Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo is just getting his bearings as interim executive director of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute, but he already has some ideas on possible directions it could take.

The announcement that Cucolo, who is associate vice chancellor for leadership development and veterans affairs with the University of Texas System, would step into the top spot at JBS was made in March.

Cucolo said UTPB President Sandra Woodley sees the great potential in the institute and wants to have it linked more closely with the university than it has been.

“That’s not a criticism, it’s just a new approach so she wants to work with the advisory council and not lose the connection to the legacy of John Ben Shepperd — motivating young people for public service, but perhaps take it in a new direction,” Cucolo said.

“We don’t know what that direction is yet. We have a lot of ideas, but I personally worked on the strategic plan for the UT System for Chancellor (William) McRaven. I know how important it is to have the elements of an organization understand and be a part of the strategic plan. Dr. Woodley is just now kicking off her strategic planning and JBS PLI will be a part of that strategic plan,” he added.

Cucolo served more than 35 years in the U.S. Army, retiring at the rank of major general in September 2014. He joined the UT System in 2015 as associate vice chancellor for leadership development and veterans affairs.

In that role, he’s responsible for working with all academic and health institutions in leadership development for undergraduate and graduate students, leadership development programs for mid-level and senior campus leaders, and the establishment of an executive level leadership institute.

Additionally, he is responsible for the coordination and integration of veterans’ affairs and veterans support activities across all institutions. He serves as the system’s liaison to campus ROTC programs and is also a member of UT System’s Department of Defense Advisory Group, the UT System website said.

Cucolo said a thought is to sustain efforts to motivate young people to participate in the public sector locally, nationally and internationally and develop in them a propensity to serve.

“That would be a sustainment of what this wonderful place has done in the spirit of John Ben Shepperd,” he said.

A second track would be pure leader development, which Cucolo said could be a revenue generator.

“Foremost in my mind is the fact that public higher education in general is getting less and less state funding. The John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute is no longer a special item in the state budget. … We have one more year left as a special item, so the second track I’m thinking of —this is all pre-decisional — … would be perhaps revenue generation by offering leader development packages,” Cucolo said.

An example of a special line item are supplemental funds given to UTPB to help retain faculty and staff during the oil boom and it was given to start the colleges of engineering and nursing as start-up money. Over time, you’re supposed to generate enough revenue to start covering the costs.

“I can tell you from my travels around the state in my role as a leader development person for the UT System that there are niche opportunities for leader development. I think the energy sector is one of them,” Cucolo said.

Third track would be being a “thought leader” on energy policy, he said.

“I’d like to attract national and international thought leaders to this location, to the Midland-Odessa region to meet talk. There’s something about the atmosphere that just gets you focused on task at hand,” Cucolo added.

Woodley said UTPB is happy to have someone with Cucolo’s experience and talent to help JBS through its transition.

“We’re not sure what’s going to happen long term, but we think he’s the right person at the right time to help us work with leaders on the long-term, strategic plan of JBS. It comes at a perfect time when we’re working on the long-term strategic plan for the university, so these are not disconnected and they should not be disconnected,” Woodley said.

She added that officials are starting to look at how to improve the JBS Public Leadership Institute moving forward and Cucolo is going to be a big part of that.

“We’re in the brainstorming phase,” Woodley said. “That’s really what we’re doing. We want to get the advisory boards and other community leaders who are interested in JBS together with him and with us to really map out the future for that and then to figure out how to make that grow.”

“Part of the strategy that we’re looking at is can we build capacity around leadership training that provides this badly needed service for industry and the community, but also brings in revenue. We’re interested in that pathway. We’re looking at models like the LBJ School of Public Policy where we have a way of doing that. We’re trying to learn from that, so we don’t know what the future holds but we are excited about mapping that out over the next six months,” she added.

As for future events, like the Texas Leadership Forum and JBS Distinguished Lecture Series, Cucolo said the panel discussion titled “Shale and Texas Energy: Past and Future” set for 7 p.m. April 26 at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center is still on.

But plans to have the Texas Leadership Forum in Odessa have been postponed probably until late September.

Cucolo said plans are being made to set up the Texas Leadership Forum for April 2019 in Austin.

On how often he’ll be in Odessa, he said that is still being figured out.

“I had a lot of UT System commitments through first week in May. After that, I have no idea,” Cucolo said.

More Information