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Jaci Cook-Dandos: Utah Tech’s professor-student-athlete

Matthew Morris BVM Sports Journalist
Matthew Morris

ST. GEORGE, Utah (BVM) – Jaci Cook-Dandos has been a leader for the Utah Tech women’s soccer team for a while now, but this year she has added a new title: professor. Cook-Dandos is in the first year of a master’s program that has her teaching an English class for credit on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

“Once I kind of got into it and started preparing for it, I really ended up loving it,” Cook-Dandos said about teaching. 

She doesn’t teach any of her teammates, or even any other athletes, and says her 8:00 a.m. class was too early for them. However, her new role as professor has given her another way to help her teammates.  

“The freshmen on my team are very quick to tell me about their experiences in their English,” Cook-Dandos said. “They’re like, ‘This is what my teacher is doing, what are you doing?’ or I had one freshman ask me if I could look over her paper.”

Jaci Cook-Dandos professor athlete Utah Tech
Jaci Cook-Dandos has loved her time playing soccer for Utah Tech. (Courtesy: Utah Tech Athletics)

Cook-Dandos admits it’s been interesting trying to balance her role as a teammate with her role as a teacher. She’s learning to turn one off while using the other and has found a new appreciation for being an educator. 

“It’s definitely given me an appreciation for the work that goes into being a professor,” Cook-Dandos said. 

The whole experience highlights the opportunities that Cook-Dandos has had since getting to Utah Tech and how her perseverance at the university has paid off. 

She was originally a biology major, with a plan to become a veterinarian after college. However, around her junior year she realized that vet school might not be what she wants to do next in life. At the same time, she was chosen to be on the hiring committee for the Trailblazers’ next athletic director as a representative of the female athletes at the school. 

The hiring process was an eyeopening experience for Cook-Dandos. Hearing about all the roles that the candidates have been in that helped them get to this opportunity to be an athletic director, they all sounded like jobs she would want to have. 

“That was an awesome experience and I loved it,” Cook-Dandos said about being on the hiring committee. 

Cook-Dandos couldn’t change her major from biology so she chose a master’s program that would help prepare her to become an athletic director. That, of course, led her to becoming a professor as well as a student, since she’s still taking classes for her master’s. 

However, all of these opportunities also stem from her desire to finish her soccer career on her own terms. 

“I didn’t want to hang it up on an injury… I wanted to end it on a good note,” Cook-Dandos said. 

Cook-Dandos had torn her ACL prior to her senior season. She had also torn her ACL halfway through her freshman year as well. She was able to redshirt her senior year and along with the extra year of eligibility she had due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to continue to play at Utah Tech. 

That decision has helped with all other aspects of her life at Utah Tech and the success she is finding as a Trailblazer shows what loyalty to her university has given her. 

“Throughout my athletic career here there have been multiple opportunities to leave,” Cook-Dandos said. “We’ve been through four coaches, two athletic directors, two different conferences, two different divisions, and a name change. We’ve had so many opportunities for me to jump ship and maybe start somewhere else.” 

She decided not to leave. Cook-Dandos loves her teammates and loves her school. Talk to her for even a minute about Utah Tech and you can feel the pride she has for her school. She’s been able to play soccer there, have a voice in the athletic department, change career paths and develop a skill like teaching that will benefit her for the rest of her life. 

Cook-Dandos has one more year of school and one more year of soccer. Her college experience has already been so fulfilling there’s no telling what the final year will be like.