When Maurice Cooley, a gifted artist, first came to Marshall as a freshman from his hometown of Lewisburg, he had every intention of majoring in art. But, in a twist that would shape his future life and eventually bring him full circle back to Marshall, he instead chose a path that led first to a B.A. degree in sociology and later a M.A. in counseling.
He’s spent his life in the helping professions and since 2003 has been the director of Marshall’s Center for African American Students' Programs, a role he relishes for the opportunities it offers to help nurture and support the university’s community of African American students. He’s also avid about getting the word out about the opportunities offered by Marshall for all prospective students.
“Our center, established in the 1960s, offers approximately 30 programs, initiatives and learning experiences each year," he says. "Among those programs, and one we’re very proud of, is the Annual Outstanding Black High School Student Scholars' Weekend program, which is geared toward seeking out the most academically advanced juniors and seniors from schools all over West Virginia as well as the metro areas of Ohio and Kentucky. Schools work with us to identify students and then we invite them and their parents to come to the Huntington campus for a special weekend each year in November. We usually average 100-125 students plus their parents and they have a fantastic experience. We plan the activities with the Division of Multicultural Affairs, Academic Affairs, and Deans, while many other faculty and administrators fully participate. The students stay on campus with our university students. During their stay, we have a carefully constructed series of learning exposures, to include a parent and student track, in addition to an annual awards banquet. It’s a wonderful way to showcase who we really are at Marshall and we’ve found that over 50 percent of the students who participate in this program eventually enroll here.”
Cooley’s penchant for nurturing and
encouraging others got off to a quick start after he received his undergraduate
degree. Just a week after graduation he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was
assigned as a 91G-20- Social Work/Psychology Specialist, working in various Army
outpatient psychiatrist clinics. Stationed at times in South Carolina, Texas and
Alabama, eventually he spent 12 months in Seoul, South Korea, working in a large
American hospital outpatient psychiatric clinic. Following his Army stint, he
completed his graduate degree at Marshall and went to work for the Prestera
Center for Mental Health Services in Huntington, where he spent the next 26
“During my first eight years at Prestera I was employed as director of Emergency and Diagnostic Services. Our division was responsible for 24-hour emergency calls, hospital admissions, psychiatric court-ordered commitments, and rendering complete diagnostic workups for children, adolescents and adults entering outpatient treatment programs,” he says.
For two years, from 1986 to 1988, he took part in and completed certification in an off-campus course of study with the Boston University Center for Rehabilitation Research and Training in Mental Health which included extensive training in psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner training. These skills helped him move into the position of program director of community support services at Prestera, focusing on treatment services for adults with serious and persistent mental illnesses. He was employed as the director of this division for about 14 years. Later he continued to offer outpatient psychotherapy to an assigned caseload of adults that included individual, family and marital therapy while also employed as the Director of Marketing and Corporate Development, which lasted for about 4 years.
During this time Cooley took on a new challenge when he was tapped to become one of the first divorce custody mediators in the state, assigned to Cabell, Wayne and Putnam counties. He was one of approximately 20 people throughout the state who first took training, and were eventually certified by the West Virginia Supreme Court, to become mediators. “Prior to the change in divorce-custody laws in West Virginia, typically when couples divorced and there were custodial disputes, such cases were litigated at the court level. New legislation at that time made it possible to mediate rather than to litigate, following the West Virginia Supreme Court’s study on the effectiveness of mediation vs. litigation”, he explains.
He returned to Marshall once again in 2003 when he accepted the position as Director of the Center for African American Students’ Programs, and his counseling background has been a real asset in this job, he says. “Our goal quite simply is to help as many students as possible to be successful and we are deeply and sincerely committed to doing that. We attempt to establish as many personalized relations with students as we possibly can. Some seek us out, some we seek out, after learning about challenges or barriers that they may have [that might] interfere with their academic success. However, students soon realize that we will do all that is necessary to enhance their success. If students are having problems—and there are many, many types of problems—and if we can’t adequately resolve their issue here, we will refer them to the proper university or community resource where they can get the attention they require. While my counseling background is invaluable, if an individual is in need of prolonged counseling I refer them to our professional counseling center on campus."
The center’s quarters may be small but that only adds to the sense of casualness and informality, Cooley says. The center, also employing an administrative assistant and three graduate students, is a beehive of activity but It’s a comfortable and welcoming place with an average of 25 to 30 students dropping by daily. Some come to discuss an issue or circumstance, but fully half come by just to hang out, chat and socialize, he says. There are amenities to help with their classes—the center has some computers and students have the use of a fax machine and telephones. “Students see it as a resource center, and a way to get caught up with one another. It’s a place where they’re accepted and can say whatever’s on their mind. Our goal is to give students ample attention to support them through graduation and prepare them for successful lives. Many go on to graduate school and we follow their progress there as well.”
