Dr. Erica Cooper

Erica Cooper grew up in Milwaukee, WI about two hours north of Chicago.  She always liked the feel of the “big city” and dreamed of becoming a lawyer and working in Chicago.  Throughout middle and high school she enjoyed math, science and government courses.

“I had planned to double major in biology and political science in college.  I loved biology and took three years of it in high school. I thought that political science would help me when I applied to law school.”

Although many of her close friends were naturally extroverts, she was an introvert and desperately avoided “speech” oriented classes as much as possible.  Enrolled in the IB program at her high school, she was in search of one more course that would fulfill the program’s requirements. She was advised by her guidance counselor to speak to Mr. Mackinson, the speech and theatre instructor, about enrolling in IB Theatre II. 

“I left his office in a state of confusion. I didn’t know how I could enroll in Theatre II without taking Theatre I. I definitely didn’t meet the requirements for Theatre I because I had received an ‘exemption’ for the basic speech requirement due to my schedule.  I thought that my counselor was playing a terrible joke on me.” 

She spoke to Mr. Mackinson and he told her that she could enroll in the course without meeting the basic prerequisites. 

“I admit that I was terrified. I knew all of the people enrolled in IB Theatre II because they were also completing the IB diploma.  I was very intimidated by all of them because they would regularly appear in school plays. I was also deathly afraid of speaking in front of a group of people. I was that kid who would sit in the back of the classroom on speech day and hide behind the person in front of me hoping that the teacher would forget that I was there.  I admit that my first performance was less than stellar but they were very supportive. They didn’t laugh at my performance but offered lots of helpful suggestions.” 

As time passed, she became more comfortable in front of an audience and soon enjoyed the freedom of “being on stage.”

“I reconsidered what I wanted to major in. I became passionate about Theatre and proposed the idea of majoring in Theatre to my parents.” 

She was discouraged from pursuing a Theatre major. Soon after enrolling in Northwestern University in Evanston, IL she also found that she really wasn’t interested in political science.

“I had a really good friend who had decided to pursue a major in Communication Studies after initially declaring a major in political science. She told me about her classes and I became intrigued.”

She eventually investigated Northwestern’s School of Speech and found the Communication Studies major interesting. 

“After my first course, Interpersonal Communication, I was hooked.  I also liked the fact that I could take courses in Performance Studies, Theatre, and Radio/Television/Film as electives. I could take a Performance Studies course where one of the requirements for the course was to perform (as a class) for the campus and Evanston communities. I was able to satisfy my passion for performing. At the same time, my parents were content because they approved of pursuing Communication as a major.”

As she became more engrossed in her major she began to take more cultural studies and African/African American studies courses.

“I became interested in the relationships between race, ethnicity, and communication.  I still wanted to pursue law but I also wanted to study communication more in depth.  During my senior year, several of my professors suggested that I consider pursuing a Masters degree in Communication.”

She admits that she didn’t immediately jump at the idea. “I was enrolled in a Contemporary Rhetorical Theory course and a Black Psychology course.  As the semester progressed I began to see the overlap between the two courses and decided to write a research paper on African American Rhetorical Theory.  My communication professor convinced me that I could continue my research if I enrolled in a graduate program in Communication.” 

She weighed her options and decided that she could complete the Masters program and still pursue law school after completing the degree.

“I enjoyed what I studied in my Masters program so much that I began considering pursuing a Ph.D.  I was given the opportunity to teach a course during my last semester and I really enjoyed the experience.  I applied and was accepted to several Ph.D. programs. I decided to pursue a degree from the Communication and Culture at Indiana University-Bloomington. Ironically, I still wanted to pursue a law degree.  I was allowed to take courses in the law school as a part of my requirements for my minor.  I learned that I was very intrigued by the law but definitely had no interest in pursuing it as a career.  I definitely want to teach a course or two related to legal and/or political communication.  Constitutional law will always fascinate me.  I would love to teach a course dealing with Constitutional Rhetoric.”

Currently, she is ABD hoping to defend her dissertation soon.

She was hired in 2004 to become a part of the English department as a full time professor of Communication.

“I was really excited about coming to Roanoke College and being given the opportunity to develop a Communication program.  I love the discipline as a whole. Although I am classified as a ‘rhetorician’ I love interpersonal communication equally.” 

She recently created Friendship Communication, a new course in Interpersonal Communication.  She is planning to create at least one new course per year to expand the course offerings.