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School Alumna Wins 2017 University Alumni Stars Award

Nov 13, 2017

Posted in: News

By Billy Lineberry

Anne Cooper-Chen, Ph.D. (M.S. ’79/MC), along with 14 other VCU alumni, was honored with a 2017 Alumni Stars Award on Nov. 3 at the Dewey Gottwald Center at the Science Museum of Virginia.

How did the VCU experience of Cooper (then not yet married to Dr. Charles Chen, a professor of physics at Ohio University) lead to a career switch that culminated in receiving the award for alumni who "have attained notable achievements in their respective fields"?

Anne Cooper-Chen, Ph.D.In the mid-1970s, while working as an editor and writer at Commonwealth Magazine in Richmond, Dr. Cooper-Chen grew frustrated with the freelancers she encountered at the magazine.

“We kept getting these submissions from people that, as a business-oriented magazine, we just could not use,” Dr. Cooper-Chen recalled.

“That’s when I thought these people need someone to teach them not to send the same article to many magazines, to sharpen their leads and even throw away their first page. I thought then that I could tell people these things through teaching.”

This urge would lead Dr. Cooper-Chen to creating and teaching her first class—a non-credit night course for freelance magazine writers—at VCU and what also would ultimately set her on course to becoming a prominent mass communication professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and Fulbright Research Scholar.

“Dr. Cooper-Chen most deserves this University award,” said Hong Cheng, Ph.D., director of the Robertson School.

“Her success story as a journalist and then an internationally renowned mass communication scholar is highly inspiring and enlightening, especially for our students who are interested in pursuing an academic career down the road. Her care for and dedication to our school and VCU are truly exemplary.” 

From Teaching Onward

After the first class ended, Dr. Cooper-Chen was hooked. She found a deep gratification in helping people become more knowledgeable and better at their craft.

“It really was VCU that helped me begin thinking, ‘Hmmm, I really think I could do this teaching thing.’”

She enrolled in the first cohort of the new master’s program and received her degree in spring 1979. Throughout her time as a graduate student, Cooper-Chen taught at the university as an adjunct, which helped her secure free tuition.

Then the next question came: Should she pursue a Ph.D.?

She knew that without one, her options for teaching at a higher level would be limited. Being the self-described planner, Cooper-Chen sat down and made a list of the pros and cons of going to pursue her Ph.D.

The pros outweighed the cons. The following fall, she was enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in its mass communication Ph.D. program, one of the top ones in the country. Upon completing her Ph.D., Dr. Cooper-Chen held teaching posts at Southern Methodist University and Mary Baldwin College before landing in 1985 at Ohio University's E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Since then, Dr. Cooper-Chen has carved out a spot in the world of international mass communication research and teaching. She was named a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in Japan 1992-1993 and five years later, a DAAD (“German Fulbright”), where she was a visiting professor at Leipzig University.

Dr. Cooper-Chen has also authored, edited or co-authored five books with subjects ranging from Virginia history to popular media in Japan.

Shared VCU Connection, after 20-plus years

Hong Cheng, Ph.D., Robertson School director, and Anne Cooper-Chen, Ph.D., at her receiving a VCU 2017 Alumni Stars Award Nov. 3, 2017.Back in the early 1990s, as the chair of a thesis committee in the E.W. Scripps School at Ohio University, Dr. Cooper-Chen had a student writing about Chinese advertising. She thought it was an interesting idea for a thesis, but the problem was she did not know very much about advertising in China.

Looking for resources to help her graduate student, she sent a letter to a young Ph.D. student at Penn State who was presenting at a conference on the subject of advertising in China. She didn’t know if the person had time to help her, but she thought it was worth a shot.

A few weeks later a package arrived from the Penn State student that was bulging with resources. The Penn State student was Dr. Hong Cheng, now director of the Robertson School.

“I knew this was a special guy,” Cooper-Chen recalled. “Not every Ph.D. student, who is super busy, is going to take that kind of time and interest in someone he doesn’t even know.”

The two have remained close friends and colleagues to this day, 25 years later, including nine as colleagues in the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Calling himself “a big fan of Dr. Cooper-Chen,” Cheng said, “she is a great mentor and a shining role model for junior faculty, students and alumni.”