Episode 2: Tisha Copeland

Camryn Billett hosts NCAS-M’s podcast Students, Scientists, and Stakeholders. She is a senior communications major and computer science minor at Howard University. Billett participated in NCAS-M’s Experiential Training Summer Program for Rising Sophomores (ETSP) in 2019. Currently, she is working with NCAS-M as a communications fellow. 

Podcast host Camryn Billett sits down with NCAS-M fellow Tisha Copeland to discuss how Copeland’s experiences with NCAS-M paved the way for her current and future career endeavors. Graduating in December 2021, Tisha Copeland is pursuing her undergraduate degree in sociology with an English and Latin minor at Howard University. She highlights how taking part in hands-on research projects and creating lasting connections with NCAS-M faculty members has inspired her to pursue her graduate studies and collaborate with NOAA in future research projects. 


Camryn Billett: [00:00:00] Welcome to NCAS-M Students, Scientists, and Stakeholders where you will learn all there is to know about NCAS-M. I’m your host and current NCAS-M fellow Camryn Billett. We are a student-led podcast designed to help you explore all educational and career opportunities available here at NOAA through NCAS-M. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories and conversations from students about their current and past experiences working here. You’ll get to understand our mission and hopefully come join us. Today we are joined by Tisha Copeland, who is a current student at Howard University here in Washington, DC. Tisha and I spent about a week together when we participated in the NCAS-M summer internship program. Hi Tish, and welcome to the show.  

Tisha Copeland: [00:00:57] How are you doing, Camryn?  

Camryn Billett: [00:00:59] I’m doing fine. Doing fine. How are you? 

Tisha Copeland: [00:01:02] I’m doing well. Glad to be here.  

Camryn Billett: [00:01:04] I’m glad you came, so just before we get started, I just think the audience should know what is your major and, um, when are you graduating?  

Tisha Copeland: [00:01:14] Oh my, oh, my major. I’m a sociology major, English and Latin minor, and I’m graduating December 20, 2021.  

Camryn Billett: [00:01:23] Sociology major, English and Latin minor. Okay, so my question to you is, how does that fit in NOAA cause we did the NCAS-M summer internship program? So I just want to know, how did you first hear about NOAA, and then how did you decide you get involved based on your major?  

Tisha Copeland: [00:01:44] Oh, yeah, like, um, so like I said, I’m a sociology major and my major, I had a mentor. Her name is Yasmin Allen, and she was very close with the, um, uh, professor in the department, Dr. Terry Adams and asked her to take me under her wing. She introduced me to Dr. Adams, and Dr. Adams has a cohort of graduate students and, um, yeah, it was very interesting. I was there. Um, and one of my TAs was actually one of her graduate students, so that was just, it was just like really connection-wise. Um, I was really interested in Dr. Adams’ project and the several different projects that her grad students had coming on, so just like constant communication with her. Um, I ended up finding out about the NCAS-M internship and decided to apply. And from there really took me from having and developing a NOAA project for myself, and then being able to work with Dr. Adams on her own several NOAA projects, and then her personal projects with her grad students.  

Camryn Billett: [00:02:51] So let me ask you, what were some of the projects or the main project that Dr. Adams was working on that piqued your interest?  

Tisha Copeland: [00:03:00] Oh, she was working, um, at the time she was doing studies on hurricanes and emergency managers and the, it was, um, it’s called like risk, risk, aversion, and risk perception. 

And it looks at how people respond, and how emergency managers are communicating weather storms, weather patterns in, um, and like developing hurricanes at the time. So, um, she had like several; her students were doing work on Katrina. Um, another student was doing work on simply just risk aversion and what, um, the cognitive and psychological effects were of when you have to make a certain decision given in a certain circumstance. Um, another one of her graduate students was working on, um, just like the types of effective communication with, um, written word or a news broadcasting or surveys, or just different types of tactics that newscasters and emergency managers in NOAA, or the National Weather Service. Whatever type of meeting they were looking at, the time was putting out information for their audiences or constituents, you know, receive. 

And it was, it was really interesting. Um, and then that gave me interest to look at, um, my personal project was, I looked at opportunity zones in Puerto Rico, following Hurricane Maria and Irma in 2017, which was what gave me a different type of sociopolitical look at the funds, and means of distribution of resources, and aid that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands received following, um, Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma. 

Camryn Billett: [00:04:45] So that sounds really cool. And it sounds like a little, so it sounds like your internship was mainly communications, but for me, and just for the audience out there, could you explain exactly what sociology is?  

