Alumni pay forward to support diversity in engineering

Posted: July 22, 2019

Three engineering student awardees hold certificate while posing with alumni Timothy Pinkston and Megan Balgemann.
Alumni Timothy Pinkston (left) and Lambda Psi President Megan Balgemann (right) present the inaugural Pinkston Family Achievement Awards at the Minority Engineering Program
As an Ohio State engineering student, Timothy Pinkston ’85 was encouraged to strive for excellence by the Minority Engineering Program (MEP) and its leader, former assistant Dean Minnie McGee. Now he’s giving back to inspire the next generation of MEP students to excel in college and as engineers.

Pinkston also hopes his gift will help retain and graduate more underrepresented minority students in engineering.

“This is the best time, in my view, to be an engineer, given the grand challenges facing society and the impact they can make in coming up with better, more comprehensive solutions to problems,” explained the University of Southern California vice dean for faculty affairs and engineering professor. “I think it would be inspiring for someone to want to go into engineering knowing they can actually make a difference.”

His generous gift establishes the Pinkston Family Achievement Award Fund. It provides annual monetary awards to recognize students in the Lambda Psi minority engineering honorary who are performing at the highest academic levels, as well as an MEP student with the most-improved performance. It will also support the Academic Coaching in Engineering Program, which offers tutoring and study strategies instruction to MEP students.

As a student, Pinkston was active in the Minority Engineering Program—in fact, it’s what inspired the central Ohio native to choose Ohio State over applying to schools like Purdue and MIT. He attended the PREFACE summer bridge program and was a tutor. He also received awards for academic success, which motivated him to work hard and influenced his philanthropy later in life.

“I received a number of scholarship awards that recognized excellence in academic performance,” Pinkston recalled. “That was an inspiration for me and others to try to do well. Even if it was a small amount of money, a few hundred dollars, it was significant to help pay for books.”

Giving to the future

Pinkston isn’t the only MEP alum paying forward to support the next-generation.

Industrial engineer Herbert Robinson ’77 and his wife Barbara Sferra recently made a significant gift to establish the Herbert C. Robinson & Barbara Sferra Fund for Minority Engineering Programming.

It also supports student success by funding the expansion of the Academic Coaching in Engineering Program—enabling it to help more students and provide supplemental instruction for more courses.

“Ohio State supported me during my four years of education there. They were a critical part of my success in my career, so when I graduated I wanted to give back to the university who had given to me when I didn’t have much to give,” said Robinson.

Timothy Pinkston, Herbert Robinson and Phillip Barnes sit on a bench outside the Pfahl Conference Center.
Alumni (left to right) Timothy Pinkston, Herbert Robinson and Phillip Barnes are paying forward to support the next-generation of Buckeye engineers.

The gift also provides funding for experiential learning opportunities for MEP students who want to conduct research in campus labs.

“This funding will allow us to broaden the types of experiences that our students have by moving them into research laboratories for those who may be thinking of either going into R&D or pursuing advanced degrees in engineering,” explained Lisa Barclay, senior director of the college’s Office of Diversity, Outreach and Inclusion. “We’d really love to water those seeds and this gift will help with that.”

Phillip Barnes ’01, ’04, ’10 recently created the Dr. Anishka K. Turner-Barnes Legacy Fund for engineering student scholarships to honor his wife and fellow alum Aniska, who unexpectedly passed away in 2015.

It provides one or more scholarships to engineering students who are active participants in the Minority Engineering Program or National Society of Black Engineers.

“The world was a better place with her in it,” Phil said. “This scholarship fund is to keep her spirit alive, to help young engineering students who she would want to help personally if she was here.”

This isn’t the first time this trio has given back. All three contributed to efforts by the MEP Alumni Advisory Board—spearheaded by Robinson and Barnes—to establish two scholarship endowments in honor of McGee, MEP’s former longtime leader.

It’s a legacy of giving that inspires students, Barclay said, “Their gifts are transformational. Not just because of the monetary support, but because students see themselves in 10, 15, 20 years, and the impact that they can have.”

Pinkston, Robinson and Barnes hope their gifts will help future generations of Buckeye engineers also find the support they need to succeed.

“MEP plays a critical role for students of color, for underrepresented students, in engineering. It served as a home base, a source of motivation, a source of support,” Pinkston explained. “When you are the only one in a classroom and you can come to a gathering and see many others who are likewise trying to strive for the same thing—that is truly encouraging.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications,