Faculty Friday: Michelle Cox Sees Impact Through Ripple Effect

by Nathan Foster '20

Michelle Cox,PhD, loves helping people determine their purpose in life. As the director of Azusa Pacific University’s school counseling program, Cox has equipped thousands of students during her time at APU to become difference makers. “I feel that my calling is to really help others identify their calling,” she said. “I love empowering my students to meet their God given potential.”

Although Cox has taught counseling for 19 years at APU, she didn’t always plan on a career in counseling. Growing up, Cox aimed to become a broadcast journalist. After watching the news and seeing the way the media covered discrimination, racial profiling, and police violence, she decided to do something about it. “I studied communications so I could tell the news in a way where it shared both sides,” she said. In college, Cox wrote for the student newspaper, served as a DJ for the radio station, and was the first news director for her university’s news broadcast alongside future ABC7 sports anchor Rob Fukuzaki.

Several life changes caused Cox to change her career trajectory and return to college to get a master’s degree in educational counseling. This led to her coming to APU after serving in counseling positions at Chaffey College and Victor Valley College. Cox has enjoyed her nearly two decades teaching at APU. During that time, three of her four children attended APU, with one receiving close mentorship from former President Jon Wallace.

Cox teaches a number of courses including Community, Family, and School Collaboration; Professionalism, Ethics, and Law; Crisis/Trauma Response and Intervention; and Foundations and Ethics in Research. Her favorite class to teach is Sociocultural Competence. “I get to talk about my own life and the racial challenges I experienced firsthand growing up. We also talk about faith and how it intersects with race and the discipline. I love hearing the different perspectives from students in our program,” she said.

Cox has conducted extensive research related to schooling and systemic oppression experienced nationally by Black American students. A large part of this research was conducted with a graduate from the School of Education, Bryan Bowens ’14 EdD. “Bryan is like my adopted son, as he is to many of the faculty here at APU,” Cox said. “Doing research with him has been great. He handles all of the data analysis because that’s his speciality as a math teacher.” The relationship Cox and other faculty built with Bowens led him to bring more than 180 students from Kern County to visit APU’s campus in the fall.

It’s this kind of student-teacher relationship that truly fulfills Cox. She enjoys hearing success stories of her students and makes sure they stay in contact with her after graduation, to hear when they land counseling jobs and how they start supporting the K-12 students they serve. “I feel like what I’m doing is magnified and has a ripple effect. It brings me joy and satisfaction,” she said. “I feel like I can impact far more people through teaching and seeing the effects, how they pour into others down the road.”

Cox also loves teaching at APU because she feels free to share her faith, unlike her experience at secular institutions. “At APU, I can talk freely about my personal relationship with God with my students and share my favorite scripture,” she said. “It feels good to bring my entire self to work. I’m a child of God and I want everyone to know that.”

Nathan Foster '20 is the public relations manager in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement.