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Military career steers new passion for graduate

May 04, 2010

Former Master Sergeant Anne Cook has taken the long road to her degree. Coming from a family with a strong legacy in the armed forces, she joined the Air Force when she was 19 because she wanted to travel and pursue nontraditional fields for women.

Cook signed up to be part of the civil engineer until and trained to become a plumber, installing water and sewer systems, working on gas lines, delivering water, and rebuilding infrastructure on airbases and military housing. She was in Desert Storm and served in Egypt, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Micronesia. She also contributed to development projects in the United States, from building roads on a Native American reservation in Alaska to helping flood victims in North Dakota.

“The military gave me that opportunity,” Cook said. “I had a chance to do everything from environmental impact statements to engineering projects to actually installing and planning major water main projects.”

After 15 years of utility work, she shifted gears when she arrived in Arizona and took the position of First Sergeant (known as First Shift) at Luke Air Force Base. In her role, Cook helped hundreds of airmen get through difficult times in their lives, shepherding them through personal challenges such as PTSD and recovery.

“I became interested in the underlying causes for people’s behavior,” she said.

In 2009, Cook retired from the Air Force, but her experiences at Luke made her decide to go back to school so she could do more for her community. Cook enrolled at Arizona State University with a collection of credits and now, less than two years later, she is graduating with a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) degree and a 4.0 GPA.

“ASU is great in terms of flexibility,” she said. “Along with my regular classes, I was able to schedule online classes and attend summer classes to help accelerate my graduation.”

Cook is now looking toward graduate studies and has applied to the School of Social Work at ASU. She credits her student volunteer work as being the fuel that fired her passion for social work.

She has most recently volunteered with the National Training Advocacy Network (NATN), which provides support for survivors of domestic violence. The relationships she has developed there, with the leaders and residents, have fueled her focus on the root causes of homelessness and ways to help with recovery and support of female veterans.

“As a student, I really enjoyed the opportunities I was given to volunteer,” Cook said. “Working with classmates on different projects gave me clarity on where to take my career in the future.”

“I’m interested in policy work so I would like to get an internship with the VA and work with homeless women veterans. As a women veteran myself, I am interested in how to effectively outreach to these women because many of them are reluctant to get the services and programs that they’ve earned while in service.”

But before any of that, Cook plans to take the summer off and spend it white-water rafting, traveling and racing outrigger canoes.

“It’s kind of rare,” she says, “for a 40-year-old to spend an entire summer playing.”