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Michaela Coplen ’18 Wins a Marshall Scholarship

When Michaela Coplen ’18 was a child, her Army officer parents taught her the phrase, “Stand in the door.” It’s the order given to paratroopers just before they jump, and in the Coplen family, it meant, “Prepare yourself.” Coplen says her life has been shaped by the international conflicts her parents have been a part of, and she’s “standing in the door” for a career in peace building and diplomacy.

Michaela Coplen ’18, winner of a prestigious Marshall ScholarshipPhoto: Karl Rabe

Since coming to Vassar, Coplen has studied foreign policy as an international studies major, with minors in Arabic language and culture and creative writing. She’ll continue her studies next fall at Oxford University as a recipient of a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, awarded by the British government to distinguished American college graduates.

Coplen will arrive at Oxford with some familiarity with British politics—she interned in the Prime Minister’s office in the summer of 2015. And she says she thrived under the “Oxbridge” academic model as a student at Cambridge University, where she studied the politics of the Middle East during her junior year.

Coplen applied for numerous post-graduate scholarships and fellowships, “but during the interview process, it became increasingly evident that the Marshall was a good fit for me,” she says. She plans to concentrate her research at Oxford on issues involving climate change and conflict resolution.

Coplen says she arrived at Vassar with an interest in drama and poetry as well as foreign policy. She decided to major in international studies after taking a course on the history of foreign policy taught by Prof. Robert Brigham. “Taking that course was one of the best decisions I ever made at Vassar,” Coplen says.

As a Ford Scholar in the summer following her sophomore year, Coplen worked with Brigham doing research at the Nixon Presidential Library for a book Brigham was writing on Henry Kissinger’s diplomacy efforts during the Vietnam War. She says she was grateful to Brigham for offering her the opportunity to pursue original research. “Sometimes you don’t know your own capacity until someone else sees it in you,” she says. “That experience really spurred me to want to continue to do foreign policy research.”

Coplen says she had planned to pursue a career in the State Department after she received her degree at Oxford in two years. But given the current state of American foreign policy, she says she may have to look elsewhere. “Right now, there are no job openings at the State Department—there’s a hiring freeze—and I don’t know if I’d want to work for this administration anyway,” she says.

Wherever her interest in peace building and conflict resolution takes her, Coplen says writing poetry will always be a part of her life, and the two interests aren’t mutually exclusive. “I don’t write propaganda,” she says, “but poetry is what boils over from my subconscious and some of that includes issues like climate change and security.”