Vassar Quarterly - Spring 2018 - 4
ince coming to Vassar, Michaela Coplen '18, the daughter
of army officers, has been preparing for a career in peace
building and diplomacy. She has studied foreign policy
as an international studies major, with minors in Arabic
language and culture, and creative writing. This fall she will
continue her studies at Oxford University as a recipient of a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, awarded by the British government to
distinguished American college graduates.
Created in 1953, the scholarship began as a gesture of gratitude
to the United States for the assistance Great Britain received after
World War II under the Marshall Plan, which aided in Europe's
economic recovery between 1948 and 1951.
Coplen will arrive at Oxford having 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.
As a teenager, Coplen often wrote poems and essays about the
human cost of war, and in 2013 the President's Committee on the
Arts and Humanities named her one of five National Student Poets.
She and her fellow student poets were invited to read their work
at a fund-raising gala for the Academy of American Poets at Lincoln
Center in New York City, and there she got to meet Meryl Streep '71.
"She asked me where I was planning to go to college," Coplen
recalls. "I mentioned a number of schools, including Vassar, and she
said, 'Well, you need to go to Vassar.' I thought to myself, 'If Meryl
Streep suggests you do something, you probably ought to do it.'"
Coplen decided to major in international studies after taking a
course on the history of foreign policy taught by Robert Brigham,
Professor of History and International Relations on the Shirley Ecker
Boskey Chair. She went on to work with Brigham as a Ford Scholar in
the summer following her sophomore year; they did research at the
Nixon Presidential Library for a book Brigham was writing on Henry
Kissinger's diplomatic efforts during the Vietnam War.
She says she is 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.
She plans to concentrate her research at Oxford on issues involving
climate change and conflict resolution.
Coplen had wanted to pursue a career in the State Department
after she received her degree at Oxford. 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," she says.
For more information, visit www.marshallscholarship.org.
This page, Karl rabe / Facing page, clockwise from top, Samuel Stuart Photography (New York City) / Sean Twomey-2me Studios (Los Angeles)
Michaela Coplen '18