Accomplished African American alumni

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On February 22, 2024

Image of Chi Epsilon chapter from 1960

The 1960 chapter of Chi Epsilon, a civil engineering honor society, at S&T. Lelia Thompson Flagg, pictured front row third from the right, was the first African-American female to graduate from S&T. Image from the 1960 Rollamo Yearbook.

During our 150th anniversary, many alumni accomplishments and stories were featured in celebratory publications. During Black History Month, we offer a look back at this selection of distinguished Black alumni and their outstanding achievements that show how students persevered and paved a way for others throughout S&T’s history.

Lelia Thompson Flagg, who earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 1960, was the first African American woman to graduate from Missouri S&T and one of only 11 women on campus during her freshman year in 1956. She excelled at math in high school and was encouraged by her teachers to study engineering. When she arrived at Missouri S&T for the first time, there was no campus housing available to her. Instead, she lived with a Black family south of campus while earning her degree. After graduation, she held engineering positions in California and Illinois before returning to S&T as an assistant director of admissions.

Louis Smith, who earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering in 1966, was a former president of AlliedSignal Inc., which bought Honeywell and adopted its name. Smith recalls, when as a young engineer for AlliedSignal, his friends were talking about their goals and, when asked, Smith said that he wanted to be president of the division. “My friends laughed at me and said, ‘there is no way an African American will ever be president of this place,’” says Smith. “I still see some of those people and many still have the same job they had then — they saw themselves as limited.” Smith later became president and chief executive officer of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Kwesi Sipho Umoja, who earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering in 1967, says that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death had a profound effect on his perception of the future. Umoja, then known as Eugene Jackson, was one of only 19 Black students on the S&T campus when he was in school. He would go on to start the first Black-owned and operated national radio network, National Black Network, in 1971. In 1994, he helped launch the World African Network Cable System, which distributed news by satellite to 125 Black-focused stations in the United States.

Zebulun Nash, who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering in 1972, was part of a team that got its start by raising funds for the creation of a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship through S&T’s Miner Alumni Association. It took 20 years, but the scholarship endowment finally became a reality for the university’s students. Nash’s career included service in the Peace Corps in Kenya in the 1970s and a successful managerial career with ExxonMobil.

Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, who earned a master of science degree in engineering management in 1972, served in the U.S. Army for over three decades in leadership positions from Korea to Germany to the Pentagon. He also served as chief and commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1996 to 2000. In 2001, he founded the Ravens Group, a firm that provides professional services to federal government agencies.

Dr. Tamiko Youngblood, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mining engineering in 1992, a master’s in engineering management in 1994 and a Ph.D. in engineering management in 1994, was the first Black woman to graduate from Missouri S&T’s mining engineering program and later became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. from S&T. “I’ve always seen myself as being out in front, a leader,” she said in a 1997 interview with Missouri S&T Magazine. “I’ve always seen myself as breaking down walls to let more people through.”

Read more Miner Stories on Missouri S&T’s 150th website.

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On February 22, 2024. Posted in Alumni, Chancellor, People

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