Tisha Copeland: [00:05:01] Well, sociology can mean and can be described as many things when you come into the academy, I think. And, um, but however, sociology is really the study on societies, um, how society relates societal relations community. Um, and so kind of like, as me being trained in sociology, I have had this very interdisciplinary, um, understanding of the, you know, the field of sociology where, whether its environmental, sociology, communications, social psychology, um, you know, social development and things like that. So, there’s so many aspects and, um, kind of specifics in certain fields and stuff under the umbrella of associate of sociology that are all just effective in one situation such as like when a hurricane is coming. So, it’s, it’s psychology, it’s sociology, it’s communications, political science, since it’s environmentalism all in one. 

Camryn Billett: [00:06:12] So it’s, it’s all of those things and all of those things, you know, a lot of people have a perception that NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency), you know, is, it’s just really about the sciences. It’s about just, um, the ocean, the atmosphere, you know, physics, biology, chemistry, you know, just the, the scientific disciplines. 

But what I think people often forget is that. Okay. We have the science, but how do we communicate this important information? How do we get people to trust this important information? And especially like, you know, with COVID and everything, a communications team full of sociology majors, mass communication majors, psychology majors, et cetera, et cetera, is definitely something that I feel like could have been utilized more, especially during the Trump Administration to just better communicate the scientific aspect of the disease, and how we as a, as a nation and as a world should have responded to it.  

Tisha Copeland: [00:07:13] Exactly, and I think on the other, on the flip side of just communication is the research that’s behind it. So, I think a lot of people just kind of overlooked that there’s actually people who are doing studies on, you know, doing case studies and surveys on specific towns, specific cities, trying to put together something to put out to this new source of information to the public. 

And if that, if the research is not valid or seem to kind of adhere to the certain narrative that the public wants to hear, then that’s where it kind of just like it makes communication hard and it makes communication ineffective in a way. Because you’re not really putting out what needs to be said and what people really need to hear. 

But I definitely agree with you because it just like in this communication, it’s, it’s all about how people are going to like, audience, and narratives, and how people are going to feel about it, and all of those and, and, and being mindful of those in, in those ways, how you’re going to, you know, present your information to people. So, and I definitely–  

Camryn Billett: [00:08:21] –For them to receive it, for sure.  

Tisha Copeland: [00:08:23] Yeah, for them to receive it. And a lot of studies and findings are kind of astounding or they are hard to interpret or very just, you know, there has to be a certain, there’s a certain method to communicating effectively, especially whether communication, weather, or funds, and budgeting, and resources following a storm and things like that. So definitely.  

Camryn Billett: [00:08:49] It definitely helps us see how just all of our disciplines are, are interconnected, you know, with just the world at hand. Um, it sounds like you really enjoyed this internship. And so, I have to ask, um, just to confirm, did you enjoy it? Did you not enjoy it? Did you see this as a learning experience of maybe what you could pursue? How did this particular internship just influence how you went about your academic career and professional career?  

Tisha Copeland: [00:09:18] Oh, most definitely the summer internship following my freshman year definitely turned me into a researcher first and foremost. 

Um, and then the overall just the partnership and collaboration with NOAA opened me up to so many opportunities and um, gave me such like, like things I didn’t even imagine I was before COVID hit. I was um, going to go to Taiwan to study, um, with the Pire Institute for Dr. Adams in the sociology department, but because you know COVID restrictions that didn’t happen. 

But other than that, I ended up, my researching, my research with opportunity zones. The Puerto Rico actually, um, landed me a position. Well, um, a position in the Mellon Mays, undergraduate fellowship, which I’m a member of the third cohort of that. And then I am now, I’m also a current, um, NCAS fellow. So yeah, it’s just been door after door has opened since my first fellow internship. 

And that was my actual first internship of being in college, so that’s good. That was just so amazing. It was amazing experience, and just the network, and connections have still, are still lasting and still relevant.  

Camryn Billett: [00:10:36] So you guys heard it here first, if you want more doors off, if you want more doors open for you, you should definitely apply to be an NCAS-M intern today. I kind of had the same effects. I, for me, with NOAA, with the internship, it showed me, especially meeting you. I don’t think you know this, but meeting you and, um, Alani you worked with Alani too, correct?  

Tisha Copeland: [00:11:05] Yeah.   

Camryn Billett: [00:11:06] Especially meeting you guys and seeing that you guys were communications like oriented interns. It definitely opened my eyes to like, okay, so there’s more you can do here at NOAA. Because I was a physics intern, and I was working at the Beltsville campus with, um, some of the physics physicists and chemists and, um, other scientists on NOAA’s team, and all the people that I was working with over at the Beltsville campus, where there are biology majors, chemistry majors, computer science majors. 

