Campus News

Cook named vice president for student affairs

Michelle Garfield Cook has been named UGA vice president for student affairs. (Photo by Development and Alumni Relations)

Respected leader to head unit devoted to enriching the UGA student experience

Michelle Garfield Cook, the University of Georgia’s senior vice provost, has been named UGA’s next vice president for student affairs, President Jere W. Morehead announced Monday. Cook is a veteran UGA leader and student advocate who has introduced numerous institution-wide initiatives benefitting students. She will succeed Victor K. Wilson, who is retiring from the university on September 30.

“Dr. Michelle Cook is a widely respected leader on our campus who has played a critical role in enriching our learning environment and making the University of Georgia a pacesetter in student success,” said Morehead. “I could not be more excited about the continued success of our exceptional Division of Student Affairs under her thoughtful and visionary leadership.”

As senior vice provost, Cook plans, guides and implements strategic initiatives and programs spanning the University of Georgia while also leading the Office of Institutional Diversity. She co-chaired the development of the university’s 2025 Strategic Plan and recently chaired the Presidential Task Force on Student Services and Support, which recommended the creation of a one-stop shop for student services at UGA.

“I want to extend my deepest gratitude to President Morehead for this tremendous opportunity to continue serving the University of Georgia’s remarkable students,” said Cook. “Throughout my 25-year career at UGA, I have had the privilege of working with devoted colleagues and friends to help our students maximize their immense potential, and I look forward to continuing this vital work alongside the exceptional team in the Division of Student Affairs.”

Cook began her career at UGA in 1998 and quickly assumed leadership posts devoted to student affairs. From 1999 to 2011, she served as both assistant and associate dean for student affairs in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, where she was responsible for student orientation, academic advising, student academic awards and graduation, among other student services. During her time in the Franklin College, she established the Office of Transfer Student Services—the first of its kind at UGA—to support transfer students transitioning to UGA. She also chaired the Dean’s Student Advisory Board.

From 2001 to 2004, Cook served as the inaugural Franklin Residential College dean, residing in Rutherford Hall and working closely with University Housing to launch UGA’s first residential learning community. In addition, Cook served as an on-site faculty member for the UGA at Oxford Program, where she taught an upper-division history course and served as a faculty advisor to UGA students at Oxford University in England. She has served as a senior faculty fellow with the Morehead Honors College, and since 2006, as a member of the selection team for recipients of UGA’s highest academic scholarship, the Foundation Fellowship.

“Dr. Cook is a recognized leader at the University of Georgia, and one of her unique strengths is her breadth and depth of leadership experiences across the institution,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost S. Jack Hu. “From advising students to serving as a dean of a residential learning community, piloting college-level programs to leading university-wide initiatives to elevate UGA’s learning environment, Dr. Cook has multiple institutional perspectives that, in concert with her steadfast commitment to students, will make her a superb vice president for student affairs.”

In 2011, Cook was named associate provost for institutional diversity and the university’s chief diversity officer. In 2017, she was promoted to vice provost, where she assumed responsibility for strategic university initiatives. Cook was elevated to senior vice provost in 2022. Through these positions, Cook has made significant contributions to elevating the recruitment, retention and success of students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Cook serves as co-principal investigator of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Peach State Louis Stokes Minority Participation program, which has helped quadruple the number of degrees conferred to underrepresented minorities in STEM fields at UGA. She is principal investigator for the Georgia African American Male Experience, an initiative funded by the University System of Georgia. She previously served as co-principal investigator of the NSF-funded Bridge to the Doctorate grant.

In 2016, Cook helped launch the Road Dawgs Program in partnership with the Office of the President and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to expand UGA’s visibility in communities across Georgia. She leads the university’s Affordable Course Materials Grant program, which has saved UGA students over $1.5 million since 2019; the New Approaches to Diversity and Inclusion grant program; and the institution’s efforts to promote development of female leaders across campus.

“Dr. Cook shares my desire to build upon our legacy of care and support for students that we have established in Student Affairs,” said Wilson, who has served as vice president for student affairs since 2013. “Michelle’s long and distinguished career reflects her devotion to students and her commitment to fostering a vibrant living and learning environment that can help them achieve their dreams. As she transitions into this new role and afterwards, I look forward to offering her my full support in whatever ways are needed.”

