Finding Her Reason
After taking time off from UT, Communication and Leadership senior Meagan Cook knew she had unfinished business with her college career but needed an extra push to find her place again.
After she left school for health reasons, Cook worked for Orvis, a retail business specializing in fly fishing, hunting and sporting goods, where she frequently went to Orvis-endorsed lodges to teach fly-fishing and take customers on trips to different destinations.
While at a lodge, Cook learned of the mistreatment of many of the hunting dogs who, when they were too old or unable to perform, were left in kennels without adequate care.
It was there she found her reason.
Cook met Misty, now named Birdie, a 3-year-old pregnant cocker spaniel who she adopted and later became the inspiration behind her nonprofit, Field to Family Dogs, which partners with lodges to finds homes for hunting dogs that are no longer profitable and not always properly cared for.
“When I met Birdie I thought she was a total weirdo,” Cook recalled. “But meeting her was one of those moments when you wonder if it’s a sign from somewhere.”
As part of its business model, Field to Family Dogs has built strong relationships with lodges across the country, who call Cook when a dog needs to be placed. She works from there to find a forever home. Through the adoption fee, the nonprofit can cover veterinary bills and transportation costs.
While the work can be tough, Cook says she has truly discovered her passion, and it is what led her back to UT and to Moody College to pursue a Communication and Leadership degree.
“There was a bit of a process as an unconventional returning student, but I was very fortunate to have the support that I did from the advising staff,” Cook said. “I am super grateful for that because I really do believe that this is where I’m meant to be.”
Cook, who graduates in May, said she was always drawn to Moody. When she decided to come back to college for what she calls “Meagan goes to college season two,” she was looking for a program that would be broad enough to be customizable for her interests but specific enough to meet the needs of her work. She discovered the Communication and Leadership degree, which focuses on collaboration and effective communication in real-world contexts. She has taken many courses relevant to the work she does, with topics like ethics, trust, conflict resolution and leading positive social change.
“There are so many avenues I can go into with this degree,” Cook said.
“There was a bit of a process as an unconventional returning student, but I was very fortunate to have the support that I did from the advising staff. I am super grateful for that because I really do believe that this is where I’m meant to be.”
Communication and Leadership Degree Director Minette Drumwright, who is also a professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations, has been a huge part of Cook’s college experience, inviting her to speak about her work with Field to Family Dogs in many of her classes.
“She's done all of this work in a male-oriented world,” Drumwright said. “It's great to see our students leading positive change even before they even graduate.”
Since its founding, Cook says they’ve helped move more than 100 dogs across the country. In the future, they hope to expand their mission to advocate for improved conditions at lodges and give dogs a better life with more thorough health records and vet access.
For Cook, she sees the Communication and Leadership degree as an opportunity for students who may not feel like they fit into a certain box to realize they have valuable skills. It also provides additional elective hours so that students can pursue a minor that will help boost their marketability and related skills.
“I have gained a great deal from the curriculum, even as somebody who was a manager for years in a space where I was the outlier,” Cook said. “It’s been an invaluable kind of education.”