First-Generation Alumnus Supports Students

John Cooper CCAS’65 in Portugal.

By Sam Starnes

When John Cooper was growing up in a farmhouse in Delaware Township, New Jersey—what would later be renamed Cherry Hill—college was not part of his family’s plan. “My parents did not encourage me to go to college,” he said. “They wanted me to go to work and bring money home.”

But Cooper, who graduated high school in 1961, had plans of his own. He asked his father, who worked blue-collar jobs for the railroad and bagging groceries, to write a $10 check for him for the application fee to Rutgers College of South Jersey, as Rutgers University–Camden was known. “‘How are you going to pay for that?’ my mother asked me. I said, ‘I’ll figure it out.’”

He enrolled at Rutgers–Camden—making him the first in his family to attend college—and he thrived on campus. “We had such great interaction with the faculty,” he said.

Cooper, who earned a social sciences degree in 1965 and now lives in Arvada, Colorado, near Denver, is retired after a successful career in higher education. His first job in education, in fact, was as a student when he worked for $1.10 an hour in the Rutgers–Camden library. Initially, he had studied with the goal of becoming a high school economics teacher, but changed his plans his senior year. Unsure of his plans, he met with Rutgers–Camden Dean of Students Ralph Taylor who guided him toward the M.B.A. program at the University of Indiana, a move that opened many doors for Cooper. He earned his M.B.A. in 1967 and went on to work at a small Indiana college, served in the Peace Corps in West Africa, and ultimately landed a job at the University of Vermont where he became an assistant to the dean of students in the 1970s. After earning a Ph.D. in higher education from Michigan State University in 1981, he built a successful career as an education and management consultant for numerous organizations, which included administrative positions in the Michigan Community College system and a five-year stint in human resources for General Motors.

Cooper still has great fondness for the college that gave him his start. “What is significant about Rutgers–Camden, and what has held my heart for all these years, is the fact that faculty members and administrators knew us and helped us,” Cooper said. “That ambience and the connections that we had were really wonderful.”

Through annual gifts and setting aside a portion of his retirement portfolio each year for Rutgers–Camden, Cooper hopes to open up opportunities for students today. His gifts help support the Rutgers–Camden Chancellor’s Emergency Fund, the Rutgers–Camden Student Academic Success Fund, and the Saul J. and Consuelo Diaz Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to students based on academic merit with preference given to underrepresented student minority groups. “I want other folks to have the experience and the support that I had in those days,” Cooper said. “My commitment to learning comes from Rutgers–Camden.”

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