Professor selected as inaugural lecturer

Emily Cooperdock stands in front of trees holding her child.
Emily Cooperdock, assistant professor of earth sciences, was honored for her work relating to education, outreach and diversity. (Photo courtesy of Emily Cooperdock)

When she was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, Emily Cooperdock co-founded Science Y’all!, the official student science blog of UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences. The platform allowed graduate students to write about their research in layman’s terms and share their experiences and excitement for geoscience with the public. 

Cooperdock, now an assistant professor of earth sciences, expanded her outreach efforts. In September, the American Geophysical Union selected her as the 2021 inaugural Dorothy LaLonde Stout Education Lecturer. The annual award recognizes significant contributions to education and public outreach in earth or space science. 

“I’m really just humbled and honored,” Cooperdock said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “There are a number of people who are doing such important work and making a big impact in terms of outreach and education that are equally deserving in my opinion of this [award], so it’s especially humbling and rewarding to receive it, knowing them as well.”

Cooperdock began teaching at USC in 2019, and her research includes the study of tectonic and geochemical processes. She was on her current maternity leave when she received news of the award.

“I’m not surprised [Professor Cooperdock] won this because she clearly rises to the level of this kind of award,” Frank Corsetti, Department Chair of earth sciences, said. “We’re really proud that she is at USC, and it’s a well-deserved award.”

To Cooperdock, education and public outreach have always taken an important role alongside her scientific research and work. Her interests in teaching, volunteering, and other forms of engagement have persisted for years. 

“When I started graduate school, and particularly in an earth sciences program, my number one job became learning how to be a scientist and doing cutting-edge primary research,” Cooperdock said. “That could take up all my time, but I knew for myself to feel like what I was doing had meaning and for me to feel complete, I had to have some engagement and outreach. So, I made time and participated in a variety of activities. I feel the same way now as a faculty member. It brings meaning and purpose to what I do.”

While enrolled at UT Austin, Cooperdock conducted outreach to K-12 students, delivering presentations to classes at a local high school and leading tours. She also provided career advice and assisted as a mentor for undergraduate research.

During her postdoctoral years, Cooperdock helped her friend and fellow graduate from the same doctoral program, Rachel Bernard, publish a paper in nature geoscience, which examined demographic data on doctoral graduates students in the geosciences and noted the underrepresentation of several ethnic and racial groups. 

The paper, titled “No progress on diversity in 40 years,” catapulted Cooperdock into a more influential position to voice her concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion in the sciences. Since then, Cooperdock published more papers on diversity and led conversations around diversity and race issues in the scientific and broader community at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. 

“I think that it’s very important to acknowledge that science isn’t completed in a vacuum divorced from society,” Cooperdock said. “We’re in an academic institution and we’re funded through agencies with people who are doing science, training each other and collaborating with each other. So of course, issues of [DEI] crop up.”

At USC, Cooperdock sought new opportunities to advocate for diversity, including talks at different academic institutions and the National Science Foundation.

Cooperdock was also determined to create a space reflective of her commitment to diversity when she started the USC Helium Lab, which measures the age of minerals and rocks to understand changes in the Earth’s crust over time. When she promoted the lab, Cooperdock created advertisements that welcomed students interested in DEI issues in addition to the scientific work. 

During the Spring 2021 semester, Cooperdock taught a new course she developed herself called “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in STEM.” The students in the class used primary literature and media to discuss a variety of DEI issues, with both a geoscience and a broader STEM focus.

“It really catered to each student’s motivation and what they’re passionate about in the DEI sphere,” Cooperdock said. “I’m excited about it because I think this is a key part of professional development right now. We should be teaching our graduate students how to engage in these discussions and to think about how they do their research, mentoring and teaching through this DEI lens.”

Anahi Carrera, a third-year graduate student studying geological sciences, took the class and recently attended a Geological Society of America conference to co-present a project about the underrepresentation of first-generation college students in United States Geoscience programs and ways to better support and recruit them. Carrera and her classmate completed the initial research and work while taking Cooperdock’s course.

“There’s definitely value in allowing [doctoral] students to also work on these efforts [outside of scientific research],” Carrera said. “It doesn’t mean that’s just taking time away or hindering their career. There are good things that can come out of it.”

Cooperdock advises students and connects them with different resources, events and outreach programs such as the USC Joint Educational Project. Cooperdock plans to continue providing graduate students with a broader perspective and support with skills like mentoring and working with DEI principles. 

“Right now, I’m particularly interested in the treatment, advising and preparation of our graduate student population, really focusing not only on training them how to be good scientists but the professional development side of things [too],” Cooperdock said. “I also hope to develop a bigger scale project. I’m still in the process of figuring out what that’s going to look like, but I see a few gaps that can be addressed. And the truth is there’s tons of gaps everywhere so we could all pitch in and make a difference just by focusing on the thing that really speaks to us.”

Correction: A previous version of this article implied that the National Science Foundation was an academic institution, but it is a federal agency. It also incorrectly stated that Cooperdock published a paper on demographics of postdoctoral students. She published a paper on demographics of doctoral graduates. The Daily Trojan regrets these errors.