So I’m over here thinking like that’s all that, you know, NOAA has, which is fine because at the time my major was physics, but in seeing, and meeting you, and hearing about your project, and me meeting Dr. Adams, and really opened my eyes not only to everything that NOAA has to offer, but just how if I wanted to change career paths, which I ended up doing, I still would be able to have a place here at NOAA. So that was like a really exciting thing for me. And I’m also a NOAA, a NOAA fellow as well. Can I ask what you’re working on as a NOAA fellow?  

Tisha Copeland: [00:12:12] Oh, well currently, um, Dr. Adams is putting together a project proposal or a grant proposal, um, getting more collaboration with other institutes, um, and other institutions too. Um, it’s like a weather consortium. Um, for just like I said, risk aversion, risk perception, just kind of finding out what schools are doing, what people in other places are doing when natural disasters are developing and occurring, and what they need from their emergency managers, their local governments, and things like that. So, it’s a really exciting project. I’m really excited to see what other, um, institutions we can get to join. And yeah, it’s, um, it, it, it really is. And it’s also bringing forth, bringing NOAA back into the HBCUs and, you know, and seeing how, ultimately, how weather affects Black people. You know, like I don’t think that’s something people really talk about or just really, you know, really pay attention to more, is how weather affects Black people, whether it’s rain, storms, the forest fires, you know, things like that. 

Camryn Billett: [00:13:27] So last week, I interviewed another intern that was with us. I don’t remember. I don’t know if you remember Alycia Triplett. Um, yeah, I interviewed Alycia. Im, she’s from Jackson State University, and she was, she is a meteorology major, um, involved with NOAA since basically before she got to college. But she was also talking about how NOAA has like influenced her to pursue, um, like, uh, uh, communications. I want to say. I don’t, I don’t know if she was a, a communications degree or if she wants to go to graduate school for that specifically, but basically, she was just talking about her future plans consisted of, well, she knows all about meteorology. Now, she wants to figure out how to communicate that to her community, especially because she grew up in the South where there’s like inclement weather, and she seen how people have either responded or not responded to certain emergency warnings, and information, and stuff like that. And she wants to better be able to communicate how the weather affects minority communities. And what I will say is that NOAA, I think in terms of like diversity and, and catering to like all communities. I think that one, it’s doing a good job, but two, it’s definitely going to expand in the future; because for me, like you said this, this was my first internship as well. And I did not expect to see so many different faces at my place.  

Tisha Copeland: [00:15:05] It was beautiful. It was so great. Like, and, and just like our team over at NOAA is so diverse. Like we work with, um, Dr. Lucy, uh, William. She’s, um, and Dr. um, Strohman she’s, they are communications, um, you know, experts, and Dr. Adams and I, and, um, and her other grad students, you know, are sociology-based. But she’s also working with other physics and other types of systems, design, CI people, systems designs, and it’s just such a collaborative, and everybody’s just in different disciplines, working together for this cause, and we all look different. We all come from different places and NOAA has just, I just feel like NOAA’s responsible for bringing us all together. And so we are, it definitely does cater to different groups, all minorities, and that’s why I just stand so fully behind this initiative and this proposal that Dr. Adams and her team, and I put together because it’s gonna make such a difference in the future. Most definitely.  

Camryn Billett: [00:16:10] Definitely, and like when you know that you have certain faces behind the scenes, it ensures that there isn’t like a single community left out. Because you always get the perspective from a different member of a different community. 

Tisha Copeland: [00:16:26] Yes, yes. For sure.  

Camryn Billett: [00:16:30] So your projects sound very interesting. They sound very, they just sound like you’re, you’re going to change the world. You’re going to do big things. I had a question for you before we started. You told me that you’re actually graduating early in December 2022, and I just want to know. 

Tisha Copeland: [00:16:47] ’21, this year at the end of this year. 

Camryn Billett: [00:16:50] Oh, I’m sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself. December 2021. 2022, would’ve been a little late, but that’s okay. You’re graduating in December 2021. And I just wanted to know if one, you saw yourself having a future here at NOAA and two, if not, what are your plans post-grad and how has NOAA shaped that?  

Tisha Copeland: [00:17:11] Yeah. Um, no, I really didn’t think I would be in this position thinking about graduate schools and PhD programs and things like that, honestly. Um, first of all, first and foremost, just being around Dr. Adams and her graduate team so early, that was just my first kind of experience was just like, oh, these are Black people getting their PhDs. These are, you know, they’re going to be experts in their fields. They’re producing new knowledge. They have just inspired me beyond, uh, I just they’re like my village is what I call them because they are just amazing. And then they were working at their different, um, schools and, you know, Towson and Bowie around in the area. But like I said, and so just kind of turning myself into a researcher, um, has put me for, you know, into Mellon, and Mellon has, you know, shaped me in a way that I have, I’m thinking about graduate school, and becoming a professor, and working in the academy, and kind of seeing myself as one of, one of them–you know, one of these people who are inspiring and, and shedding light to my own personal research topics. Like, um, I want to pursue, go, well, get after post-grad I’m going to take my little gap semester for the spring; but in the fall of ’22, I hope to be enrolling into a PhD program in social policy or sociology, just in, um, as my field, um. A couple, I want to apply to Howard of course, and keep working with Dr. Adams, but you know, directly, but I think maybe going to UMD, or Georgetown, or Duke, um, Northwestern, they all have great sociology programs and, or social policy programs that I’m very interested in. And so, yeah those, those are my plans post-grad. I don’t know. I mean, obviously I wouldn’t mind being at any of those schools. So.  

