Before I Was: Life abroad molded advertising professor

Kelley Coppinger was born in Tehran, Iran, where her grandfather was a U.S. diplomat. Coppinger’s parents always taught her to be respectful of the culture. “A tip for students traveling is to keep your mouth shut and listen,” Coppinger said.

Mary Anne Andrews

From Germany to Saudi Arabia, Kelley Coppinger’s vast international experiences shape who she is as a teacher, professional and friend.

Coppinger is a professional in residence for WKU’s Advertising and Public Relations department. But before she came to WKU, the professor was “an artistic international and the daughter of an oil-man.”

She attended high school in Waterloo, Belgium, with 39 other students who spoke nine different languages.

After graduation, Coppinger faced a major decision: where to attend college.

“Choosing a college, I was also choosing a nationality,” she said. “It was bigger than just getting an education. It was figuring out where home was going to be.”

After touring several schools, she chose the University of North Texas. She said her family often visited Texas when she was growing up, but it wasn’t the familiarity that helped her decide.

Coppinger said her tour guide at the university, who was from Singapore, told her about the large international population. The diversity made her feel right at home.

But the adjustment to life in Texas didn’t come easy.

In her first English composition class, Coppinger said she couldn’t follow the cultural examples the teacher gave.

“I had no idea what he was talking about,” she said. “I had no frame of reference.”

Even grocery shopping turned out to be difficult. She spent hours in the store trying to choose among all the options she hadn’t had before.

In 1989, Coppinger graduated from UNT with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design. She chose the major based on her strength in art.

She started a print design business after graduating but soon realized she would rather work for someone else.

“Someone else should pay for your learning curve,” she said. “It’s much cheaper.”

After working at a few more jobs in the business, including “Texas Monthly” and the film company that made “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” Coppinger married her college sweetheart, Chuck, and the two moved to Bowling Green.

The professor said she never expected to work at WKU, but each day reaffirms her decision.

“I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said. “I’m really passionate about students learning and especially watching them succeed.”

Coppinger said she has a special interest in international students because of her background and tries to help them adjust whenever she can.

Although she has a daughter, she said it’s as if she has more than 100 kids because of her students.

Associate professor Kenneth Payne said WKU is very lucky to have Coppinger.

“Because of her life experiences, she can bring a tremendous amount of context to a routine assignment,” he said.

Payne said Coppinger is one of the most talented designers he has ever met who also has a gift for connecting with people.

“She is one of the most outgoing people in our faculty,” he said. “She constantly goes out of her way to talk to students. She has the courage to engage in conversations that many of us would shy away from.”

Caitlin Pike, a WKU alumna, said Coppinger took her under her wing during school.

The 22-year-old graduated in May and now works in New York City. Pike said Coppinger coached her during her job search last semester.

“Patience, not to get discouraged, but to work hard, and things will work out for you,” she said.