Cynthia Oliver Coleman (BSChE ’71), P.E., is a retired ExxonMobil chemical engineer and a passionate engineering volunteer leader. Since graduating magna cum laude in 1971 and becoming one of the first women (and the first Black woman) to receive a chemical engineering degree from the UH Cullen College of Engineering, she has been on a lifelong mission to help others, especially women and minorities, to pursue engineering. She currently serves on the UH Petroleum Engineering Advisory Board, the Cullen College’s Campaign Committee for the UH $1 Billion Campaign and the UH Alumni Association Foundation Board. She is a dedicated advocate and donor for UH Women in Engineering, a program that cultivates a community of support among female engineering students, faculty and alumnae. She also serves as counselor for the UH Society of Women Engineers, providing annual scholarships to its members and donations for special initiatives. She is a past president of the UH Engineering Alumni Association (UH EAA) as well as founder and chair emeritus of UH EAA Engineers Week, which generated a 10-year total of $330,000 in scholarships for UH engineering students and student organizations under her leadership.
Coleman’s life is filled with “firsts” — in 1967, when she enrolled as a freshman at the Cullen College, Coleman was both the only woman and the only Black woman in the chemical and biomolecular engineering department at that time. Even though she had doubts about engineering, she persevered to obtain her degree, becoming the first in her family to graduate college. Coleman began her career as the first woman engineer in the large East Texas Division of Exxon (then Humble Oil). During her 33-year ExxonMobil career she was featured in various publications and held positions in gas engineering, reservoir engineering, engineering applications, engineering recruiting and engineering information systems before her retirement in 2004.
Coleman has received the UH EAA Roger Eichhorn Leadership Service Award and the UHAA Outstanding Volunteer Award. Coleman’s involvement in the UH Women in Engineering program inspired an award named after her. She served as the distinguished speaker for the fall 2017 UH Cullen College convocation ceremony, was featured in various UH magazines and is one of 238 women engineers in the country featured in “True Stories of Women Engineers,” a book used in educational outreach. She is a senior life member of the Society of Women Engineers and recently received the Woman of Excellence Award from the Society’s Houston Chapter. She is also a life member of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Coleman is married to UH alumnus Leonard, and they are proud parents of UH alumna Kelly.