Camryn Billett: [00:19:17] That is exciting. Hearing everything that you have planned, um, makes me really hopeful for the future. Anybody here, anybody that I’ve interviewed or talked to here at NCAS-M that’s an intern or a fellow, but I will just say that the future is in good hands. You know, the next generation, the next generation, they, they doubt us sometimes, but the next generation, you know, we have goals, we have aspirations and we’re willing to put the work in to make this world a better place. And, it’s really making me excited and proud.  

Tisha Copeland: [00:19:49] Yes, exactly, and I really, I’m so passionate about sociology because sometimes people– 

Camryn Billett: [00:19:55] –I can tell. 

Tisha Copeland: [00:19:56] Thank you. Sometimes people ask me like, oh, what are you going to do with sociology? Like, that’s so broad and it’s broad. And that’s a beautiful thing because I feel like I’m just so, I’m so versed in so many different aspects and fields, and that I want to do, but I just want to just research and just write papers. 

I can do that. If I want to go and teach, and do lectures, and present my research, I can do that. And it’s just like, or if I want to do like, my hands-on working actually. Do you know, doing surveys or writing proposals and things like that, those are, it’s all activism? It’s all knowledge. It’s just, it’s so fulfilling. 

Camryn Billett: [00:20:32] It is. It is, and I love that you brought up that question, “What are you going to do with so-and-so major?” I keep saying this over and over again, but NCAS-M, um, like it just, it just opened my eyes to just even what a fraction of NOAA has to offer. So, like now, when people ask me, “what are you going to do with such and such a major, what are you going to do with such and such a major?” Like the first thing I think of is like, well, there’s probably something I could do here at NOAA. And then I go into, go into other things because it’s just, just an, it’s just a wonderful place. I feel like to just start, and to just expand your horizons, and expand like everything that you can do, everything, everything that you can do with your major. 

Tisha Copeland: [00:21:12] Exactly. And I think that it’s, I think about how NOAA was. So that was my first internship ever. That was my first time someone saying, oh, we want to, you know, we, we are here to support you. We’re going to put you with people who will want to see you do better. You know, you’re going to learn from this. You’re going to be able to show people what you learned. It was just, it was, it meant so much to me at the time, and the people who I came in contact with at, at that time in my life, and at the time of my academic career, it was just, it’s put me at such a different place now, you know, as a senior. And so, I honestly like, yeah. 

Dr. Adams and NOAA, Dr. Um, Dr. Maxwell Buddy, they were just so, oh, they’re just amazing. Everybody. Everybody connected to NOAA is amazing, and smart, and brilliant. You, Camryn. I was so shocked at your project. I was like chemistry? You were doing, like, I think it was like, uh, the aerosol cans or, I mean, you know, something comes through. 

Camryn Billett: [00:22:13] Yeah, so from this, I’m glad. Wow, you remembered. I was doing something, um, I was doing a physics project and I was just, um, focusing on basically how Saharan aerosols affect the climate and weather here in North America. It travels across the sea and traveling. Yeah, that was a pretty cool project, I will say. Before we close out, I just want to thank you for coming on to this podcast and just giving the audience just a little bit more insight into everything that NCAS-M has to offer. 

Tisha Copeland: [00:22:45] Yeah, no, no problem. Thank you for asking me to come on. I really appreciate this.  

Camryn Billett: [00:22:50] Of course, of course, and we hear at NCAS-M, um, and NOAA and the podcast and everyone behind the scenes, we’re very proud of you. Um, and we wish you the best of luck in your future.  

Tisha Copeland: [00:23:00] Thank you. You too, Camryn.  

Camryn Billett: [00:23:02] We hope you enjoyed today’s conversation and learned something new about NCAS-M. If you’re a sociology major, we hope you learned about something you can use your degree and major for. As always, there’s a place here for you, and we encourage you to apply at ncas-m.org. Again, that is ncas-m.org. We hope to see you soon. Thank you for tuning into NCAS-M Students, Scientists, and Stakeholders. If you like today’s episode, please subscribe and share it with your friends.