(Posted December 13, 2021)

Dr. Clay Cooper ’13

Dr. Clay Cooper ’13

HUNTINGDON, Pa. — When Dr. Clay Cooper ’13 first traveled abroad to Mexico while a student at Juniata College, he discovered a world of opportunities to connect, learn, and grow through study abroad and language immersion. By founding the Eagles Abroad Scholarship Endowment to be awarded to students enrolled in the Eagles Abroad Scholarship program, Cooper hopes to broaden access to future study abroad opportunities. 

“Language and global cultures are a part of what a liberal arts education is,” says Cooper. “The Eagles Abroad Scholarship was a great model for language development, so I thought we could continue to sustain that funding through an endowment and amplify the impact by giving more scholarships than what is currently funded.”

Cooper knew that both language and medicine would play a role in his future career. He loved science and explored that interest further during a high school internship at a large medical center. 

“I remember one experience where a doctor didn’t speak Spanish and the patient didn’t speak English,” he says. “They didn’t use an interpreter and both left frustrated. That was enough for me to say I am going to stick with Spanish and learn it well.”

With that goal in mind, Cooper visited Juniata College as a high school junior. 

“I knew of Juniata’s strong reputation for preparing students for careers in medicine and I knew people who had gone to Juniata and were able to study abroad,” says Cooper. “At my first open house, my tour guide was studying biology and Spanish and had just returned from study abroad. I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’” 

As a member of the Juniata College Choir, Cooper traveled to Brazil, Hungary, Romania, Ireland, and Guatemala. His first study abroad experience was in Orizaba, Mexico, and his four-week language immersion was supported through Eagles Abroad. He then stayed for an additional six-week internship through the Red Cross. 

“It was the first time I actually immersed myself in a language,” he says. “I felt like my Spanish grew so fast that summer.”

Cooper spent his junior year studying in Quito, Ecuador, which offered him a breadth of experiences many of his peers entering medical school lacked. 

“A lot of people had what felt like cookie-cutter experiences,” says Cooper, comparing a typical college experience against the experience he and his undergraduate classmates had at Juniata. “One thing I quickly realized was that many enjoyed their undergrad experiences, but no one else could say their undergraduate experience made them a better person.”

Following his graduation from Juniata, Cooper completed both his Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Business Administration degree. His choice to pursue a business degree was sparked by a desire to provide healthcare for underserved populations, which often requires applying for grant funding. 

Now, Cooper practices family medicine through Geisinger Lewistown in nearby Mifflin County, where he uses his Spanish language skills to better serve some of his patients. 

“When anyone is in the hospital, emergency department, or clinic visit, it can be uncomfortable. There can be so much lost in translation. If I can walk in and greet someone in their native language, you can immediately see them become more at ease,” he says. “I had a really strong science education at Juniata, but it’s the Spanish I use every day when I’m seeing my patients.”

Cooper’s hope for the Eagles Abroad Scholarship Endowment is that his fellow alumni will lend their support to provide current and future students with opportunities for cultural immersion and world language acquisition. 

“Studying abroad and language immersion opened a lot of doors, enhanced my education, and changed how I learned. The endowment will allow people to come to Juniata knowing that they’re going to have these great opportunities and it will help them see what a four-year trajectory in a language might look like,” Cooper says. “If more alumni can start to contribute, we can really start to pay forward the opportunities we’ve been given so that those following behind us can have the same experiences.”

To learn more about supporting this endowed scholarship or to learn more about similar opportunities, contact the Office of Advancement at www.juniata.edu/offices/gifts/contact-us/. To make a gift visit www.juniata.edu/give and note Eagles Abroad Scholarship in the comments section or select the gift designation of your choice.”

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.