There are people who visibly, and outwardly advocate for your success and well-being. And then there are those who do it behind closed doors, those who don’t ask for recognition or a thank you. Every person has these people in their lives, whether or not they are aware of it. In this Union, that person is Charlotte Cooke.
Charlotte is the payroll coordinator for the Union working in accounts receivable. Her biggest motivator is the students: she supports them, cheers them on, and helps them create meaningful memories. Through all that she has personally endured in her life, Charlotte’s positivity and optimism touches hundreds of students who have passed through her doors.
Charlotte’s childhood took her across the world, having a father in the air force meant she wouldn’t stay in one place for long. Originally born in Kansas, six months later she was taken overseas to Germany then Japan. She also lived in Michigan and New Jersey before settling in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“Living [in Japan], we lived off the base near the sea wall. So if there was a typhoon or anything we would run to the very end of the sea wall to see what sea life would come over,” Charlotte said. “So you saw octopus, you saw sharks, you saw everything. And then we saw how some of the people would move it back over and stuff like that. In fact, we had a pet Nerf shark for several years. We even brought him back to Michigan until he got too large.”
Interacting with the different cultures allowed Charlotte to gain a unique perspective on both the differences in people and the things that make all of us the same.
“I think it impacted me more than anything how to build relationships with people. Being willing and open to see what people see,” Charlotte said. “It also instilled that you don’t have to have any fear, that it is okay to try things. One of the philosophies that I follow by is called the three C’s: you have to take a chance, to make a choice, so you can make a change. It allowed me to see different perspectives on someone else and really enjoy a culture.”
It was hard for Charlotte to leave behind the friends she made in all these places, since every four years she would be taken someplace new.
“It was great to meet different people of different cultures and to just enjoy the environment and see different things and experience different things. But the only downfall is that as you get older you make great friends and then you have to leave them,” Charlotte said. “But if you make those true connections, there are some people that for many many years I kept in contact with. We might not see each other but we keep in touch with each other.”
After settling in Texas, Charlotte attended the University of Texas at Austin at age 16 and obtained her degree in computer science. Although her background is in the sciences, Charlotte has held many different jobs in her career.
“The biggest thing I like to tell people, it’s okay for the students to not know what they want to do,” Charlotte said. “It could change, and it’s okay to have change. It’s okay to experience different things.”
Charlotte is a large advocate of trying things, even if you’re worried you might fail or if it’s not what you originally set out to do. She argues that everything can come in handy, or you can make the most of it if you try hard enough.
“I never backed down or not tried anything. While I was in school at UT Austin, I wanted a cheaper way to get home at night so I joined the army reserves,” Charlotte said. “And the only position open was to be an 88m, which is a semi-truck driver. So I was a semi-truck driver for three years. Did I really want to do that? Not exactly, but it did help me learn how to drive a stick shift, it taught me how to change tires, put a battery and alternator in, so it has helped many people when I needed it to. I even learned how to shoot an M16 gun and got certified for that, and then a big part of my job duty was surveying the land for land mines.”
Originally interning and then getting hired for Dell, Charlotte transitioned to property management in Austin then Dallas. Later on she was hired as a programming director at NCB and FOX for seven years before coming to UNT.
“As a payroll coordinator, I make sure all of y’all get paid on time but at the same time, I am the person that handles new hire student employees. So I am the first face to make sure everything is up and that everything is processed and done for you,” Charlotte said. “And also to make sure that you get your pay and that you know all the rules, regulations, and policies as a student employee of the University. Now the other part of my job is accounts receivable. I am accounts receivable for every event that’s here at the Union, coliseum, gateway center, and UNT on the Square. So I am the person that makes sure that that’s all collected, billed out and received for every event. I enjoy it. I love the interaction of everybody that’s around here, that’s why I get involved.”
Despite all of Charlotte’s previous occupations, the one with the biggest impact has been UNT. Not only has she impacted the students through her encouragement, they helped her gain new perspectives as well.
“The reason why is that it has allowed me to take what I learned from all the other jobs and share it with others so maybe it can help with them make their own decisions with what they want to do in life,” Charlotte said. “But at the same time, I learn a lot from the students as well. Like some of their views or some of the things they’ve gained I go, “oh, I never saw it that way.” So I think that’s the biggest thing. I’m like the number one cheerleader of the students here, and I’m that mom that always takes pictures all the time. I’m the one that coos, “ooh good, great job” and then ooh I’ve got to take a picture. So I do that all the time and I get such satisfaction out of seeing the best in everybody else. That’s why now everyone goes, “ah here comes Charlotte with her camera.”
