Q&A with Katie Cooper

A talented geophysicist specializing in planetary evolution and an award-winning teacher in the School of Environment, Associate Professor Katie Cooper blends chemistry, biology, physics, geology, and mathematics to helps students understand the world we live in and connect concepts from the classroom to real-world issues.

What is your main research topic?

I research how the Earth and other planetary bodies have evolved both thermally and tectonically. Specifically, I am drawn to such questions as: why do some areas of the Earth deform whereas others do not, why is plate tectonics preferred on Earth and not other planets, why are there regions of the Earth that have resisted the destructive forces of plate tectonics for billions of years, and what can these areas tell us about the history of our planet? To answer these questions I use a combination of theoretical and computational modeling, often tied to field observations, to understand the processes controlling the connection between the interior and surface of planets.

What classes do you teach?

I teach geology and geophysics classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. This fall I am teaching SOE 210: Earth’s History and Evolution where I cover everything that ever happened on the Earth in one semester, no big deal. Next semester, I’ll be co-teaching “Physics & Chemistry of the Earth” where we explore the physical and chemical processes that define and shape the Earth as well as investigate the planet’s origin and evolution.

What brought you to WSU Pullman?

My time as an undergraduate student at a land-grant university (Texas A&M University – whoop!) was incredibly formative. I benefited from the coupling of high-quality education, top-notch research, and critical outreach/extension (side note – my great aunt worked for many years as an extension agent for Texas A&M).

So, I was quite excited to apply for the position at WSU as returning to the land grant mission felt not only like a way to come back “home”, but also align with my values of conducting fundamental research on big, outstanding questions about our planet; accessibility to excellent Earth Science education; and diversity, equity, & inclusion in higher education.

Like many others, I fell in love with the landscape and the truly incredible local geology when I came out to visit. You may not know it, but the basalt all around Pullman is pretty world famous (for geologists).

How has COVID-19 changed how you teach?

While I feel like I’ve added an additional tech support hat to my teaching duties and my courses are reformatted to better fit a distance delivery, my primary teaching style remains the same.

Regardless of the format, I aim to share my passion about our planet with students. I want to provide my students with the tools and confidence to engage in science. I also want to make sure that I’m teaching from a place of empathy, compassion, and respect. These don’t change whether we’re meeting in the classroom or in Zoom.

What is a fun fact about yourself?

My hometown used to be known as the home of the World’s Largest Roadrunner. Paisano Pete still stands tall in Fort Stockton, Texas, but other road runner statues have since surpassed the giant, plexiglass wonder.

Top image: Katie Cooper (photo by WSU Photo Services).

From WSU Facebook page for the #WSUFacultyFriday feature.