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Posner Fellowship: The seeds of scholarship

Student and professor forge a lasting bond by unpacking a famous film

Julia Stern and Kori Cooper
English professor Julia Stern mentors Kori Cooper. Photo by Michael Goss

- Part of a special feature on the Posner Fellowship Program, which offers students a chance to learn research skills with the help of a faculty mentor


English professor Julia Stern remembers the first time she heard from Kori Cooper ‘18.

“Kori appeared in a big lecture of mine, in the second row,” Stern says. “She was this phenomenon. She would say things that were extraordinary; she would give these incredibly complex, rich and sophisticated interpretations of what we were reading in class.”

About a week after Stern realized Cooper’s star power, she asked Cooper to meet with her after class. Stern told Cooper about Posner and encouraged her to apply. Once Cooper was accepted, it was all but a given that she would work with Stern. Stern harbors an especially powerful connection to the program since her father, alumnus Charles Stern ‘52, was instrumental in its creation.

"For Kori, Northwestern has opened up a world of opportunity."

In summer 2015, Cooper did a research project on Gone with the Wind. She looked into black representation and viewership of the book and the film. Both Stern and Cooper have a particular interest in Hattie McDaniel, who played “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind and was the first African-American to win an Academy Award.

Kori Cooper
Kori Cooper

“There didn’t seem to be a lot of literary criticism out there about Gone with the Wind as a novel, even though there was so much about it as a film,” Cooper says. “I thought it was worth doing a project exploring why the book isn’t considered part of the canon. It pointed me in a direction I might want to return to for my senior honors thesis.”

Since completing her Posner summer project, Cooper spent two quarters in China. She interned with Ariel Investments. She received a Mellon Mays fellowship, with Stern as her adviser, and will be traveling to Vienna over Spring Break as part of Humanities 301, an application-based course offered through the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.

Julia Stern
Julia Stern

“For Kori, Northwestern has opened up a world of opportunity,” Stern says. “She’s just soaking up as much experience as she can.”

Cooper intends to keep seizing opportunities, and after she graduates with a major in English literature and a minor in Chinese language and literature, she may go on to earn her PhD. Whatever she decides, Cooper knows she wants Stern to be a part of her future.

“Professor Stern and I have created a bond that goes beyond just mentor-mentee,” Cooper says. “I think of her as a good friend.”

 - The Posner Fellowship Program began with a seed grant from the Davee Foundation secured by Northwestern alumnus Charles Stern ’52. Soon after, the program was, and still is, supported by the generous contributions of alumnus and Board of Trustees member Brian Posner ‘83.

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