This article originally appeared in Fall 2019 Explorations.
The Cook Community Alumni Association puts philanthropy at the center of its mission. Rutgers alumni make up a worldwide network that’s 500,000 strong, and there are countless ways to reconnect with friends, show Scarlet pride, and maintain ties to the campus. Not only are all Rutgers alumni automatically enrolled in the Rutgers University Alumni Association once they graduate, but a number of chartered organizations provide graduates with specialized alumni groups focused on a variety of interest areas.
The Cook Community Alumni Association is one such group, and a place where College of Agriculture, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Cook College, and SEBS graduates can reconnect. But it’s also a place where members can leverage their collective resources to give back to the campus they called home. “Philanthropy is built into our constitution and bylaws, but it’s also just part of the culture at Cook,” says association president Amanda Dougherty CC’08, GSE’09. “We try to exemplify this supportive culture through our association and vision.”
Supporting current SEBS students is one significant way the association gives back to its alma mater. Specifically, the association was able to found the Cook Community Alumni Association Endowed Scholarships. These are awarded primarily based on academic merit, but in the spirit of the association, preference is given to students who demonstrate a commitment to community service.
The association also maintains a strong and supportive bond with current students by earmarking money in the budget for student groups in need of funding. “They can ask for anywhere from $100 to $1,000 to support a program that’s beneficial to the community or connected to alumni in some way,” explains Dougherty. So, for example, the association recently funded an ice cream truck for Party At the Puddle, an annual Passion Puddle event that kicks off the fall semester.
In addition to students, Rutgers Gardens is another area of focus for the Cook Community Alumni Association. “We have a tradition of supporting Rutgers Gardens because it is not only physically close to Cook, but it also supports everything the campus is about: student learning, faculty research, and extension programs for the community,” Dougherty says.
The association has raised funds for the Gardens’ internship program, improvement project, and arts programs, in addition to the development of Cook’s Market. Though Rutgers Gardens has been home to a farm market since 2008, Cook’s Market provides a year-round venue with green roof. Cook’s Market protects vendors and shoppers from unpredictable weather conditions and the elements throughout the year. It also attracts more local visitors to the Gardens, since it is visible from the road. This was an appealing project for the Cook Community Alumni Association because it was not only a sustainable idea, but it was one that helps provide ongoing income to the Gardens.
“We don’t see it as giving back,” says Dougherty. “We see it as paying it forward. That’s the goal. We’re paying it forward to students today so that when they graduate and become alumni, they’ll be motivated to do the same.”