A mission to help those forgotten

Discovering hidden potential

Marketing major confronting youth homelessness

Christian McGhee has walked among the homeless. He’s mentored juveniles in a correctional facility. 

He’s seen what happens when children struggle to hang on, to survive. 

Instead of drifting away, following any number of career paths open to him, McGhee is helping children and teens leaving correctional centers create a future. 

McGhee was a 2018 President’s Prize winner for his vision to fight youth homelessness by creating a transitional home for juveniles leaving correctional facilities.

The project, GROW (Getting Ready Opportunities & Work), aims to create a non-profit transitional home in Columbus for three to five teenagers. McGhee’s vision is to build the leading youth transition centers throughout the nation.

“We want to make a big impact in these kids’ lives,” McGhee said. “I can’t stand to watch kids’ future be squandered because of absence of help.”

It’s a breathtaking dream for a Westerville native who grew up an Ohio State fan and a good student but not necessarily a visionary. 

“I didn’t even know my potential until I came to Ohio State,” said McGhee, a Fisher College of Business marketing major with a 3.9 GPA. “I wanted to do well, but I didn’t really challenge myself. Once I got to Ohio State, I started to see I had the potential to do good. I started to seek out challenges.” 

One of those challenges was applying for, and being accepted into, the Fisher Honors Cohort. McGhee entered his junior year.

McGhee’s idea for GROW began with the Honors Cohort’s Impact Challenge. McGhee and his team chose to focus on incarcerated youths following guidance from Susan Colbert, in the Office of Extension, and Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Terri Jamison, who educated the team on the difficulties young people face when leaving juvenile detention centers

Once the idea for GROW took root, McGhee looked the problem in the eye. He joined BuckeyeREACH to mentor at the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility. He and his team also toured homeless “tent cities” around Columbus to see what homeless teens endure.

While helping people is at the center of GROW, understanding people is bedrock of McGhee’s academics. The marketing major also minors in economics and fashion and retail studies. And he is a research assistant for Steven Spencer in the Self, Stereotypes and Social Norms Laboratory, which McGhee said allows for him to understand issues of stereotyping.

“I’ve always had a heart for understanding people — who they are, what it is they want,” said McGhee, who will graduate in May. “I wanted to use my education to learn about people and meet them where they are.”

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Challenging students unlocks wealth of potential

When Ohio State President Michael V. Drake interrupted a test to inform Christian McGhee he was a President’s Prize winnerTy Shepfer was watching from the back of the classroom. 

It was an excellent vantage point for a professor who helped his student discover and chisel out a vision. 

“Seeing Christian get recognized, being part of that journey, that’s why I love what I do,” said Shepfer, a Fisher College of Business senior lecturer and director of the Honors Cohort Program.   

When McGhee joined the Honors Cohort his junior year, it was a turning point.

“When I first joined the program, I was not the same person,” McGhee said. “I was less confident and strong in a number of my skills. Ty really pushed me. There was one instance he said, ‘I don’t think you have a clear vision for yourself — you need to figure that out.’ It made me take time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life.”

Expecting excellence in a supportive role is the culture among mentors, professors and leadership at Ohio State, Shepfer said. Along with that, the university is committed to preparing students for an evolving future.

“There are stats out there that say 50 percent of the jobs that will exist 10 years from now don’t exist today,” Shepfer said. “That tells us as an academic institution the skills we’re teaching our students have to be for the jobs that exist tomorrow. Ohio State does this across disciplines and colleges, giving students ambiguous tasks and letting them surprise you. They may stumble and fall several times before they figure it out, but that’s the exact skillset we need to be teaching.”

And in many ways, McGhee’s experience in the Honors Cohort is a microcosm of his evolution as a student and a person from the time he entered Ohio State. 

“From the time I first interviewed Christian, you could tell there was a lot of potential there. It was just figuring out how to unlock it,” Shepfer said. “And to see his level of growth in a year and a half is incredible. He’s at a point now where he’s a man on a mission. He’s found his voice, his purpose — the sky is the limit for him.”

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Whether you're planning to confront youth homelessness or change an entire country's car industry, you'll find the support to make it happen at Ohio State. Kathy Guo is another student who found her place at Ohio State.

Read Kathy's Story View All Stories