Dr. John J Cooper, a three-degree alumnus of SIU Carbondale, is now a professor and recruiter for the university’s Industrial Management and Applied Engineering (IMAE) program.
He received degrees in Industrial Technology (now IMAE) in 2004; Manufacturing Systems (now Quality Engineering and Management or QEM) in 2006; and Workforce Education and Development in 2011.
As both a professor and an alumnus of SIU, Dr. Cooper’s perspective is a unique one. So, we sat down with him to get his views on everything from SIU, to Extended Campus, and the importance of philanthropy.
Question: What did you like most about the SIU IMAE (and beyond) programs when you attended?
Answer: To say my experience at SIU was life altering is no exaggeration. There were so many opportunities for growth as an individual that I found I learned as much, if not more, from my SIU experiences outside my classes as I did from the many subjects I studied. I had an opportunity to teach numerous classes and labs as a Teaching Assistant, serve as a manufacturing lab consultant for an award-winning SIU Robotics Team, present my research at a national conference, and so much more. None of these things would have been possible though without the support and guidance of the wonderful IMAE faculty and staff.
Q: What do you like most about your job, especially at your location?
A: My office is located at Daley College in Chicago. This area, Cook County, has the most manufacturing jobs of any county in Illinois and I see so much opportunity for those seeking direction as to career path possibilities. I really enjoy raising awareness of what is available academically and by extension, showing students the pathway to these life-changing opportunities in this well-paying field. Giving hope and a sense of direction to those trying to find their way, whether they are new to the world of work, seeking advancement opportunities in their current career field, or mid-life career changers like myself, is exciting stuff. To see someone’s eyes light up with a renewed spirit and sense of relief after struggling to find their way and have them come back after graduation and say I got a great job because of SIU, “Thank you!” is intoxicating. This is much so much more than just a job. We are changing people’s lives.
Q: What’s it like to interact with students all over the country to help them achieve their goals?
A: I have found that no matter where a student may be located geographically, there is a universal truth they all have in common. They want to get away from working two or three jobs with no benefits just to get by. They want a career with advancement opportunities, a living wage that provides them a healthy work/life balance, doing work they are proud of, and they aren’t afraid of the commitment and hard work needed to make these things happen. Having been in their shoes for many years, I feel privileged to now be part of a team in a position to support and nurture their dreams to fruition.
Q: What does being a Saluki mean to you?
A: When I reflect on my life, I remember growing up with a belief in two commonly accepted facts, education and hard work are the keys to success. I had attained a certain level of success before I came to SIU, but had hit a ceiling on my assent up the career ladder because my associate degrees from the local community colleges only took me so far. I had lots of ambition but no access to a bachelor’s in my rural location, so I spent many frustrating years locked in a dead end job with no potential for advancement. When my life circumstances unexpectedly changed and I was able to attend SIU and earn my bachelor’s degree, it was like the opportunities I had longed for previously, and so much more, were now within my grasp. When recruiting I say, “I am the poor kid who never thought I could go to college and now I am a university professor. SIU has definitely changed my life! Thank you, SIU!” Yes, it’s great to be a Saluki!
Q: Would you ever recommend any SIU Extended Campus, online or on-campus programs to another person?
A: Absolutely! Of course I know the high caliber of instructors in the IMAE and QEM programs and what those programs have done for me personally, so I recommend them without hesitation. Even though I don’t know all the instructors from the other Extended Campus programs, I do know that since SIU is an accredited institution, all instructors for our programs are highly-qualified so I am confident in the quality of those programs as well. But to take it a step further, as a recruiter for many years, I have had the opportunity to compare tuition rates with other universities and have found no other school more affordable than SIU. Plus, SIU has over 700 scholarship opportunities that make earning an advanced degree from SIU more affordable than ever. SIU is a great school, and we have thousands of graduates worldwide who couldn’t agree more!
Q: Would you recommend that others donate to SIU?
A: I would definitely recommend anyone seeking a worthy cause to donate to SIU. Growing up in a low-income home, I didn’t know there was money available for poor kids like me. Without the financial assistance I received, my life could have gone very differently. Your donation can make a huge difference in someone’s life. I know firsthand what a difference these donations can make.
Q: Would you ever consider giving back to SIU Extended Campus programs? If so, why?
A: Yes, I would. I believe there is a need for more outreach to underserved areas. Although I had heard of the IMAE program, I had no access to it because I lived in such a rural area. I would have enrolled in the program 15 years earlier than I did if local access had been available. The list of available online programs through Extended Campus continues to grow to reach those underserved areas, but more needs to be done.
Q: If you had $1,000 dollars to give to SIU, where would you decide it should go?
A: Without a doubt, I would give it to the IMAE program in the form of scholarship money for low income students. Not only does this degree open career opportunities to well-paying jobs, but there is so much need from low-income students like I was who just need a hand up.
To learn how you can donate to SIU Extended Campus, click here.