Kate Cook and husband Dave Cook, NDSU's 15th president, make themselves visible fixtures on campus

The couple are known to attend many NDSU events and walk their large dogs on campus.

Kate Cook, wife of NDSU president David Cook, in the president's home on the NDSU campus on April 10, 2023.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

FARGO — When Kate Cook and husband Dave Cook, North Dakota State University’s 15th president, first settled in on campus last fall, they made a habit of joining students for lunch in the dining hall.

Kate said this development was met with horror from their daughter Ella, who said no college student wants “old people” to sit with them.

The couple hadn’t thought about that, Kate said with a laugh, causing them to adopt a more understated approach.

“We’ll go up and talk to students but we don't sit down…when we're not invited,” she said.

woman in green leather jacket and man in gold sweater stand in front of Bison statue
Kate Cook and her husband Dave Cook, 15th president of North Dakota State University, stand in front of the Bison statue on campus.
Justin Eiler

It’s just one of the things they’ve adjusted to since arriving on campus last year.


David Cook was named NDSU's president in February 2022 and spent his first day on the job in Fargo mid-May, after serving as vice chancellor for public affairs and economic development at the University of Kansas.

He succeeded Dean Bresciani, who wrapped up 12 years as president but remains at NDSU as a tenured professor of human sciences and education.

Kate Cook joined her husband in the president’s home on campus in August, after selling their home in Kansas where two of their three children still attend college.

Since then, they’ve become easily recognizable fixtures on campus, attending many sporting events, theatrical productions and musical performances, along with their frequent dining hall stops.

One or both can often be spotted walking their two large dogs, goldendoodle Motley and sheepadoodle Lola. Motley is missing a paw on his right rear leg, but gets along just fine without it.

Kate said the couple's approachability, with dogs in tow, is intentional.

“That’s what we want to be and I think they help that,” she said.

Kate Cook with her dogs, Motley, standing, a goldendoodle, and Lola, a sheepadoodle.
Chris Flynn / The Forum


An educator and an administrator

Kate and Dave Cook were both born and raised in Ames, Iowa and attended the same high school but didn’t know each other.

They met and started dating right before Dave graduated, Kate said. Dave’s parents and Kate’s mother still live in Ames.

Growing up as an only child, “I knew no different,” Kate said.

Her father died in Vietnam so it was just her and her mom at home for years until her mom remarried when Kate was in middle school.

After high school, Kate spent a year at St. Cloud State University in pre-occupational therapy, then transferred to Iowa State University where she found her love of special education.

She taught in the K-12 setting for a while, then learned about a master’s degree program in autism at the University of Kansas.

“I was drawn to children with autism so it just was meant to be,” Kate said.

After earning her master’s, she was able to work on a team that traveled all over Kansas, supporting students with some of the most challenging behaviors.


She then earned a PhD in special education with an emphasis in autism behavior disorders.

During those years, she and Dave were able to support each other in their educational pursuits.

He earned his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Kansas.

Kate worked for a time in higher education, but it became too difficult for the couple to manage schedules as their children Gage, Peyton and Ella were quite young.

She went back to the K-12 setting so her schedule would mirror those of the children.

Kate is an educator and Dave an administrator, and she likes to remind him that administrators need to listen and “don’t always know everything.”

“We have a lot of honest conversations about that,” she said.


'This is why we're here'

One of the biggest challenges thus far since the Cooks arrived on campus has been the effort to chip away at $7.6 million in funding reductions for NDSU for the 2023-2025 budget biennium.

Over a months-long process, President Cook and Provost David Bertolini have outlined plans to reduce the number of academic colleges, phase out some programs and reduce staff.

Kate said she tries to separate herself from those conversations, but it’s difficult to hear criticism about her husband when he’s trying hard to remedy those financial issues.

Another challenge, she said, is the learning curve for setting their schedules.

“There are many times Dave and I will be double booked or have multiple activities and we turn to each other and go, ‘We're living our best life.’”

Kate Cook talked with The Forum on April 10 at the NDSU president's house about her background, moving to Fargo from Kansas and making adjustments since her husband, David Cook, became NDSU's 15th president.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

The biggest surprise for her, thus far, is the engagement level of NDSU students, who often cross the street to say hello or shout out a greeting.

Maybe, she said, that’s because she and Dave came from a larger university where they didn’t see that kind of engagement.

“Just when you're starting to feel maybe a little exhausted or overwhelmed, we walk into one of those experiences and we're like, ‘This is why we're here,” Kate said.


When she first got to campus, Kate said NDSU recommended she wait a year before she sought a job, advice she said was welcome.

“If I would have jumped into another job, I would not have been able to get to know the community, get to know campus," she said.

Kate said she can’t imagine not working again, but just doesn’t know yet what the job will look like.

For now, she’s volunteering at a child care center on campus for children of NDSU students and for the Bison Strides program, which partners horses with people who have physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral and mental health needs.

Her husband has a three-year contract with NDSU, so she’s hoping to put down roots even further.

“Do we hope that it's longer than three years? Absolutely,” Kate said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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