William “Bill” Cooke III

William “Bill” Cooke III
Photo by Russ Houston

Bill Cooke has never brought his guitar into the classroom, but that doesn’t mean his students haven’t heard him play it.

As professor and head of Mississippi State’s geosciences department, Cooke often plays Rock n’ Roll on the weekends at restaurants and private parties across the Golden Triangle. Occasionally, he said, he’ll see a few of his students in the weekend crowds, and he’s learned to appreciate the value that exposure can add to their classroom experience.

“It humanizes me a bit in their eyes, I think,” Cooke said. “But really, I hope it shows them that you can do the things you want, and do more than one thing well, as long as you’re willing to work hard.”

Cooke earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in forestry from MSU. He worked for eight years with the United States Forestry Service as a research scientist, specializing in geographic information systems (GIS), before joining the MSU faculty in 2003 as a geosciences professor. He’s serving his fourth year as department head.

He started playing guitar at age 8 and started “playing paid gigs” as a teenager, Cooke noted. An avid tennis player and coach, Cooke said he also coached the Portuguese men’s team for the 1981 Davis Cup tournament and worked a stint as head tennis pro for the Vicksburg Country Club. He still maintains a United States Tennis Association level 2 tennis pro certification.

When he was earning his graduate and doctorate degrees, Cooke added, he often relied on his guitar and giving tennis lessons to help make ends meet. Now, he said, music and tennis offer more of a release from his day job.

Still, he particularly finds useful transitions from his musical performances to the classroom.

“What I really enjoy is doing what I love, feeling like I do it well and connecting with the audience,” he said. “I get energy from that. It’s very much the same thing when I’m teaching. When I go into the classroom, it’s like going on another stage.”