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Get to know … Jessica Copeland, Director of the Collaborative for Community Engagement

Get to know … Jessica Copeland, Director of the Collaborative for Community Engagement

Jessica Copeland’s many diverse areas of academic interests combine well in her new position as director of CC’s Collaborative for Community Engagement. The new Collaborative reflects the recent merging of the Partnership for Civic Engagement and the Center for Service and Learning, a move that Copeland says is less confusing for students and helps streamline community-based learning across the college. The new configuration provides a framework for academic content to come alive and for students to test classroom concepts in the real world, she says.

Copeland joined Colorado College last year as the associate director of the Partnership for Civic Engagement and visiting assistant professor in the psychology department. She had previously been teaching in the psychology department and the global studies program at the University of Colorado—Boulder.

As director of the Collaborative for Community Engagement, Copeland will continue to teach two classes at CC. Her areas of interest include psychology of war; sustainable community-based learning and research; civic engagement; research methods and philosophy of science; gender development; and social cognition.

Copeland earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in psychology and Spanish literature from Berkeley, a master’s in risk and prevention from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of California at San Diego. Much of her research and writing has focused on children’s reasoning about aggression, the development of essentialist reasoning, and children’s beliefs about gender; in fact, her most-cited paper is “Children’s Beliefs about the Relationship between Gender and Aggressive Behavior,” which appeared in Child Development in 2005.

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Several early influences shaped Copeland’s academic interests. Her grandparents were both Holocaust survivors, and Copeland’s mother was born the year after the concentration camps were liberated. These dynamics had a huge effect on the environment in which Copeland was raised. “All this definitely contributed to my interest in the prevention of violence and the psychology of war,” Copeland said. Another early influence that had later academic outcomes:  While in elementary school, Copeland’s best friend was removed from the home because of child abuse. That experience prompted numerous weighty questions from an eight-year-old Copeland, leading to her interest in developmental psychology, resilience, and the prevention of violence.

Copeland’s Psychology of War course grew out of a class she began teaching at UC San Diego two years after 9/11 called Developmental Perspectives on Violence, which included a unit on state-sanctioned violence, obedience, and group-think, specifically as these themes relate to historical events such as the Holocaust. “We looked at how people in power can compel others to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t,” she said. She was soon asked to expand the unit into a full course, and the Psychology of War course came into being. (She most recently taught the class in CC’s 2012 Summer Session.)

In 2004 Copeland moved to Vanderbilt University, where she served as assistant professor of psychology for four years, and taught in the women’s and gender studies program. She was named Professor of the Semester in Spring 2006. While at Vanderbilt, Copeland sat on the Affirmative Action and Diversity Committee and served as a faculty advisor to the office of GLBT life.

Vanderbilt led to Boulder, Colo., where Copeland taught at the University of Colorado and served as assistant professor of community studies and psychology at Naropa University. At Naropa, Copeland directed the Community Studies Center and served as chair of the undergraduate curriculum committee. While in Boulder, Copeland was recruited to serve as a consultant on a strategic study project under the oversight of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She took a leave of absence from teaching and moved to Fort Bragg, N.C., where she applied social and developmental psychology to a set of problems related to the recruitment of youth into armed groups.

Copeland says she’s excited about the diversity of areas her new position encompasses. While she admits it would be exciting to continue working on national intelligence issues, she says it’s not conducive to family life. “I’m energized by the students and the wide variety of things I get to do in this position,” she said.

In her new position, Copeland provides oversight and assessment for a range of programs that integrate rigorous academic scholarship with collaborative community-based work. These programs include the Community-Engaged Leadership Certificate (CEL); CC’s residential Living Learning Communities; community-based learning and community-based research programs; student-run initiatives along three designated tracks: public health, human rights, and K-12 education; and the 2012 Campus Vote Initiative. For example, under this new framework CC students might be able to apply their emerging understanding of environmental science, urban planning, and ecological sustainability to help address community needs in the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire. “There are just so many opportunities,” Copeland said. “CC students are full of optimism and energy.”

Copeland’s husband, Jason, recently finished 10 years in the Air Force, where he served in special tactics, deploying several times to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central America. He currently teaches in the athletic department at the Air Force Academy, where he runs the climbing program; coaches the intercollegiate climbing team; oversees the backcountry search and rescue program; and provides high-altitude tactics training for cadets pursuing careers in special operations.

Quick facts about Copeland:
Has an 11-year-old daughter who dances with the Colorado Youth Ballet and an eight-month-old son who thinks dancing is the funniest thing in the world.
Lives in Monument.
Enjoys climbing, surfing, stand-up paddling, yoga, snowboarding, and skiing.
Bookshelf at home is filled with books on world religion.“You can’t understand war without understanding religion,” she says.
Was commencement speaker at her graduation from Berkeley; 1997.