Not just with UNT students, Charlotte takes a special interest in kids across Texas. She is a currently a basketball official for the Allen and Carrollton rec league, and Little Elm ISD. Previously she worked with baseball and softball, and now also referees volleyball. She is always there to help out, usually running from one thing to the next to be there giving encouragement and support. Her parents were constant supports of her, therefore she wants her children to have a similar stream of encouragement.
“Just [the other] night we had to work Don Lemon’s event, my youngest one had a track meet in Sanger. I told Phyllis I’ve got to go, I’ve got to be there on his last race and I’m there,” Charlotte said. “I’m that embarrassing mom that has the button of you, and I’m all geared out with his school colors just cheering. I’m also the mom that brings snacks for everybody else on the team. I’m a cool mom to everybody else but to my own kids, they’re like, “oh god.” But they always expect me there, and I will make my way and be there at every event. There were times that I became a soccer coach even when I never played soccer. I learned classes to be there so I could coach. We did come in first after my second year of coaching. Anything that they do–I had one do a robotics competition and I’m always trying to get there.”
Charlotte is reaching five years working for UNT, and during that time she has experienced the freedom and support from her coworkers which allowed her to be there for her kids.
“There were some people from home who thought I wouldn’t stay, but here I am,” Charlotte said. “But to me, I feel like I’ve thrived and grown. It’s nice to leave a place not all the time feeling stressed and feeling that you’ve at least somewhat made a difference.”‘
People will often ask Charlotte why she enjoys working with students, and what she gets out of donating all of her time going above and beyond for them. Simply stated, she enjoys know she’s making a difference for them, even if the effect is minuscule.
“I know that you remember you probably had a favorite teacher or something right? And it’s not about the actual teaching, but what life lesson you got from them. Or what encouragement you got from them. So that’s why,” Charlotte said. “When I realized that maybe something that I might’ve done, even if it’s just me remembering and asking if they graduated with this major. I remember this one gentleman, Lance, who used to work for us he had an art exhibit. I always saw him working on his art and I said, well tell me when you’re going to have your show and I’ll come to it. Later on he said, “I really appreciate you for coming. I didn’t think you were going to come.” So those type of things, that’s what I get out of it.”
Charlotte tries to make her office a reflection of who she is and how much she values the students. From pictures of her family, the students, and program posters–Charlotte wants every student to learn a little about her and the university whenever they enter her office.
“I’m eccentric and I like to have the happy place. So everything starts with family. God first, of course, but family is second,” Charlotte said. “My kids are very important to me, my kids are my rock. On a personal note, I suffer lupus. And there’s been times with my health that it’s been a blessing I’m alive. So they are my reason to live. But then there are my brother’s daughter, my nieces, their names are Marlie and Mia. I loved to travel and all that, and personally, I didn’t think I was going to get married and I really didn’t want to have kids. I was one of those people, and I just wanted to be the cool aunt where you come visit and then go away. The first niece who kind of made me want to have children is Maycie. And I guess it’s the reason I invest more in the students here. She passed away in a car accident at 22. So 22 years old. And that’s when you realize life is too short.”
They first thing Charlotte ever brought into her office was photographs of her two sons. She feels very passionately about family and likes for others to know that about her. Along with family photos, Charlotte’s office is covered with photo booth pictures of students from various events. She likes collecting these as reminders of times where she was happy and able to make the students laugh.
“Every time I see [the photos] it makes me smile. Sometimes you need that, when you’re working and going through stuff, you need something that makes you smile,” Charlotte said. “And I look at those, and it reminds me of a good time while I’m here and working. The other things are the flag from UNT Pride, and anything with the Union or Scrappy the Eagle.”
Charlotte is constantly supporting not only the students, but the university as a whole. She was awarded the University Spirit Award due to her abundance of school spirit. Every Friday, you can find Charlotte dressed in Mean Green shirts, green earring, and UNT gear. She freely displays all of this on the walls of her office, wanting the students to feel represented whenever they come to see her.
If you want to stop by and get to know Charlotte, or even just say hi, go visit her on the fourth floor of the Union. She will brighten your day, and you just might make hers!