Beacon of Light
Thursday, June 10, 2021
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At a young age, Oklahoma State University natural resource ecology and management senior Seraiah Coe of McKinney, Texas, developed a passion for life and a hunger to learn about the details of her surroundings.
“As a child, my mother encouraged me to keep a nature journal to record the unique things I saw when I explored,” Coe said. “I would then delve into study at our local library concerning any flora or fauna I found in the hopes I could truly understand what I was observing and teach this information to anyone who would listen.”
Coe’s drive for success and service to others led her to receive the 2021 Louis and Betty Gardner Outstanding Senior Award.
This drive became essential, she said, as she encountered various family trials. Although she faced tribulation in her early years, Coe said failure was not an option.
“My father got remarried when I was 10,” Coe said. “My sisters and I suffered about three years of physical, emotional and verbal abuse at the hand of his wife and her son.”
Coe was told she was “extremely stupid,” would never make it through high school, and was not capable of achieving success, she said.
“From that experience — not because of it but in spite of it — I used my undergrad career as an opportunity to define the future I want,” Coe said.
“Attending OSU was one more step toward the life I wanted to make for myself,” Coe said, “a life I would refuse to allow anyone to dictate my limitations concerning growth and success.”
While attending OSU, Coe received awards, scholarships and recognitions for her work.
José Uscanga, director of multicultural programs, said Coe’s outstanding academic abilities set her apart from any student he has ever known. She has an excellent ability to manage her time, he added.
“Seraiah is brilliant,” Uscanga said. “She is so dedicated to her academics. She has an ability to keep up with all of that and get involved.”
By looking at her transcript, one sees she is a talented student, he said. People are blinded by her 4.0 GPA before they see the other areas they can learn from her, he added.
“She’s always been extremely enthusiastic,” said Sue Fairbanks, NREM associate professor and Coe’s academic adviser.
Coe’s level of interest, enthusiasm and diverse involvement makes her stand out, Fairbanks added.
Coe attributes her success to the mentors who helped her as an undergraduate student. She said a turning point was during her sophomore year when she met Karen Hickman, director of the environmental science program, and Cynda Clary, Ferguson College of Agriculture associate dean.
“Both Dr. Hickman and Dr. Clary provided me with essential connections and support for internships and positions that could further develop the vision I had of my future,” Coe said.
“During my time in the Ferguson College and at OSU, I found my community, my second family and my home,” Coe said. “That’s one of the major aspects that has shaped me throughout my college career.”
Aside from academic achievements, OSU gave Coe the opportunity to impact her peers, Uscanga said.
Coe said her first experience on OSU’s campus made it evident to her the people around her were genuinely interested in showing her the best options possible.
“This knowledge that I was actually respected as an individual within my college helped me to feel valuable,” Coe said. “However, I still felt isolated as an out-of-state student with no prior connections to the university.”
The feeling of isolation gave her determination to find specific people to help her reach her full potential through professional growth, she said.
“During freshman year, I was introduced to the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences organization, and it helped save me,” Coe said. “In MANRRS, I found a community of support and inclusivity I never realized I needed.”
Coe became involved in MANRRS, realizing a way to heal from her experiences by providing students a welcoming and encompassing community, she said.
“Through my involvement in this club, I found a voice that did not have to be validated by achievements,” Coe said. “Instead, I could find my purpose by pouring myself into making the campus better for those who will come after me.”
Coe used her personal challenges in the most productive way someone can — to develop herself, Uscanga said.
Coe does things over and above what is necessary or required of her, Fairbanks said.
While gaining experience to further her own future, Coe remains committed to helping others and involving herself in the community around her, Fairbanks added.
“Having that awareness of how the broader community is important and how you can give back, at such a young age, is really special,” Fairbanks said. “She’s not only focused on her own goals and career, but also she pulls others up with her.”
As the 2021 Louis and Betty Gardner Outstanding Senior, Coe wore the distinguished orange gown across the stage at graduation.
“When I was a freshman, I found out what an orange gown senior was,” Coe said. “I swore to myself as a freshman that I would be an orange gown senior but for all the wrong reasons.”
When she started her college career, she tried to find her self-worth through achievements alone, aside from how she saw herself as a person, Coe said, but today, she stands confident in herself aside from her accomplishments.
Coe plans to earn a master’s degree in biology and has been accepted to the University of North Carolina-Greensboro to research transgenerational environmental epigenetics, she said. Her end goal is to work at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, she added.
“My background has been composed of many intertwining positives and negatives,” Coe said. “I have used that background as a springboard to higher ambitions. Now, my path forward shines as a beacon of light to me.”
Story by Amy Gardner, Cowboy Journal staff