College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; Graduate School

Destinee Cooper returns home and pursues a Ph.D.


Destinee Cooper remembers she was in second grade at New Prospect Elementary School in Anderson when she won her first science fair and advanced to a regional competition that was held at Clemson University.

More than 20 years later, Destinee is back at Clemson, this time as a first-year Ph.D. student in engineering and science education.

Destinee Cooper poses for a picture with her son, A.J., and husband, Aarin.

Since winning that first science fair, Destinee has accumulated some impressive credentials that include a master’s degree in chemistry education from Stanford University, experience as a Knowles teaching fellow and placement in Clemson’s new Bridge to Doctorate Graduate Fellowship program.

She said a recent retreat with the program’s fellows confirmed that she made the right choice.

“I have a family here, and we all have a common goal,” Destinee said. “We’re here to support each other. I like that we’re going to have that community along the way.”

Destinee graduated from Winthrop University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and then headed for Stanford. She took classes at night and taught chemistry to 10th- and 11th-grade students by day.

After receiving her master’s, Destinee returned to Anderson and taught chemistry at Westside High School for three years. Her husband, Aarin, who was in the Army, was transferred to Fort George G. Meade in Maryland, where they lived for four years. Destinee taught in the area’s schools, helped develop curriculum and sponsored a Women in STEM chapter.

Her return to the Upstate this year opened the door to pursue her Ph.D. at Clemson and live close to her parents, both Clemson alumni who help take care of her son, A.J., while she is in class.

Her mother, Linda Johnson, graduated in 1986 with a Master of Education. She now teaches special education at Hart County High School in Georgia. Her father, Kerwin Johnson, ran track for Clemson, winning All ACC honors from 1983-85 and receiving an undergraduate degree in 1987 in parks, recreation and tourism management.

Destinee, who is working with Dr. Matthew Voigt, said she plans to focus on equity and access in STEM education and that she is interested in becoming a professor. Her degree program is off to a great start, she said.

“I know it’s a large school, but all of my classes are really small,” Destinee said. “I feel like I know my classmates already. We know each other by name, we have really rich discussions and we’re all really passionate about this.”

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