Mary Cope’s academic accomplishments almost seem routine when compared to her life off campus. Cope is a 2014 graduate of Homer High School who is majoring in Mathematics & Science with an Honors minor. Her outstanding work has earned her membership in international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. She’s also a member of the History Club.
Cope’s Friday nights are much different from those of a traditional college student. She’s licensed by the State and Federal governments in Rehabilitation and enjoys helping animals recover from injury. “My Friday nights are spent responding to wildlife calls. I’ll get a call saying there’s a coyote or a wolf or a deer that was struck and is on the side of the road. I’ll drive out, see if I can find it and rehab it.”
Cope is also a licensed General Falconer. She began studying falconry at age 14 and went through a four-year long apprenticeship to earn her license. “I have always loved birds. I have had every kind you could have since I was three or four years old. I worked at Lime Hollow Nature Center and my boss, Peter Harrity was a master falconer. He first got me interested. There was also a woman who lived right up the road from me who was a falconer and I was close friends with her.”
Cope enjoys the opportunity to train predatory animals. “When we get the birds they’re wild. We get them to the point where they’re not terrified of us and teach them to come back to us. We use positive reinforcement with food. They start at a small distance and they hop to our glove. We lengthen the distance until we’re sure they’ll come back to us. Then we release them and let them fly. It’s like teaching a puppy to come.”
Cope plans to spend her life rehabilitating animals and practicing falconry but both will be her hobby rather than her profession. After earning her degree in May she will transfer to the University of Georgia and major in Poultry Science and Avian Biology. Cope has so impressed professors there she’s been offered a position as a Teaching Assistant for an Introduction to Avian Biology course.
As Cope reflects on her decision to come to OCC she says things couldn’t have worked out better. “I’ve really enjoyed it. OCC was a great choice. I commute every day and still get to work with my birds when I get home. It was a great choice financially too. Some of my friends in their second year of college are deeply in debt. When I graduated from high school I wasn’t ready to move 13 hours from home to go to school. I definitely am now.”