Becca Cooper has traveled the world supporting young refugee girls through after-school sports and education programs. While much of her enthusiasm comes from being surrounded by strong and intelligent women throughout life and now at the Schar School of Policy and Government, Cooper has set her sights on an even more challenging field: the Middle East.
Cooper grew up in rural Alabama before attending college at the University of Mississippi, studying Arabic and Political Science. “At Ole Miss, I studied abroad in Amman, Jordan, to learn Arabic,” she said. “I knew I wanted to continue to improve my language skills, so I ended up going back for a year-and-a-half after graduation.”
Little did she know that her travels in Jordan would lead her to a U.S. based nongovernment organization called "Squash Dreamers."
“Squash Dreamers specializes in putting refugee girls in sports and English language programs,” she said. “I was the interim country director, so I oversaw the programs, got the nongovernment organization legalized in Jordan, and helped to build the organization.”
The organization's mission did not stop at school-age girls though.
“We employed mainly women for administrative tasks and teaching,” she said. “When I started, we had 15 girls, and I expanded the program to 30 girls.”
Cooper aimed to showcase the program on an international scale. “We sent three girls to a squash tournament in Beijing, China,” she said. “This was really hard to do, because they were refugees, so they didn’t have a country or a passport. I am really proud of how the organization was able to pull its resources together for these girls.”
Cooper’s work at Squash Dreamers will stay with her throughout her career. “I saw how you can be helpful in a different capacity, but ultimately, I wanted to get my Master’s in International Security, focusing on conflict resolution, threat analysis, and intelligence.
“The Schar School has the second best international security program in the nation,” she said. “The thing that sets the school apart are the professors. They are at the forefront of their fields.”
Cooper works as a graduate professional assistant in the Schar School’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center headed by Louise Shelley. “TraCCC is a bunch of strong and successful women on the cutting edge of security,” she said with conviction rising in her voice. “Dr. Shelley is a respected and well-connected practitioner in her field.”
It would seem Cooper is on a similar career path.
“Becca has been helping to produce our exciting program of events and using her experience in the Middle East to work on the terrorism database,” said Shelley, refereeing the Global Terrorism Trends and Analysis Center, which, among other duties, provides updates on terroristic activities to Congress. “Students who have worked on the terrorism database are being snapped up by employers as they have the knowledge and analytical skills necessary for the security community. I am sure that Becca will follow in this job trajectory and find employment that combines her regional expertise and her substantive knowledge.”