Working from a Blank Sheet of Paper

Working from a Blank Sheet of Paper

As A&M-San Antonio celebrates its 15th anniversary, we’re highlighting the pioneers and trailblazers who have helped make the University one of the region’s most vibrant and fastest-growing institutions of higher education. For more great stories, check out the 15th-anniversary edition of Adelante, the University’s official magazine. 

By Sam Boykin  

Having worked at five other higher-education institutions, Mary Kay Cooper started at A&M-San Antonio in 2016 with more than two decades of experience and a clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish and how.   

As the founding director of Alumni Engagement, Cooper was charged with creating the Alumni Affairs program and encouraging alumni to support and promote A&M-San Antonio. Given that the fledgling University had been established as a stand-alone institution in 2009, Cooper had her work cut out for her, but that was part of the appeal.  

“I had been working at a 150-year-old university,” she said. “Almost nobody gets to build an alumni office from scratch. I’m a builder. I’m not intimidated by a blank sheet of paper, so this was a special opportunity.”  

After working for a decade at a well-established university that serves mostly affluent families and students, Cooper relished the chance to work where she could truly make a difference in the lives of young people — including mostly first-generation Hispanic students who are often underserved.  

“I’m a first-generation student myself, so I was excited about being able to make an impact,” she said. “It was an opportunity to do something truly meaningful.”  


Cooper first tackled building an alumni database with an advancement colleague, which was a big challenge to overcome right out of the gate. At the time, the University had thousands of graduates, but only about 250 valid email addresses.  

“If you don’t know where your alumni are, it’s game over,” she said. 

Undeterred, Cooper used social media channels to make initial connections and hosted the first official alumni get-together in December 2016. There was no budget at the time, so Cooper strategically piggybacked on another event at the newly renovated Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.  

“Afterwards, everybody walked over to Ocho Lounge for some drinks,” she said. “We had alumni and faculty there. There were 12 of us, which was not too shabby.” 

She continued to build alumni engagement, connecting alumni parties with established events like Festival de Cascarones, which helped draw more attendees. She also began offering alumni University benefits, like career services.  

In 2018, the University hosted its first Alumni Award Ceremony. The following year Cooper hosted the first alumni class reunion. When COVID-19 happened, Alumni Affairs, like the rest of the world, hit pause. But Cooper made the most of remote technology, hosting virtual mixers, a class reunion, even an online crocheting course. “While it was a challenge, we did a lot of nifty stuff during the pandemic.”  

Cooper said she’d also like to create an alumni-student mentoring program to help expand the University’s reach. “We’ve got to stop thinking about our alumni as folks in our backyard.  A&M-San Antonio now has nearly 20,000 alumni, and I want to connect with them anywhere in the world.”  

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