Cynthia Cosby, a champion for African-American students and alumni at Washington University in St. Louis and a leader in the St. Louis arts scene, was the 18th recipient of the Gloria W. White Distinguished Service Award. Cosby serves as director of special projects and associate director of alumni relations and development programs.
Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton presented the award to Cosby before 700 of her colleagues at the annual Staff Day celebration May 18 in Edison Theatre. Wrighton praised Cosby for her work recruiting African-American students and supporting students both during and after their time at Washington University.
“Her enthusiasm for Washington University is contagious,” Wrighton said. “She encourages alumni to attend events and college fairs to share their stories with high school students. Her efforts have resulted in numerous students selecting Washington University for their college years.”
Cosby began working for the university in 1971 in the Black Studies program, now the African and African-American Studies program in Arts & Sciences. She helped create the Black Alumni Council in 1983 and has developed programs and services for more than 4,000 African-American alumni. Cosby also created the Black Alumni Council Scholarship Endowment Fund and the Black Alumni Council Emergency Fund.
But black alumni provide more than money, Cosby said. Alumni serve as listening boards for students, some of whom may be the first in their family to attend college. Cosby is an alum herself, earning a degree in organizational psychology from University College in Arts & Sciences in 1993.
“It really is a family,” Cosby said. “We empathize with students and share their pain during challenging times. We’ve always been there for the students any time they need us, and they know that. We want to know what’s going on with them — what they are thinking, what they are doing.
“There is that bridge, and that connection that goes beyond financial support,” she said.
Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth said Cosby played a unique role in an important turning point in Washington University’s history.
“I am grateful to Cynthia Cosby for her key role in our university’s modern improvements in recruitment, inclusion of and support of black students. The university and black alumni teamed to improve our institutional culture and to extend the same goals and spirit of cooperation to alumni affairs as well,” Danforth said. “Cynthia was part of the glue that helped us to stick to our task of sorting through strategies and priorities. She seemed to know everyone; and everyone loved and trusted her. Thus, modernizing Washington University became fun as well as rewarding and Cynthia a shaper of our institution.”
Cosby’s influence extends beyond campus. She founded the St. Louis African Arts Festival in Forest Park, which just completed its 24th year and features dozens of African dance, music and art performances and activities. Cosby plans to expand the festival once she retires from the university in June.
In thanking Wrighton, Cosby evoked the memory of White, who died in 2003. White served as vice chancellor for human resources and led early efforts to better integrate campus.
“Thank you for this award — it truly is an honor,” Cosby said. “And I would venture to say that Gloria White also would be proud.”
For a complete list of staff members honored for their years of service, visit here.