Aspiring to Make a Difference

Rhodes Scholar Finalist Talks about Scholarship Journey and Life at Allegheny

Allegheny Rhodes Scholar Finalist Jacqueline Coplen.
Allegheny Rhodes Scholar Finalist Jacqueline Coplen.

To be named a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship – the fully funded award that gives students an opportunity to study at the University of Oxford in England – a person must exhibit extraordinary qualities that make him or her stand out in a crowd.

Although Allegheny senior Jacqueline Coplen wasn’t ultimately selected for the scholarship, you can see why she made the final cut.

Coplen, a political science and Spanish double major from Carlisle, Pa., answered a few questions about how she got to the final stage of the Rhodes process. As Allegheny President James H. Mullen, Jr. states, “In our Bicentennial year, Jacqui has brought great distinction to Allegheny. We are all tremendously proud of her.”


When did you decide you wanted to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship?
I didn’t know about the scholarship until I began my college career, and I really only started thinking about it seriously six months ago. During Gator Day, I attended a presentation about national fellowships with Professor Patrick Jackson, national fellowships adviser and visiting assistant professor of history and religious studies. The Rhodes Scholarship really appealed to me. It seemed like a perfect fit.

What did you do to apply for the scholarship, and how did you prepare for the interview?
I’ve applied to internships before, but this was a completely different ballgame! Professor Jackson was incredibly helpful. First, I spent a lot of time reflecting in order to write my personal statement. I also needed to submit five to eight letters of recommendation. I asked 10 professors if they would write a letter for me because I kind of figured at least two would decline. But they all said yes!

The biggest outpouring of support was after I was told I’d have a Rhodes interview. President Mullen opened up his house for us to have a mock reception to help me prepare. A lot of faculty and staff members very graciously volunteered to be a part of this.

When did you find out that you were selected as a finalist?
I found out through an email! I was talking to my roommate and scrolling through emails, and a few emails down it said, “Invitation to Rhodes interview.” I thought, “This can’t be right.” Then I read the first paragraph, which said they wanted to invite me to interview. I had to read it at least three times. It didn’t seem like reality at first.

How did you feel when you learned you had been selected as a finalist?
I’ve been able to do a lot of cool and important things in my life, but this was definitely the biggest stage that I’ve been on thus far. It’s definitely an incredible honor. Everyone who submitted an application has some or many qualities that are absolutely outstanding. To be considered a part of this group is an incredible honor.

Outside of your academics, tell me about the other activities in which you are involved.
I am a cadet in the Army ROTC program at Edinboro University, in affiliation with Allegheny. This requires me to travel from Meadville to Edinboro daily (sometimes twice a day) to do physical training and military science classes and leadership labs. I get up at 5 a.m., leave at 5:15, and get there around 5:45. I’m usually back by around 8 a.m. I’m in the car a lot!

Until this year, I was the only cadet and the only female from Allegheny. I’ve now recruited two freshmen to the program.

Why did you decide to join the Army ROTC program?
I come from a military background. Both of my parents graduated from West Point. It’s really difficult to describe what it’s like growing up as an Army “brat.” One of the things I point to growing up as the daughter of two Army officers is an emphasis on the value of human life, both in an aspect of an absence of violence and hatred-type discourse, and in a positive manner as in an appreciation for art and culture. My parents have always shown us how to respectfully dissent and how to be respectful of others.

Coming out of high school, I knew I wanted to do something public-service related, but I wasn’t sure if going to the military academy was something I wanted to do. There’s something about going to a civilian college that offers a different experience. You meet many different types of people.

I am passionate about making a difference by being an officer in the military and being in a leadership position where I can make a difference and impact the way things work. I someday want to become a judge advocate general officer (an Army lawyer).

What other activities keep you busy?
I’m a fellow and research assistant for the Center for Political Participation. I’m also a member of the Allegheny Equestrian Team, Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority (Mu Chapter), and the Phi Sigma Iota and Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Societies.

Why the Equestrian Team?
I’ve been riding forever. I often joke that I’ve been riding before I was born because my mother rode while pregnant with me. I got involved with the equestrian team because I wanted to do something different. It’s something I get to do for myself. I love the comradery and being a part of a team.

How do you balance it all?
I’m not going to say it’s easy. A lot of it is mind over matter. When someone entering college asks for my advice, I tell them to have their long view in mind. And if you don’t know what that is, just keep your options open. Don’t be short-sighted. Having my long view in mind is comforting to me. Moreover, it gives me something to focus on and grounds me.

When I came in as a freshman, I wanted to get involved in so many things. It’s easy to say yes to everything, but I’ve learned how to say no.

The third thing is being realistic and being able to prioritize. That is a skill that my military experience has helped me to cultivate.

And then of course I have a really nice set of friends and family who love me, and faculty who are supportive of me. That’s the most important. Without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Why did you choose Allegheny?
Face-to-face interaction and word of mouth are very powerful. I found out about Allegheny from a friend’s father who is on the Allegheny College Board of Trustees. When I came here for a tour, the campus really spoke to me. I felt really comfortable here. I liked what I read about the Political Science Department, the study abroad opportunities, and so much more.

After my first month, I knew I was going to stay. I built relationships, not just with other classmates, but with my professors. I’ve always had a good relationship with them. They push me, but they’re also very human. I’m academically challenged and fulfilled here. I wouldn’t be the person I am if I had gone to a larger school. This is what a small liberal arts education provides.