Alumni Spotlight: Chris Cooper ’17

By Taylor Pardue | NC State Giving News

The former Park, Franklin, Goldwater and Churchill Scholarships recipient shares what he has been able to Think and Do since graduating from NC State — and why he’s choosing to give back to his alma mater now.

Chris Cooper
Photo provided by Chris Cooper.

If you had to sum up Chris Cooper’s time as an NC State student in just one word, “also” would be a fitting choice.

The chemical engineering major also majored in economics to maximize his time as an undergraduate student. Cooper was also a Park Scholar, participating in the program’s numerous development opportunities throughout his four years on campus. He also ran, literally and logistically, the Krispy Kreme Challenge as part of Park.

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

Cooper was also a member of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars program, which helps engineering students at NC State become even more well-rounded via interdisciplinary studies in the social sciences. Beginning his sophomore year, Cooper also conducted his own undergraduate research project. (More on that later.) He was also part of NC State’s University Scholars program, which trains students to connect their educational goals to their passions, become active citizens and embrace the challenges of a rapidly evolving world.

Cooper also received the Goldwater Scholarship, named for the late Arizona senator Barry Goldwater. That scholarship requires that applications include an institutional nomination from the student’s university. NC State officials were happy to oblige for Cooper.

This hard-working and determined alumnus has many other “also’s” to be proud of from his time at NC State, but one of the most important is the one that carried him across the Atlantic Ocean following graduation.

Three of a Kind

Cooper originally planned to go straight from his undergraduate studies at NC State to earning a Ph.D. from Stanford University. After receiving the Goldwater Scholarship his junior year, however, Cooper was encouraged by a Wolfpack faculty member to also — there’s that word again — apply for the Churchill Scholarship and pursue a master’s degree.

Named for the late British prime minister Winston Churchill, the Churchill Scholarship promotes ties between the United States and the United Kingdom by enabling students from the former to earn a master’s in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering at the University of Cambridge. The opportunity lasts one year and is valued at roughly $60,000, with tuition fees, travel expenses and more covered by the scholarship. Cooper was one of only 15 students to receive the prestigious award in 2017 and became the second member of the Pack, and only the fourth to date, to do so.

Cooper had already been accepted into Stanford’s graduate program by that point, but he deferred to attend Cambridge for a year after graduating summa cum laude from NC State. While earning a master’s prior to his Ph.D. came somewhat unexpectedly for Cooper, it turned out to be just what he needed before embarking on his West Coast adventure.

“I studied abroad in France the summer of my junior year at NC State, so I thought it would be great to live in a different country again for a while, especially since my time at Cambridge would be purely research-based,” Cooper said. “The exciting part for me was the opportunity to conduct research with no classes, because it was right before I had to choose what research I was going to do for the next five years at Stanford.”

At NC State, Cooper’s undergraduate research project involved liquid metals that could be paired with soft, deformable materials to create stretchable electronics. At Cambridge, however, he worked with dyes that could be used as solar cells to mimic plant photosynthesis. Determining which dyes were best suited for the task involved a considerable amount of computer coding, too, giving Cooper yet another skill set. 

Chris Cooper at Stanford University.
Chris Cooper giving the wolf sign in front of Stanford University’s Shriram Center for Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering. Photo provided by Chris Cooper.

Encouraged by the comparative ease with which he had switched research focuses between his undergraduate and master’s studies, Cooper changed research projects again when he finished Churchill’s accelerated degree program and entered Stanford. He is currently a fourth-year Ph.D. student working on wearable electronic “skin” that can act in concert with a person’s real skin — or, in some cases, in lieu of it.

Cooper focuses on designing the materials that make up the artificial skin, which, when fully developed, will allow the wearer to feel touch and temperature, elastically return to their original states when pinched and even heal after being cut just like real skin. The applications for such materials include continuous health-monitoring devices and more lifelike prosthetics.

Cooper plans to complete his studies at Stanford in 2023 and then, ultimately, become a faculty member at an R1 university (a doctoral university with very high research activity) where he can start his own research group. His breadth and depth of knowledge and experience have prepared him to be a globally minded researcher capable of success in any number of fields.

“I was fully prepared when studying at both Cambridge and Stanford as a direct result of the educational foundation I built during my time at NC State.”

Chris Cooper ’17

If you ask Cooper how it feels to have attended two of the world’s most elite universities, though, he’s quick to say that he didn’t attend two but three.

“NC State is an elite university,” Cooper said. “In my mind, the mark of a quality university is the ability to prepare its students for their next steps. I was fully prepared when studying at both Cambridge and Stanford as a direct result of the educational foundation I built during my time at NC State.”

Still Part of the Pack

Cooper is grateful for the scholarships that have made his many academic successes possible, but he’s even more thankful for the mentors and advisors he has worked with along the way. Being a Park Scholar, majoring in chemical engineering and performing undergraduate research introduced Cooper to faculty like Kim Roberts, Lisa Bullard and Michael Dickey. Each has helped Cooper navigate the world of academia, build on his considerable talents and apply for the Goldwater and Churchill Scholarships.

Now, as someone who understands the power of philanthropy firsthand, Cooper is giving back in order to help NC State, especially its professors.

“Dr. Roberts, Dr. Bullard and Dr. Dickey had a clear impact on my life and were integral parts of how I got to where I am now,” Cooper said. “They’re all still at NC State, so the university already has great professors; it just needs the resources to allow those professors to implement the programs that they’re excited about.”

Funds that are particularly near and dear to Cooper’s heart include the Park Scholarships General Fund and the Chemical Engineering Fund. He also served on the Park Scholarships Selection Committee in 2021 and was a guest speaker at a recent alumni event that honored the success of NC State’s Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign.

When asked why he has chosen to give to the university, the economics graduate gave a simple answer: It’s a worthwhile investment.

“The fact that NC State effectively supports such a large student body across many colleges and departments, with an endowment that is much smaller relative to private universities, is really impressive,” Cooper said. “To me, it represents a good donation opportunity because the university is servicing more people with less money, which makes me think, ‘This dollar is going to be more impactful when spent here rather than somewhere where dollars-per-student are already really high.’”

This article was originally published by NC State Giving News.

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