UMass Amherst Communication Professor Leda Cooks Receives 2014 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award

Leda Cooks

AMHERST, Mass. – Leda Cooks, professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been selected by Campus Compact to receive the 2014 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award. The Ehrlich Award is given annually to recognize one senior faculty member in the nation for exemplary leadership in advancing students’ civic learning, supporting community engagement and contributing to the public good.

Campus Compact is a national coalition of nearly 1,200 college and university presidents, representing more than 6 million students, who are committed to fulfilling the public purposes of higher education. As the only national higher education association dedicated solely to campus-based civic engagement, Campus Compact promotes public and community service that develops students’ citizenship skills, helps forge effective community-campus partnerships and provides resources and training for faculty seeking to integrate civic- and community-based learning into the curriculum. The Ehrlich Award is sponsored by the KPMG Foundation.

“Through the Ehrlich Award, we celebrate faculty who have made major contributions to higher education’s commitment to civic engagement and community-based learning,” says Campus Compact president Andrew J. Seligsohn. “We are proud to recognize the depth of Professor Cooks’ work and the extraordinary impact she has made in the field, her university, and the community.”

 “Civic engagement has been the hallmark of my academic work,” Cooks says. “Throughout my career I have seen the significant impact that collaborative and respectful partnerships can have on everyone involved in the work. Students, the community organizations and the people that are served come away from these experiences with a better understanding of the challenges that we are trying to address.”

Cooks has spent her entire career integrating service-learning into her pedagogy, research and community activism at UMass Amherst and surrounding communities. The partnerships she has developed and maintained with community organizations in Western Massachusetts are models of reciprocal teaching-learning and university-community efforts to address issues of structural inequality. Among these partnerships is the long-term High School/Youth Dialogue Project that trained graduate students, undergraduates and high school students themselves as facilitators of dialogue in local high schools to address conflict related stigma, stereotyping and bullying.

She has also taken what she has learned through these campus-community partnership projects and contributed significantly to the scholarship of service-learning pedagogy. Her current research has been in the area of food justice, but over her career her work can be placed in the context of social justice, critical pedagogy and intergroup communication community activism with service-learning pedagogy and community activism being central to her research agenda.

Cooks’ experience and expertise have allowed her to promote and develop interdisciplinary service-learning initiatives and programs both at UMass Amherst and nationally. She serves as a member of the university’s Provost’s Committee on Service-Learning, the body that guides the development of service-learning and civic engagement efforts and programs at UMass Amherst. She also mentors aspiring academics on service-learning and contributes meaningfully to research in service-learning.

 “Leda has a long history with Massachusetts Campus Compact working to expand community-based learning in our region,” says Barbara Canyes, executive director of Massachusetts Campus Compact. “Her leadership at UMass Amherst in elevating community-based learning has made an incredible impact on the campus, her students, and the community.”

“For 21 years, Professor Cooks has been a deeply engaged scholar and committed leader in the integration of community-based learning into the curriculum,” adds Seligsohn. “Her work exemplifies Campus Compact’s mission, and we are pleased to recognize her achievements with the Ehrlich Award.”