Meet the New Executive Director of the Raikes School
Back in January, Dr. Steve Cooper left Stanford University, where he had been an Associate Professor (teaching) in the Computer Science Department, to take over as Executive Director of the Raikes School. Steve sat down to chat with us, having just completed his first semester at UNL and at Raikes.
Interviewer: We welcome the new Raikes School Executive Director, Dr. Stephen Cooper.
Steve, tell us a bit about yourself:
Steve: I'm married to Sandi. We just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We have two daughters, ages 13 and 10. I spent the last 6 years at Stanford University, in the CS department. However, we are originally from the East Coast. Sandi grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, and I am from a suburb of Washington DC.
I am a computer scientist by training, with my dissertation focusing on theoretical aspects of programming languages. Starting with my work with Alice, I've been working to grow the field of computer science education for the past decade and a half. I very much enjoy teaching undergraduate CS classes, and when I have free time, I like to play bridge. I am also a very mediocre amateur gardener.
Interviewer: Why were you interested in leaving Stanford to come to lead the Raikes School at UNL?
Steve: It's definitely the weather! Well, not exactly. While the average weather is only a bit cooler here in Lincoln than in Palo Alto, the variance is much greater. The truth is that I am excited about coming in to join and lead a very strong program, one that is figuring out how to tackle current and future educational needs for our tech leaders. Dave Keck and his team have done an amazing job in getting the Raikes School to this point, and it seems to me to be ready for someone with new ideas to come in to help lead the school towards reaching new heights.
Interviewer: Well, what are some of those new ideas?
Steve: I should begin by noting that I spent much of the spring semester talking to anyone who wanted to give me advice: students, staff, faculty who teach in the Raikes School, UNL faculty members who haven’t (yet) taught in the Raikes School, administrators, Raikes Corporate Board members, folks in industry (both in Nebraska and outside the state) who have hired Raikes graduates, folks in industry who have never hired a Raikes graduate, alumni, and other folks from the community. While all of my interviewees started with the same 5 1/2 page list of questions, the truth was that many interviews varied greatly, based on the interviewee’s interests. However, several themes tended to dominate. They included academics, the Raikes brand (the Raikes School is not as well-known as it should be), students (and admissions), design studio, scholarships and fundraising, and alumni.
From these themes, we are planning to focus attention this year on three primary activities:
1) We are planning to assemble an academic advisory committee, including representation from faculty within the Raikes School, and faculty from Computer Science, the College of Business Administration, the College of Engineering, and external academics. We believe that we have a strong curriculum, but would like to hear from our colleagues in partner colleges. We also want to try to export some of the innovative things we have been doing, and believe that an academic advisory committee can help achieve this, while building bridges to other academic units on campus.
2) Restarting the dormant MSE/MBA program, focusing on innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship, and startups. We believe that such a program can cater to the more entrepreneurial Raikes School undergraduates, and build relationships with the tech industry in Lincoln (and Omaha).
3) Focusing attention on raising additional funds to support student scholarships. Additional funds will allow us to admit larger cohorts of students, which would greatly benefit the tech community and the students themselves. Our current sophomores are one of the largest cohort ever (38 students), and among the only cohorts to have 100% retention from freshman to sophomore year.
I am also very interested in increasing student diversity (gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, etc.), and expect to be engaged in several activities trying to do this.
Interviewer: What are some key challenges that you face?
Steve: I see three clear challenges:
1) One of the keys to the success of the Raikes School is the strong cohort model, with students living in Kauffman Hall all 4 years. But Kauffman only has 116 beds, and if we are to target 100% student retention and cohorts in the high 30s, we need to find an alternate space/community for the 20-40 students who will not be able to live in Kauffman as we grow and work to improve student retention.
2) We need to aggressively fundraise to provide scholarships for these talented students who are applying to the Raikes School. We regularly “fight” with Stanford, MIT, CMU, and the Ivies for students, and our ability to offer scholarships is especially important – and absolutely necessary for those of our students who come from more modest economic means.
3) We do not currently have the strongest relationships with our alumni. Certainly, having stronger alumni relationships would make our fundraising efforts likely to be more successful. But even more importantly, having stronger relationships with our alumni, would allow us to reach out to our alums to get them to help mentor students and student start-ups.
Interviewer: If an alumnus would like to get more involved, what should he/she do?
Steve: Please reach out to us. My door is always open. I can be reached at 402-472-5560, or at email@example.com. I’d love to chat with everyone. If it’s not convenient for you to come to Lincoln, I’ll do my best to head out to visit you. I’ll likely be in Seattle and in Silicon Valley a fair bit over the next few years.
Interviewer: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Steve: I am not the only new staff person at the Raikes School. Anna Pressler, the Director of Recruitment and Student Success joined the Raikes School from the Admissions Office last August. She’ll be the key contact for engagement with alumni. Assisting her is Kylie Penner, who joined the Raikes School last June. Her formal title is Events and Program Coordinator, but she’s really Anna’s right-hand-staff-person.