Alumni / Spring 2017

Alumna helps Usher shape next generation of leaders

“Volunteer with a variety of organizations until you find out what really pulls at your heartstrings,” says Yvette Cook. Photo courtesy of Usher’s New Look

For Yvette Cook, there was no choice growing up but to serve her community. She says her civic-minded parents encouraged her to follow a path of altruism. Now Cook (BA ’82, MA ’85) heads up Usher’s New Look (UNL), an Atlanta-based nonprofit started by the multiplatinum-selling performer at the age of 20. For 17 years, UNL has introduced students in underserved communities to leadership training that keeps them engaged in school and ready to make their mark once their education ends.

UNL offers students mentoring and career assistance starting in middle school and continuing to their senior year of college. The results speak for themselves: 100 percent of the participants in the UNL Leadership Academy go on to graduate high school, and 98 percent go on to attend college.

“We have four pillars that the program is based on, but the first pillar is helping students find out what their spark is,” Cook, a former chief operating officer at United Way of Greater Atlanta, told Variety in 2016. “What are they passionate about? What are their talents? If you can help a student really tap into what excites them, now all of a sudden you can help them create a journey through school that makes school relevant.”

Looking back at her time at DU, Cook says what stands out are the friendships she made with students from around the globe.

“It truly was an international school. In many ways, I think that helped shape me and my interest in value and diversity,” she says. “From a cultural perspective, I think we’re a global world now, and I think DU may have been a little ahead of its time in giving some of its students that kind of exposure.”

Having found a job that allows her to experience the joys of giving back, Cook encourages current DU students to do the same.

“There seems to be a resurgence of students who are interested in being good corporate citizens and making an impact,” she says. “I say, ‘go for it!’ Follow your passion; follow your heart, because we need more people who want to make a change. Find something you really love or get involved with something, and if you’re not sure, do some exploration and volunteer with a variety of organizations until you find out what really pulls at your heartstrings.”


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