Exploring, within Reason

UC College Arts & Sciences Honors Student Kallia Cooper Seeks Answers to Mysteries of Cognition

Image of A&S Honors Scholar Kallia Cooper standing infront of McMicken hall next to one of the McMicken Lion statues

In her college application, University of Cincinnati freshman and College of Arts & Sciences Honors Scholar Kallia Cooper described herself as having, “a fiery thirst for knowledge.”

That fits.

As a high school student, she opted to attend a public prep — boarding school at that — for her final two years, simply because she didn’t feel challenged.

“Kallia has moxie. You just get taken in by her personality,” remembered Derrick Robertson, the College of Arts & Sciences’ Director of Recruitment.

“It was clear that she is an exemplary servant leader,” he said, noting that the clinching factors for the 2017-18 Honors Scholars selection committee were Cooper’s “interdisciplinary focus, well-roundedness, unabridged ambition and overall zeal for learning.”

Cooper accepted an inaugural College of Arts & Sciences Honors scholarship because the thought of pathfinding — consistently, within the guidelines of a loose-but-structured program — appealed to her.

“Unlike some of the other colleges where students might not get as much input,“ she said, “here, I might get the ability to help shape [the Honors Scholars program].”

Unusually inquisitive.

Cooper might best be described as idiosyncratic. She doesn’t go in for norms.

She listens to country, R&B, Christian, alternative and classical music in equal measure, and plays piano, guitar and drums. She loves dystopian fiction. She’s taken Spanish, German and Latin.

In one moment, Cooper reports that she’s interested in astronomy — arguably, one of the hardest of all sciences — then in the next says she doesn’t particularly care for questions that have an absolute answer.

She cares more about the process of discovery.

“I like living in my thoughts,” Cooper said, looking past, toward the wall behind.

It’s a trait that many introspective people exhibit in conversations: they don’t look at you, they look at whatever they’re considering. She’s that sort of student.

As a child, Cooper moved from Mississippi to Cincinnati, then back to Hattiesburg. Her mother’s people are from here, she explained, her father’s folks are from there. Different worlds, with different vocabularies.

“My decision came down to either UAB or here. This was a bigger campus. It was close to my family, but outside my comfort zone.”

She paused, then looked up.

“I’m fine with getting lost as long as I have a map to figure out how to get home again.”

Cooper remembers being fascinated by differences early on — between North and South, between herself and a cousin with Asperger’s syndrome, between people in general. Particularly, she wants to know from whence consciousness proceeds.

“I’m interested not only in the brain, but the mind. A lot of people think they’re the same thing. I don’t,” she asserted.

“People say that humans are the only animal with consciousness. But every animal has a brain,” Cooper noted. “What makes the [human] brain so different? It’s interesting to me that we know so little about it, yet we all have one.”

Question everything.

Cooper’s already declared her double major in Neuroscience and Philosophy. That also fits. On first impression, her mind seems neatly balanced between the analytical and the perceptive.

“Philosophy is essentially living in your thoughts and trying to figure out which of your thoughts are reasonable,” she postulated. “It’s the conscious versus the conscience.”

“I like the fact that you can question everything and come up with your own answers,” Cooper said. “It’s one of the reasons I like English classes more than math classes. You can do a problem in a multitude of ways, but there’s one correct answer.”

Philosophy thus appeals to her because, “it’s up for interpretation.”

“There is no one, right answer,” she explained. “I can say that somebody, in my opinion, is wrong, but I can’t say that someone is absolutely wrong or absolutely right.”

“The fact that you can’t say I’m wrong, means that I can say whatever I’m really thinking,” she said. “I feel like it opens the brain up for broad thinking.”

Seeking to make the perceptible intelligible.

Cooper is particularly interested in applying scientific models to psychological inquiry. She wants to know why consciousness happens the way that it does.

Cognition, she said, is interesting, “both in how we do it, and in what comes of it.”

She wants to know why human beings exhibit personality differences both when their brains are structurally identical (twins, for example), and when they are nurtured in or inhabit the same environment.

“What is it that makes me passionate about the brain and you about journalism,” she asked. “Why are we both into music, but not both into journalism? Why are we so different when we’re supposed to be so similar?”

The mind is ripe for discoveries, Cooper said, and she believes she has the wherewithal to make them. She thinks that, in examining the origins of consciousness, she might be able to help develop better treatments for cognitive disorders.

“I want to make psychology a harder science,” she said, smiling.