Coplen selected as Rhodes Scholar finalist

Sam Stephenson and Meaghan Wilby

Jacqueline Coplen, ’15, has been selected as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. If Coplen is selected, she will be the first Allegheny student to be a Rhodes Scholar. The Rhodes scholarship, one of the most prestigious fellowship opportunities in the world, is a two year-long fellowship at Oxford University. Thirty-two Americans are chosen each year.

Past winners of the Rhodes Scholarship include Robert Warren Penn, Bill Clinton and three nobel prize winners.

Patrick Jackson, Allegheny’s nationally competitive awards adviser and professor of history and religious studies, helped guide Coplen through the process.

“I had a Gator Day event last spring about applying for nationally competitive fellowships and she showed up at that, interested in applying for the Rhodes Scholarship,” Jackson said. “She was pretty well informed, even when she came to that event. I could tell she had been thinking about it. She knew the deadlines. She had some idea of what she wanted to study, how difficult just the process of applying would be. She knew the odds.”

Coplen is currently in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Edinboro University . In this program, Coplen will graduate as a commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Army. Coplen plans on attending law school to become a judge advocate general.

Most of Coplen’s reasons for applying to the fellowship involves her future career in the Army.

“I didn’t decide that I wanted to apply until around April,” Coplen said. “For me, a huge turning point was when I realized that there was a gap in my education and that I would be faced inevitably, in the line of the work that I’ve chosen for myself, with questions I felt I didn’t have the education to answer properly and thoroughly.”

Upon further reflection, Coplen realized that many of her questions revolved around a quote from Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan.” The quote, “We only are in a time of peace when there is an assurance that there is not a threat of war,” stuck out for Coplen.

“It really made me think, ‘what is peacetime? What is wartime,’ especially in our modern context,” Coplen said. “I realized that I didn’t really know the answer to that, nor do I really know the answer to ‘what is just war?’ It got me thinking. How am I to be an ethical leader, an ethical military leader specifically, if I don’t know what ethical conduct in war is? I mean yes, we have the Geneva Convention and the difference between right and wrong, but that doesn’t really apply all the time and black and white rules don’t apply to all the grey situations that are in between.

“When I realized I had that gap in my education, that was when I sought out further education in the form of the Rhodes Scholarship.”

Coplen plans to study philosophy if she is selected for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Coplen turned in her application on Oct. 1,  which included an endorsement from Allegheny, five to eight letters of recommendation, a 1,000 word personal statement, proof of citizenship, a transcript and many other different pieces.

“The process is very lengthy and arduous to say the least,” Coplen said. “I actually came into it a little late in the game in comparison to most people because I started thinking about it in April.”

After Coplen turned in her application, she found out three weeks later that she was selected as a finalist.

“They [her family] were obviously very, very proud and I was elated, to say the least,” Coplen said. “It’s really exciting.”

On Thursday, Nov. 20, Coplen traveled to Philadelphia, Pa. where the interview will be held. There will be a meet and greet with the other finalists from the district that encompasses Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on Friday, Nov. 21 and later that night, there will be a cocktail party and lottery to choose the order of the interviews for the next day.

After interviews in the morning, the finalists wait, potentially all day, to hear who the two recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship will be.

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