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Most people wouldn't make the trip from Columbia to Harvard via Ibaraki-ken.
But after teaching at a rural school in the mountains of Japan and navigating the urban wilds of Wall Street, Susan T. Cooke has returned home to the Boston area in the newly created position of coordinator of student activities.
Cooke replaces Sarah E. Flatley-Wheaton, the assistant dean of students. That post was eliminated.
A native of Hingham, on the South Shore, Cooke is not entirely new to the College. After doing her undergraduate work at Columbia, she received her master's in education from Harvard's Graduate School of Education (GSE) in 1995.
Even though she and her brother, a member of the Class of 1982, both have connections to Harvard, Cooke says she never imagined she would work for the University.
"I never planned this," she says, laughing.
After teaching English to Japanese children and leadership development to employees at GE Capital, Cooke says she found herself ready to return to the academy.
"I started to think long term and look at the leaders around me. That kind of corporate lifestyle, the life I had started to live...was not in tandem with the direction I wanted to go," she says.
While visiting her parents' home one weekend, Cooke says she did some research in Widener library and came across a listing for the coordinator position at Harvard. It looked to her like a "dream job."
"She has already made a very strong start and I expect that students will find her accessible, clearminded and helpful," says Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III.
Praising the "ambition and creativity" demonstrated by student leaders, Cooke says she hopes to use her background in education and business to help student groups develop sustainable leadership structures and financial skills.
"I'd like to work with established groups like PBHA and HSA that do a good job running with the ball and help them to be teachers to other groups," she said, referring to Phillips Brooks House Association, the community-service umbrella group, and Harvard Student Agencies Inc., the student-business consortium.
Cooke says that in light of past mishandling of funds by student groups, she will be looking carefully at financial issues.
"Cooke brings strong strengths in the financial management of organizations and in human resourse management," Epps says.
According to Epps, Cooke will run the financial seminars for presidents and treasurers of student organizations and review the groups' financial reports.
Cooke will also be involved in "strengthening Loker," Epps said. The troubled student center, now almost two years old, has struggled to attract undergraduate customers.
Citing her status as a newcomer, Cooke says she wants to take some time to "get a good understanding of Loker and what it is to the campus."
Since her arrival in late August, Cooke has been meeting with student groups but has also identified an immediate challenge: resisting postering in the Yard, particulary on Thayer Gate, located between Thayer Hall and Science Center.
Last year, the College began allowing student groups to poster on the brick walls of the gate, but not on the metal grating.
Cooke says she appreciates student groups' "need to get the message out" but notes that alumni who come back to visit are concerned by the posterladen gate and consider it an eyesore.
"Harvard has a beautiful campus and it is a historic gate which we need to preserve," she says.
The administration also has met with the head of the Cambridge Historical Commission and will make a presentation on postering alternative to the panel on Oct. 9. One of the possible solutions is the installations of new sign kiosks near Thayer.
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