September 13, 2023
Chris Copeland, Ph.D., came to the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) with an extensive background in chemistry and a passion for mentorship. Both have served him well in his role as a project manager on the ORISE STEM Workforce Development team.
Copeland manages the United States Forest Service research participation program, where he supports participants, leads outreach and recruitment efforts, and partners with staff from the agency. He also heads an ORISE diversity initiative focused on increasing engagement with students and faculty. The initiative looks to develop a stronger awareness of federal workforce development programs and the internship and fellowship opportunities supported by ORISE at academic institutions that predominantly serve historically minoritized groups across the nation.
“I want science to feel welcomed by all. But more importantly I want all people to welcome science and what it can do to improve their lives.”
“This is a multifaceted approach involving thought leadership and a robust communication strategy that channels directly to university career and alumni advising offices, faculty, and staff,” he said. “The committed, long-term strategy that is being developed and refined aims to effectively improve awareness of the variety of opportunities available, increase the application and participation rates and enhance the overall satisfaction of underrepresented groups in our programs."
This mission connects directly to Copeland’s personal love for science, and a desire to help those who might have otherwise missed opportunities to explore a future in STEM.
“I have always enjoyed sharing science, whether through teaching or through candid conversations over the phone or at lunch,” he said. “In recent years, I’ve searched for—and found—ways to broaden my impact, especially for those people that would otherwise not encounter the benefits of the sciences as I have and continue to do.”
A graduate of Georgia Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Copeland earned both his master’s and Ph.D. from Jackson State University, ultimately focusing on theoretical and computational chemistry.
“My graduate major is what some would still call a ’young’ or relatively newer field given that it is strongly tied to the advent of the modern computer,” he said. “Computational chemistry leverages the power of modern supercomputing architectures to solve chemical problems that would otherwise have to be wastefully carried out in a traditional lab setting.”
Before coming to ORISE, Copeland was an associate professor of chemistry at Georgia Military College, where he also served as the department chair for the natural sciences department.
As Copeland has transitioned out of academia and into his roles at ORISE, he said working with his team leader Rebecca Cavender has been beneficial. “Rebecca has been a daily beacon of joy, and at the same time, a monolith standing as a testament to what I’d consider to be a representation of true hard work within the company,” he said. “I’m often amazed at how efficient yet supportive she is day to day, especially in a remote work environment.”
When not looking for ways to nurture a love of STEM in others, Copeland enjoys hiking, refereeing high school and college basketball across the Southeast, and indulging his love for learning language. “I’m currently learning French for fun and for my next trip back to France,” he said.
Copeland said his personal call to give back to the community aligns perfectly with his responsibilities with the ORISE diversity initiative. “I want science to feel welcomed by all,” he said, “but more importantly I want all people to welcome science and what it can do to improve their lives.”
The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asset that is dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination.
ORISE is managed by ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, for DOE’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.osti.gov.