally, he announced a Mormon Pioneer Heritage Festival, beginning next summer, which could be a follow-on to the Mormon Miracle Pageant and continue to bring visitors to the county.