Olen Cook wouldn’t call himself a daredevil, but he has been gathering unique experience and taking on bold challenges for most of his adult life.
The East Central University graduate was the first in his family to attend a four-year university, without much knowledge of what that meant or what to expect once he got there. He knew it would be a challenge, but one he was ready to take on. “I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to pursue, but ECU provided me the opportunity to figure that out,” said Cook. “I had to brute force my way into learning to navigate processes and systems.”
From early in his freshman year at East Central, Cook had access to professors and mentors who made themselves available for one-on-one conversations to help him explore various professions and departments. He chose a mass communications major with a focus on graphic design.
Cook credits his mentor Christina Mitchell with supporting him through graduation and making sure he stayed on track. “The level of investment of our faculty was huge. It was a lovely environment to learn in.”
After graduation, Cook went to work for an industrial safety company. He was dispatched to the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2010 to monitor air quality and safety for those tasked with mitigating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He lived, worked and slept on the boat for 4 months. “It was surreal. Looking back, I realize how formative that experience was in helping me realize I wanted to help people and positively impact my community.”
Next Cook worked in project management, business operations and commercial real estate in the Oklahoma City metro, where he still lives with his wife and daughter. For Access Midstream he created and launched their facility maintenance and preventative maintenance programs from scratch. Then at small commercial real estate group in Oklahoma City, he led operations for their property management and leading into commercial real estate. He found a niche for himself, and learned as he went.
Cook excelled in those roles and became a sought-after project manager, someone who could wear a lot of hats and do it well. He enjoyed the work but wanted to find a career path that would allow him to give back to Oklahoma City, a community he had grown to care about.
A friend sent him the job listing for a project manager position at The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City. The friend told Cook that although he might not know it, it was the job he’d been looking for. That friend was right.
He recognized the names of a few of the staff from his previous work and knew that they were the kind of people he wanted as colleagues. “The team I work with at the Alliance is smart and dedicated. We work on hard projects, but that means they have the greatest impact,” said Cook.
Now, in Cook’s role as a project manager he helps connect real estate developers with incentives and resources to help Oklahoma City grow and work for everyone. The organization has been pivotal in bringing some of the city’s most impactful projects to fruition, including Scissortail Park and the Convention Center, the new Homeland Grocery store on NE 36th and Lincoln and the Innovation District.
Cook knew he could make an impact there and began contributing quickly. “I had a lot of unique experiences and I have always had a willingness to learn. I’m not afraid to take a risk and it’s led me to where I am today.”