The Ohio State University Alumni Association

2021 Alumni Awards

Lisa Coleman ’94 — Diversity Champion Award

Presented to alumni who have made a significant and sustained contribution that fosters diversity and inclusion in their broader community and/or organization. Their efforts must recognize and respect the value of individual differences such as race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, sex, age, disability, veteran or military service status, gender identity, economic status, political belief, marital status or social background.

Finding common ground the world over

Wherever she goes, Lisa Coleman ’94 seeks to create a sense of belonging. She’s known for opening the doors to education to the disenfranchised and for creating programs that bring together people of divergent backgrounds and viewpoints.

As senior vice president for global inclusion and strategic innovation at New York University, Coleman oversees diversity initiatives for the New York, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai campuses.

A trailblazer in her field, Coleman headed up similar programs at Harvard University and Tufts University, and also has worked with private and public sectors, creating partnerships with Walt Disney Imagineering and the New Zealand Ministry of Education.

How did your experience at Ohio State contribute to the person you are today?

In three ways. One, it taught me how to work with peers, to build a team and to work with a cohort. Second, Ohio State is a tremendous place to do research. With University Libraries, you have the ability to get documents from around the world. And since so much of my work today is informed by academic research, that foundational work was central. Lastly, leadership. I was head of a student group formed to address sexual harassment and sexual assault, and I also got to attend many leadership workshops. I wouldn’t be as good a leader today without my Ohio State experience.

Who are your heroes?

Many are from my family. My mother was the first black president of the American Business Women’s Association. My uncle was the first black fire chief where I grew up, and my grandmother was a jazz pianist. My other heroes and heroines are people who have stood up and taken risks. People like Claudette Colvin, who was a child in Alabama when she wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus; this was before Rosa Parks. And James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and many others who want to build a better humanity.

What can each person do to make this world a more inclusive place?

We have to be able to come together and debate. We need to hash it out when we have differences and find common ground; that’s what belonging is. We’re all individuals, so no two people think exactly alike, and we need to work across those gaps and differences without annihilating one another.

See all 2021 Alumni Award honorees