David Copeland: an inspirational, loving educator

The winner of this year’s Daniels-Danieley Award, Copeland is often described by students and colleagues as caring, fair, professional and humorous.


It’s not often that a professor would ask his students to prepare the syllabus as part of their coursework.

It’s also uncommon for a professor to find the time to do mock job interviews with his students or to hold the honor of putting together “the most compelling” PowerPoint presentations students have ever seen.

Uncommon, but not impossible.

David Copeland, director of Elon’s Master of Arts in Interactive Media program, is such a professor and the recipient of the 2012 Elon University Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Students and colleagues often describe Copeland as a caring, fair, professional and inspirational teacher and mentor who approaches his students with humor. When talking about his character and contributions to Elon, a colleague in the School of Communications compared him to baseball great Cal Ripken Jr., saying he “improves the outlooks and the lives of everyone he touches.

“He is a generous colleague and professional collaborator, not only with faculty but also with the co-conspirators in his courses, otherwise known as ‘students,’” the colleague continues. “David is the peacemaker and optimist who can synthesize the issues, bring people together and make a difference.”

Copeland came to Elon 11 years ago as the A.J. Fletcher Professor of Communications. A prolific author, he has edited an eight-volume series on American war reporting and written several books, including The Idea of a Free Press: The Enlightenment and Its Unruly Legacy, published in 2006 by Northwestern University Press. He received Elon’s Distinguished Scholar Award in 2006 and in 2010 was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the American Journalism Historians Association. He previously taught at Emory & Henry College, where the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him the Virginia Professor of the Year.

Copeland commands respect from professors and scholars alike but perhaps more importantly, he has the admiration of his students, many of whom credit him for their career choices.

“David is the type of professor who changes student’s lives. He is the first place they turn when they get jobs,” a colleague says. “They call to tell him about their marriages and children. They consult him when they change jobs or go back to graduate school. They stop in for lunch when they are in town.”

The cleverness with which he tackles classes like Media History – the syllabus for this class resembles a colonial newspaper – is legendary among communications students.

“I have never been a ‘history-buff,’ but Dr. Copeland’s lectures brought the characters of journalism’s past to light through small details and anecdotes,” a 2009 alumna says. “His innovative style of teaching stems from his warm personality. He talks about his subjects, whether Gutenberg or Nellie Bly, like they were friends he grew up with.”

A member of the Class of 2011 says Copeland’s PowerPoints are like movies, adding that one her favorites, “Freaks and Geeks,” featured a photo of P.T. Barnum and Tom Thumb.

“It was a memorable way to learn about P.T. Barnum’s success as an advertiser,” she says. “In other classes, you might cram to remember mundane information just in time to pass a test and forget the information five minutes after the test is taken. Not in Dr. Copeland’s class. I will remember many of his lessons for the rest of my life.”

Copeland is the 40th Elon faculty member to receive the award but the first in the School of Communications. President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley ’46 and his wife, the late Verona Daniels Danieley, established the award in honor of their parents.

Coming up next week: a profile on Toddie Peters, winner of this year’s Distinguished Scholar Award.