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Banding together to help fellow Buckeyes

Herbert Robinson ’77 (center) chats with Minority Engineering Program students (from left) Abrahm Williams, Jasmine Jones, Daniel Bond and Paloma Cooper-Reynoso.
The Minority Engineering Program (MEP) was more than a helpful academic program— it was a second family, explained Kevin Chenault (’17, aerospace engineering). One that supported him throughout his undergraduate experience, not just academically, but also financially.

Chenault is one of many MEP alumni who credit the program— especially the efforts of its longtime leader, former Assistant Dean Minnie McGee—with putting them on the path to success. When McGee retired in 2015 after 40 years of service, those passionate Buckeye engineers came together to establish two scholarship endowments in her honor.

MEP Alumni Advisory Board Chair Herbert Robinson (’77, industrial and systems engineering) said he and his fellow alumni wanted to honor McGee for “going above and beyond what anyone would expect,” including following up with students after graduation, through graduate school and during their careers. She even continued to reach out to students who ultimately decided engineering wasn’t the right fit.

When the MEP board asked fellow alumni to join them in supporting two new scholarship endowments in honor of McGee, the response was overwhelming. By the end of fiscal year 2016, 172 donors—spearheaded by generous gifts from Robinson and fellow board member Phillip Barnes—had donated more than $215,000 to the funds.

By improving students’ financial lives, the board members saw the endowments as an extension of the mentoring, coaching and networking support the program has provided to nearly 2,000 underrepresented minority students since it launched in the 1970s.

“There are constantly gaps in funding for students, particularly those finishing college,” explained Barnes (’01, electrical and computer engineering; ’04, ’10, biomedical engineering). “We wanted students to feel that MEP is there for them, not just academically, not just socially, but also financially, which helps them say, ‘I feel invested in, now what more can I do?’”

Receiving the inaugural Minnie McGee MEP Eminence Scholarship—a one-year $5,000 award—not only gave Chenault the time to focus on his studies, it also enabled him to give back. “It affected me greatly. The scholarship basically paid for a semester of school,” he said. “Having that free time meant I was able to give back to MEP and the engineering program by being more available for community service, including giving tours, talking to prospective students and tutoring.”

Thanks to donors’ generosity, $13,000 in new scholarships were awarded to MEP students in 2017 to help them complete their degree programs.

Acknowledging that today’s students are facing as big or bigger challenges than ever, Robinson hopes the scholarships will reduce students’ debt burden and the stress of how to pay for their final years of school, and enable them to achieve their dreams.

“I hope they will recognize what we have learned, which is that you cannot do it on your own, and that they will begin to give back,” he said.

By supporting future generations, alumni are ensuring that more students like Chenault will feel like part of the MEP family. Family that not only succeeds as engineers, but gives back to help others do the same.