By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Olivia Cook, executive director for Miles College’s new Center for Economic and Social Justice, said her life was changed about one year ago, after a chance encounter with the institution’s president Bobbie Knight.
A “freshly minted Ph.D student,” Cook said, she was looking for a job, and her previous employer directed her to a Zoom call with some big names.
“President Knight was one of the speakers on [the call], so I reached out to her. We got connected, and she told me about the Center for Economic and Social Justice that she wanted to erect at the institution, and she looked at me and said, ‘You would be the perfect person to lead it up,’” recalled Cook, in a recent video from Alabama NewsCenter.
Since Cook took the position, Miles College was named as one of the most recent Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to house a Women’s Business Center from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Miles is one of only 10 historically HBCUs in the country to do so.
The centers all provide assistance to women entrepreneurs, nurture entrepreneurs-to-be and offer outreach services and activities, including training, workshops and information dissemination to minority students.
Cook, who also teaches in Miles’s political science department, said the intent is to promote knowledge and prosperity among its students and the wider community.
“Our mission is to be a vibrant ecosystem that fosters innovative thinking, scholarly research and to promote ideas of entrepreneurial, economic and social prosperity, and to create an ecosystem that is able to utilize all of our resources and to give back to the community, and give back to our students and to our institution,” Cook said.
It’s important to those at Miles College that they foster more minority entrepreneurship, particularly among minority women, she said.
“That’s important for us because we see how, so far in between, we don’t have a lot of women in those spaces but who want to be in those spaces…That is a point for us to be able to impact those spaces and create more women entrepreneurs,” Cook said.
With Miles’ Women’s Business Center, Cook said the institution is aiming to educate 100 minority women entrepreneurs, taking them from the “ideation stage” to the “product commercialization stage.”
“I just feel like my faith is so strong, and I feel like God is in everything that we do…I truly feel like my steps were ordered here, and I was supposed to be here. I was supposed to meet President Knight. I was supposed to be in this position,” Cook said.
Cook said leading the center could improve both the students and the institution moving forward.
“I’m really excited about what’s to come and how I’m able to make some impact through the center with this and also leave Miles College better than the way that I found it,” Cook said.