Robert Copeland graduated from Geneva College in 1966 and returned 15 years later as “Dr. Bob,” director of the Genevans choir and professor of music.
“I had been teaching at a Christian college in Kansas for 10 years and I loved it,” he says. “Then one day, I got a phone call from Dr. William Russell [dean of the college at the time]. He said that the college was advertising a position and asked if I would apply. However, the reason I came and the reason I stay here is because this is where God has called me to serve.”
When Copeland arrived at Geneva in 1981, he found the music department on the verge of extinction. There were not enough faculty to offer a music education major, and there were only 12 music students in the department as a whole.
“The college had actually considered dropping the music program,” Copeland says. “I knew something had to be done and done fast.” He immediately dug in to teaching, recruiting faculty and promoting the program. “Within two years we were definitely on the upswing, and within five years the whole program was really looking up,” he says. “Now we have between 45 and 50 music majors per year and the quality of our students has been improving greatly. This year I'm very happy with the freshmen we've got; they are talented, enthusiastic, confident and responsive.”
Even though the music program is thriving now, Copeland hasn't slowed his pace. He chaired the department for 18 years and continues to serve as a professor of music and director of the Genevans choir. He also spent two years as a faculty representative on President Ken Smith’s leadership team. But no matter which role he fills, Dr. Copeland strives to put education and the needs of his students at the top of his to-do list.
“We always have to remember that Geneva is an educational institution first,” he says. “Our concern is the quality of education that students receive. Students have needs — academic and personal — and I think the faculty at Geneva bend over backwards to meet those needs. But at the same time, there are many things my students know a lot more about than I do. There are plenty of times when I can draw on them and see what they have to teach me.”
Geneva College was selected to join the Undergraduate Microbial Genome Annotation Program, an initiative of the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI).