The Ambitious Ambassador

May 14, 2011

Cassandra Book devotes career to communicating, realizing College of Education mission

She is one of the ?rstt smiling people greeting alumni outside the Homecoming tent, a presence on stage each time the college honors educators and the driving force for all pieces of public communication.

But for every time Cassandra Book shares the College of Education’s mission with the world beyond campus, there are dozens of ways she has helped keep things moving smoothly behind the scenes.

An assistant or associate dean since 1981, she now oversees external relations as well as all issues of student affairs, from undergraduate advising and admissions to scholarship selections and disciplinary disputes. She makes sure programs meet state requirements and organizes the commencement ceremonies that bring each semester to a close.

Known for her fairness, high expectations and, most of all, genuine commitment to the institution, Book retires this summer after 37 years at Michigan State University.

“I’m not sure if everyone understands the magnitude of her position and her impact,” said Assistant Dean Susan Melnick. “She’s a Spartan through and through, but so much more than a cheerleader.”

Communicating greatness

Indeed, Book’s work as both an administrator and ambassador for the college has been guided by her deep-seated knowledge about teacher preparation and expertise in the ?eld of communication.

She originally prepared to become a speech teacher as an undergraduate at MSU. Later she taught college communication courses—and supervised student teachers—as a graduate student at Northwestern and Purdue.

By the mid-1970s, Book had written the nation’s ?rst textbook on speech communication for high school students (with Kathleen Galvin) and returned to MSU as a rising star in the university’s Department of Communication. She became the department’s ?rst female faculty member to achieve tenure and soon broke into administration as a Fellow of the American Council on Education.

Choosing to stay at MSU for the fellowship, she served as assistant to the provost for one academic year just before being hired to the teacher education faculty, in 1981.

Her role since then has been vast and evolving, with opportunities to teach, conduct research, direct programs and promote projects.

“I am proud to be part of a college that takes a scienti?c, academic approach to education and remains committed to changing practice,” Book said. “Michigan State has given me a variety of interesting things to do that ultimately make a difference.”

She started disseminating information and scholarship as a researcher in teacher education, and she has gone on to create a tradition of top-quality external communications that have re?ected highly on the entire College of Education.

After becoming associate dean, Book turned two-color newsletters into the type of New Educator magazine you hold today, a signature publication among many others produced to help the college meet major objectives, from recruiting talented students to sharing research ?ndings with educators in the ?eld.

Today those efforts also take the form of newly designed websites,
videos and updates on Facebook. No matter how technology has changed, people in and outside the college have praised Book and her staff members for presenting materials that are rich with professionalism, pride and inclusiveness.

“You can have a lot of good things going on but they can’t be kept a secret,” said Dean Carole Ames. “Alumni and external relations have been transformed under her leadership, absolutely transformed. (Cass) has made the college nationally and internationally visible.”

Book’s position has required someone who establishes lasting relationships and can, in the words of Professor Suzanne Wilson, “see the work of the college from different people’s perspectives.” That includes students, leaders at peer institutions, donors and alumni—
a group 54,000 strong.

As chief liaison to the MSU and College of Education alumni associations, she has worked with the college’s Alumni Board to coordinate frequent activities and initiatives focused on engaging graduates such as reunions, conferences on technology and career preparation, Grandparents University and the always-popular Homecoming Tent Party.

Along the way, Book’s outgoing personality and deep institutional connections have been invaluable for securing major ?nancial gifts, new partnerships and continuing trust in the college’s commitment to quality academics—often through ?rsthand interactions here and across the nation.

“She deserves more than her fair share of credit for all of the successes of the College of Education,” said current Provost Kim Wilcox. “There are a thousand issues in the life of a dean, and many of those have involved Cass.”

Standing up for students

Book’s other administrative hat, so to speak, is student affairs. And it can be a dif?cult hat to wear, colleagues say.

Her team of advisors typically represents the ?rst line of contact for undergraduate students and new or returning teacher certi?cation candidates. Partnering with faculty, their job is to explain various program guidelines, help keep students on track and, when trouble arises, determine what’s in the best interest of the student as well as the institution.

Those issues, which range from simple credit transfer requests to serious questions of academic integrity, must be approached with consistency and compassion.

“She expects us, like her, to support high standards and take hard positions at times, but also to have a balance,” said Joella Cogan, head advisor in the College of Education. “Not everyone knows this side of Cass, but I have seen her come to tears when hearing about students struggling with situations.”

Many colleagues echoed that statement.

“She can be as tough as nails, and she can also be the most soft-hearted person you know,” said Eric Mulvany, staff personnel manager for the college.

Book has handled student matters at the Ph.D., master’s and undergraduate levels, often meeting students’ needs by sparking more ef?cient and innovative programs, from speed advising to the teacher internship program in Chicago. And she has been the person responsible for signing off on students’ accomplishments, ultimately signaling they are ready to enter the ?eld of teaching or to receive their graduate degrees from a top-rated research institution.

Whatever hat she wears, alumni, peers and friends say she has been an incredible face for the college—thoroughly Spartan green, loyal, rare.

“A single person cannot replace all of her roles,” Ames said. “It would be impossible.”