Alisa Cooper ’74 keeps her diploma hanging on the wall of her office, which overlooks the Atlantic City boardwalk.
“It’s very near and dear to my heart,” said Cooper, who serves as the vice-chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, in the city where she grew up and where she has lived all her life, with the exception of the four years she spent in College Park studying music education.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been over 40 years,” she said. “In the four years of education I had in College Park, there was not one negative. It was a beautiful campus, great teachers and great professors.
Today, Cooper is part of the panel that licenses New Jersey’s casinos and its key employees, but in the early days of her career, she was an entertainer, playing music for Atlantic City’s social elite at night, while teaching elementary school during the day. Her student teaching experiences—both in Washington, DC and Prince George’s County—are among her fondest memories of Maryland, she said, and served her well.
“When I graduated in 1974, that following September I had a job. The years I taught school, everything I learned (at Maryland), I was able to apply to my first teaching job, where I taught music to kindergarteners through 8th-grade students.”
Her professors, she said, encouraged her lifelong love of, and talent for, music, which began at age seven, playing piano and singing, and continued through her matriculation—singing in the chapel choir, taking music education, history and theory classes. “I had wonderful professors who encouraged me,” she said.
After a few years of teaching, Cooper decided to devote her time to performing, starting her band, Alisa Cooper Orchestra, appearing at parties and soirees, and headlining at the Resorts International Casino Hotel, the first legal casino in the U.S. outside of Nevada. Over the years, she performed at “high-roller” events for multiple celebrities who were visiting Atlantic City, including Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfeld and Smokey Robinson, though perhaps no celebrity encounter was as memorable as the time she approached—and briefly interviewed—John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their 1969 “Bed-In for Peace” honeymoon in Amsterdam when she was just sixteen years old.
She returned to teaching after the birth of her son, David, in 1994, and in 2005 became involved in local politics, following in family footsteps.
“My mother was involved in county and state government for 20 years. I knew I was going to get the political bug, so to speak.”
Cooper had worked closely with her mother, Assemblywoman Dolores G. Cooper, during her time in office. She followed in her mother’s footsteps, and in 2005 was elected to the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders, serving two terms, and in 2008 became a member of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
In 2012, Cooper was appointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and approved by the New Jersey Senate, to serve on the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. She and two other commissioners are tasked with licensing the casinos and key employees, as well as working in tandem with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
“Personally, it’s very gratifying to me to serve on this Commission and emphasize all of the wonderful things that Atlantic City has to offer,” she said. “Of course, there’s the gaming industry, and we are a well-known tourist destination with the famous beach and boardwalk, but there is so much more that Atlantic City offers, including a new campus for Stockton University. It’s really spreading out and becoming really diversified.”
Cooper calls 2019 a milestone year for her as she reflects on the 45 years since she graduated from Maryland, her 30-plus years performing, and 7 years helping to regulate the very casinos where she once performed.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to enjoy a diverse and exciting career,” said Cooper. “I am truly looking forward to what the future has in store for me.”
Originally published in the College’s alumni magazine, Endeavors Summer 2019 issue.
Graphic illustration by Laura Figlewski.