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Since it was founded in 1988, the Ohio State University Young Scholars Program has helped nearly 800 students become first-generation college graduates. Here’s Keith Lemar Coleman’s story. 

Keith was inducted into the Young Scholars Program during the spring of his sixth-grade year in elementary school.

“The program guaranteed me a full scholarship to university after high school graduation contingent upon completing a college preparatory curriculum with above average grades. Suddenly, this curious kid from Youngstown was beginning to see more opportunities available to him.

“The summer residence component afforded me opportunity to study, interact with Ohio State University faculty, and introduced me to many aspects of college life.

“YSP sparked my interest in higher education and provided me with the background and experiences to turn that interest into reality.”

Pre-Freshman and Cooperative Education program

Following Keith’s senior year in high school, he was accepted into the Pre-Freshman and Cooperative Education (PREFACE) program.

The preface program was offered on campuses across the country to African American, Native American, Mexican American, and Puerto Rican students in the 9th or 10th grades who wanted to investigate engineering.

“The six-week program gave me and the other participants the chance to experience engineering studies at Ohio State University first hand. The rigorous academic component prepared me to compete and to excel as an undergraduate engineering student. Just as important was the development and enhancement of life skills. We learned the value of teamwork, to be innovators and leaders and to appreciate the value of diversity and mentorship.”

Like the Young Scholars Program, the Pre-Freshman and Cooperative Education program offered Keith the opportunity to interact with experienced engineers.

“I was especially impressed with the accomplishments of Dr. Oliver McGee, who was the newly appointed chair of the department of Civil Environmental Engineering. He was the first African American full professor and African American chair of an engineering department in the history of the university. I was inspired by his achievements and delighted to have the opportunity, two years later, to conduct undergraduate research under his supervision.

“Dr. M spotted my potential and encouraged me to explore the idea of attending graduate school. During the summer of my senior year in college, I applied to and was accepted into the Ohio State Summer Research Opportunities Program.

Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP)

The Summer Research Opportunities Program at Ohio State is designed to help historically underrepresented students explore opportunities for graduate study and academic careers.

Over the course of nine weeks during the summer, Ohio State SROP participants conduct research with a faculty mentor on a topic of mutual interest and participate in workshops on research skills, seminars on topics related to graduate education, and professional development events. At the end of the summer program, participants present their research at a campus summary conference and a regional conference.

“The program introduced me to the rewards and challenges of research and provided me with multiple opportunities to present my research at Ohio State, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Akron.

“By the end of the program, I was buffered by skill-enhancing workshops, and the realization that I had learned new ways of analyzing very complicated problems. While presenting my research at conferences, I became thrilled by the knowledge that I was actually presenting something that could benefit society.”

Graduate School

After graduating with a distinction from the Ohio State University, Keith decided to obtain a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“As an MIT student, I was part of an accelerated engineering program in high-performance structures. In short, I was being prepared to take a leadership role in the building design industry, my childhood passion.

“When I was young I wanted to become an architect, I have always had a love and passion for drawing and designing structure.

“Both Ohio and MIT had given me a strong background in the field of engineering, however, I lacked the exposure to architecture that I desired. So I decided to obtain my second master’s degree at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

“My plan was to incorporate new skills that I would learn in the master of design students program so that I could become an even better designer and hopefully contribute to the development of innovative structures. I am now working as a structural engineer.

“Through my life’s experiences, I have learned the importance of mentoring. I would never have achieved so much had I not had people in my life like my Mom, professors like Dr. McGee, or programs like YSP, PREFACE or SROP.

“In 2002 I established the Otis Christian Scholarship, a needs-based scholarship for minority students attending Ursuline High School, The scholarship was created in honor of the late Otis Christian, a dear friend who supported my twin brother and me through school until his untimely death in 2003,” Keith said.

Over his career, Keith has worked at CH2MHill, Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP, and Kokosing Construction Company. He has been a structural engineer at Walter P. Moore since November 2014.  He is a licensed structural engineer in Atlanta. He has provided structural support in the analysis, design, selection, coordination, and detailing of structural components and systems for numerous projects, which included complex steel frame, concrete, masonry, and timber systems.

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