Cook holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a master’s degree from Yale University. She earned her Ph.D. from Duke University. In recognition of her wide-ranging and impactful service to UGA, Cook was selected to deliver the university’s graduate commencement address in fall 2021.

“Throughout my time serving the University of Georgia, I have been consistently impressed by Dr. Cook’s commitment and dedication to the success of our students and her impressive leadership of enterprise-level initiatives,” said Neal Quirk, chair of the UGA Foundation Board of Trustees. “The UGA student experience is rightly considered to be one of the best in the nation, and I believe the university’s excellent student services will remain exceptional under Dr. Cook’s leadership.”

Comprised of 16 departments and over 600 staff members, the Division of Student Affairs is dedicated to enriching UGA’s living and learning environment and supporting students’ growth and development. The division spans the student experience, including housing and residential life, health and well-being, student and cultural centers, campus activities, student organizations, accessibility, student conduct, and more. As vice president of the division, Cook will report directly to the president.

“Dr. Cook is a trusted student mentor and campus leader who puts the well-being and development of UGA students first,” said Bryson Henriott, president of the UGA Student Government Association. “There are countless students—both past and present—who look up to Dr. Cook, seek her wise counsel, and value her interest in their personal and professional growth.”

Cook will begin her duties as vice president for student affairs on October 1. Between July 1 and September 30, she and Wilson will work together closely to prepare for a seamless transition in leadership of the division.

Additional quotes regarding Cook’s appointment as vice president for student affairs:

“I have known Michelle for many years and worked closely with her on numerous initiatives and programs aimed at strengthening the academic enterprise. Her dedication to the mission of this institution, her passion for supporting students, and her strong relationships across the university will make her an effective vice president for student affairs.”

Marisa Pagnattaro, vice president for instruction

“Michelle Cook’s deep devotion to the success and well-being of students will make her an outstanding leader in Student Affairs and further our division’s upward trajectory. As I prepare to assume the role of dean of students next month, I am excited about working with Michelle to continue providing UGA students with a student experience that is second to none.”

Eric Atkinson, associate vice president for student affairs

“Dr. Cook is a ray of light in this community, and every conversation and interaction that you have with her is intentional and fueled by a desire to improve the student experience. I am so proud that she will be our next vice president for student affairs, and I look forward to seeing the continued influence that she will have on this campus for minority experiences, the development of strong female leadership, and students alike.”

Elisa Fontanillas, co-president of the Hispanic Student Association

“Dr. Michelle Cook has consistently been a strong advocate for all students. I am always pleased when I speak with recent graduates who talk about the impact that she had on them and how beneficial of a resource she is. I am excited that she will be able to spread her love for students throughout the Division of Student Affairs.”

Yvette K. Daniels, president of the UGA Alumni Association

“Michelle Garfield Cook is an inspirational leader and highly capable administrator who has dedicated her career to helping students thrive at the University of Georgia. She is deeply respected by her colleagues and beloved by the many students she has mentored and supported. She will make an excellent vice president for student affairs.”

Libby V. Morris, University Professor and Zell Miller Distinguished Professor of Higher Education and former UGA interim provost

“I find it impossible to capture the scope and scale of Dr. Cook’s contributions to the student and staff experience at UGA. Her leadership and guidance have been essential to the athletic department as we continue our efforts to fulfill our great institution’s commitment to inclusive excellence. We are thrilled for Dr. Cook and look forward to supporting her in this new role.”

Darrice Griffin, senior deputy director of athletics  

“The student experience at UGA is one of the pieces that sets us apart from other top public universities in the country. There are endless opportunities for students to develop and grow into their best selves. Dr. Cook’s love for students gives me great comfort in knowing that upon VP Wilson’s retirement, students will continue to have an advocate and supporter in our new vice president for student affairs. She is one of the most well-known and respected women on our campus, and I know that she will do great work as the new vice president for student affairs.”

Madison Polk, president of the Student Alumni Council