And it is to honor graduates that the annual Donning of the Kente ceremony, a program that is close to Cooley’s heart, takes place. Held shortly before the May Commencement, the ceremony in which African American students are donned with a kente cloth has deep meaning and is continuing to grow in numbers each year, he says. “The Donning of the Kente is a wonderful old ceremonial experience with its roots in Africa. It has grown to an average of 90 to 100 graduating student participants and is well attended by all deans, university president, academic affairs and other representatives from both the academic and administrative communities. It’s a mark of achievement and an opportunity for the graduates to see that they’re recognized and appreciated by the university community, while connecting with the richness of their African heritage.”
Cooley is justly proud of the Society of Black Scholars, for which he serves as founder and director, as well. The requirements for membership are rigorous—students must maintain a minimum cumulative 3.0 grade point average, volunteer for community service work each year and attend a number of art, cultural and growth-oriented events that are designed especially for them. “They’re a super group, and a good share of the highest performing African American students at Marshall. Most go on to graduate schools. For instance, from the last graduation class, three were admitted to medical schools, two went to law schools and several were admitted to other types of professional schools.”
Modest about his own achievements, actually Cooley has always been a high achiever with an abundance of talent in an astonishingly diverse array of endeavors. Take art, for instance. Although he took another career track his freshman year at Marshall, art is still a large part of his life and these days he’s an enthusiastic water colorist with a studio in his home who paints for his own pleasure, dotting the family home with his works and giving his art as gifts to special friends. And for the past several years, he’s even designed the family Christmas cards using some of his favorite scenes. His work is good enough to have been exhibited in shows and reluctantly he’s sold some pieces but that isn’t why he paints, he says. “I don’t really want to exhibit or sell my work; I just paint for fun and relaxation and I’d much rather give my pieces away.”
Right now the Cooley family is excited about the new addition of a grand piano, a once-in-a-lifetime dream purchase, bought recently from a Marshall staff member. Cooley has been playing piano by ear for most of his life, a pastime he picked up when his younger sister, who was taking piano lessons, soon abandoned them and the piano his parents had bought her. Unwilling to see the piano sit idle, he began doodling around on it and, once again, tapped into a talent he didn’t know he had. He was thrilled when his son, Luke, now 16 years old, exhibited an interest in piano and, at his parents' suggestion, has been taking lessons for the past 6 or 7 years, now from the Marshall music department. “He plays really well and can read music while I can’t read a single note,” Cooley says proudly. The only problem with the cherished grand is that “now Luke wants to spend all his time playing instead of studying!”
A lifelong avid skier, Cooley felt fortunate to grow up in Lewisburg, which is close to nearby ski slopes. “I skied all through college, going home almost every winter weekend so I could ski on Saturday and Sunday.” His family, which in addition to Luke also includes his wife, Deborah, a former manager of Macy’s at the Barboursville Mall and now an administrator for the Campbell Woods law firm in Huntington; and daughter McKenzie, now a freshman pre-law student at Marshall and of whom Cooley is deeply proud; are casual skiers, he says, who do join him from time to time on the slopes for a bit of family fun.
Cooley is equally passionate about tennis, which he attempts to play several times a week, particularly in fair weather. He’s played since high school and, with modest understatement, admits that “I’m a pretty decent player.” He and Luke like to hit the golf course and just like the piano, ”Once again he’s surpassed me, and I am a pretty competitive guy," he says, laughing. “ But we just enjoy the time together.”
Both his professional and personal lives are abundantly full and he wouldn’t have it any other way. On the Huntington campus he’s a member of numerous committees and groups, including membership on the planning committee for the annual celebration and tribute to the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Deeply spiritual, Cooley’s an active member of the First Baptist Church in Huntington, where he’s a deacon and also sings in the choir. “I love the church; I love the Lord; everything comes together because it is all about the gifts you have and utilizing those gifts to serve others so that your life will prosper and render fulfillment.”
For all of his life, Maurice Cooley
has striven to achieve balance and it’s apparent he has done so. “I love what I
do here at Marshall. I look forward to coming to work every day. It’s
comfortable and natural for me; I’m excited about what we do here. But I give
credit to God for all the things I have. These things did not come from me; I
didn’t generate them; I am just the conduit. ”
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