ComArtSci Emeritus Professor Honored With Faculty Emeriti Association Award

Paul Cooke, PhD., is the recipient of the 2024 Faculty Emeriti Association Award for “Outstanding Contributions by an Individual or Team of Faculty” for his many years as director of the longest-running collegiate overseas study program of its kind in the U.S.   

The Michigan State University Faculty Emeriti Association recognizes an individual MSU Faculty Emeritus or Emerita or a team of Emeriti faculty who following retirement have served the university community through contributions to a unit or program. 

Cooke began his MSU career in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders (CSD) in 1977 and retired in 2014.  He took the lead of the department’s overseas study program in the United Kingdom in 1986. The program actually began the year before, when the department’s then-chair Dr. Leo Deal led a group of 15 speech-language pathology students to London.   

“During a meeting that fall, he said he’d love to run the program in 1986 but just couldn’t do it with all his other responsibilities as department chair,” Cooke said.  “He asked, ‘Is anybody else willing to do it?’ After some thought, I committed to direct the program the following year. Over the next several years, Drs. Leo Deal, Peter LaPine, Brad Rakerd and I directed or co-directed the program for five to six weeks.”   

Students are based in London, but also explore other cities, including Edinburgh and Dublin. The program integrates lectures from renowned experts in their field with clinical visits to prestigious hospitals, rehabilitation centers and schools. Cooke said the program showcases Europe’s patient-centric health care delivery model. 

“The U.S. has historically based its therapy programs on numbers and progress,” Cooke said.  “How many speech problems do you have?  How often do you stutter and how severe is it?  We do a lot of data collection and we’re excellent at that.  But in Europe, their approach is, ‘how does the disorder affect you personally?  How does it affect you on the job, or with your family?  The focus is on the person first, supplemented by the data.”   

Cooke also appreciates the international exposure the U.K. affords his students...and marvels at their sense of wonderment during what’s often their first trip overseas.   

“I taught classes for 37 years,” Cooke said.  “I don’t see them developing that level of personal growth in my on-campus classes over four months than I see in just a couple weeks in the U.K. They see a different way of life there that’s neither ‘right’ or ‘wrong;’ just different than what they’re accustomed to in America. They really expand out of their comfort zones while still growing in a safe environment.” 

Cooke continued to lead the CSD education abroad program following his retirement in 2014.  The program went on a forced hiatus for two years during the pandemic.  Then, something else happened that threw the program’s future into doubt. 

“In the summer of 2021, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Cooke said.  “I wasn’t thinking about doing a study abroad program the next summer.” 

Cooke had spent decades organizing a summer program that required year-round commitment.  In the wake of his diagnosis, he wasn’t sure he would be up to creating budgets, class content and student orientations.  But Cooke didn’t want to see the program fade away...and neither did his CSD colleagues. 

“My colleagues, professors Jeff Searl and Dimitar Deliyski said ‘Paul, if you’re willing to put some energy into it for the summer, we’re willing to help in any way possible,’” Cooke said.  “If I could make the contacts, do some recruiting, give the students a feeling of what the program is like, then they would be willing to assist.  They were absolutely essential. So, that kickstarted us back into the education abroad program.”  

There were other challenges to overcome.  As Cooke planned for the 2022 summer program, he learned the United Kingdom would not allow American visitors to enter their facilities because of high COVID rates.  The likelihood of the program’s continuation looked improbable at best. 

Fortunately, Cooke had spent years of building trust and rapport among his peers. Working closely with Jeff Searl, he persevered and the education abroad experience continued. 

“The light opened at the end of the tunnel and we had another successful program,” Cooke said. 

Now, nearly four decades after organizing his first education abroad trip, Cooke will be formally recognized for his achievement on May 1 when he receives the Faculty Emeriti Association Award for “Outstanding Contributions by an Individual or Team of Faculty.”  

“I was quite surprised and honored that my department submitted the application, and the university awarded me this distinction,” Cooke said.  “It demonstrated that my commitment to the education abroad program over the last 10 years after my retirement was recognized by my colleagues.  I have been blessed that the CSD department has continued to support my efforts in providing life-changing value-added education for those student participants.”   

Long after his regular classroom instruction days have ended, Paul Cooke is still teaching and ensuring his legacy will continue.  He’s currently assembling a committee tasked with planning a 40th anniversary celebration in 2026. 

“My heart is in this program,” Cooke said.  “I just didn’t want it to end.  I wanted the department to continue it even when I’m not involved.  I want to make sure there’s a transition, and then I can hand off the baton.” 

By Kevin Lavery