REBECCA GURBA COOPER ’02 FOLLOWS PASSION FOR SCIENCE TO DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89
Wofford prepared Rebecca Gurba Cooper ’02 to say "yes."
Now she’s a biological weapons analyst with the Department of Defense (DOD), and "yes" means a life she could never have dreamed of while she was a student.
"I was a science major, but I wasn’t interested in medical, dental or vet school. Instead I fell in love with molecular diagnostics and genetics," says Cooper. She credits close relationships with Wofford professors for encouraging her to challenge expectations and pursue her interests. "The success I’ve had in my life and in my career have come from being flexible, from identifying opportunity and taking it."
Cooper earned a Master of Science in biotechnology from Pennsylvania State University. While in graduate school, she worked at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The organization’s mission spoke to her.
"I was working with the war fighter and preparing them for toxins that they may find in the field," says Cooper. She discovered that she excelled in areas that involved working with people, solving problems and communicating results, but she didn’t enjoy the lab work.
After graduate school Cooper went to work for a consulting company, and there honed her ability to translate science speak for those who don’t understand science. The experience, in turn, prepared her to work with the Department of Defense. Within six months she was living in South Korea.
"Living overseas and working for the government is an incredible experience," says Cooper, whose job was analyzing intelligence to determine the credibility of biological threats.
Currently Cooper is working in Washington, D.C., on a joint duty assignment as a biological issue manager, which means she’s constantly reviewing intelligence, analyzing data, developing strategies and writing policies to protect the world from biological weapons of mass destruction.
Cooper said "yes" again in the spring to an invitation to return to Wofford’s campus to talk with students in The Space in the Mungo Center.
"I was recruited by the DOD because of my technical background. That’s worth its weight in gold right now," says Cooper, who encourages students to remain positive and open to opportunity. "The DOD and other governmental agencies need folks with STEM backgrounds." Speaking as a woman working in the field of national defense, "We need more diversity as well."