Allison Cooke is a multi-hyphenate. She is a student (earning a Master’s degree in Youth Studies at the CUNY School of Professional Studies, an advocate for youth (self-described “youth enthusiast”), a mother, a storyteller, and a policy and program analyst for the Department of Transportation. And she's only getting started. We spoke with Allison to find out more about her CUNY SPS experience and how she got to where she is today.

How has your time at CUNY in the Youth Studies program impacted the work you do currently as a Policy and Program Analyst for the Department of Transportation?

My time at CUNY SPS helped me learn more about what it’s like, on a holistic level, to be a young person, and how I can continue to build a pipeline to include youth when plans are being made on a bigger scale. It also made me think about my corner in the Bronx, which is most commonly known as the poorest county in New York State. Young people aren’t included in plans when public spaces are created there. My capstone project explored Jackson Ave in the Bronx, specifically in terms of accessibility and its effect on young people. It helped me answer the question “how do I put a youth-centric lens on my role working in the public space?”

In my current position at the Department of Transportation, I have worked on projects such as the Johnny Hartman Plaza in Hamilton Heights. We partnered with Brotherhood/Sister Sol and local organizations to create a new space for community art and educational programming. (This included the 79th Plaza in DOT’s Plaza Program, which works with organizations to create vibrant public spaces from underused streets throughout the city).

Have you had a favorite course that you’ve taken in the Youth Studies program?

For sure – Youth Action and Agency. I did a project on teen mothers in low economic communities where they don’t have direct access to government assistance because they are not considered “responsible adults.” There was an intimate classroom setting that provided a safe space for me to share my own experience with motherhood and food access. The course opened my eyes to the disinvestment and lack of independence for teen mothers on a global level.

In a few words, describe something unique about your CUNY SPS experience.

Diversity in the room. The cohort-like feel is real at CUNY SPS and my classmates became my friends. Plus, I have access to the most wonderful city in the world.

What advice would you give to young people interested in Youth Studies and/or potential CUNY SPS students?

Think about what you needed as a kid and go fight for it. Challenge the status quo. CUNY SPS has great staff who guide and support you throughout your journey.

Who, and what, inspires you? What’s next for you?

Telling my story is what inspires me. Every day, I realize I could have dropped out of this race, but I am inspired when I reflect and share my story with people. By doing so, I honor my ancestors. It makes me feel empowered and strong. I will be in front of the masses telling my story at some point in my life.

My story is not complete, it has just begun. I’m planning to lead people and bring the history of my parents and my family to light. They were the first in their families to graduate from higher education, so being their child and pursuing a Master’s degree is indeed a big accomplishment.

Do you have any go-to NYC spots/activities that you’d recommend to Gothamist readers? Do you and your son have any go-to eateries or adventures?

Oh yes. Everyone has to visit The Lit Bar founded by Bronx native Noelle Santos. It is the only independent bookstore in the borough. My son and I are really into the environment so we visit different food farms -- my favorite is Taqwa Community Farmstand at 164th Street and Ogden Avenue. My Dad has plots there and we helped build the greenhouse. I definitely recommend that Gothamist readers check out their local food farm.

For more information about the CUNY School of Professional Studies and how to continue your own education, visit sps.cuny.edu and see what works for you.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between CUNY SPS and Gothamist staff.