UT Austin Senior Wins National Student Employee of the Year Award

Coleman Tharpe

AUSTIN, Texas — You may not suspect that a senior majoring in anthropology and radio-television-film is shaping the future of Texas engineering, but then, you haven’t met Coleman Tharpe, a marketing and communication student employee with the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Webber Energy Group at The University of Texas at Austin.

Today, Tharpe received the UT Austin President’s Student Employee of the Year Award at an annual luncheon hosted by Human Resources and the Division of Student Affairs. But the big surprise came when Desiree Noah, president of the National Student Employment Association, appeared at the podium to present Tharpe with an additional award — National Student Employee of the Year. To advance to the national competition, Coleman also won a regional competition.

This singular honor is the result of Tharpe’s groundbreaking work on a massive online course (MOOC) for the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“While I did the (course) content, he really managed the strategic communications plan on how to get students to enroll and keep them engaged,” said Dr. Michael Webber, deputy director of UT Austin’s Energy Institute and MOOC instructor.

The MOOC, Energy 101, is now one of the most successful to date. According to nomination documents, Tharpe planned and managed a social media presence that allowed over 44,000 students from six continents to connect with Webber. This online connectivity influenced and allowed an unprecedented 4,700 students to earn their certificates. Tharpe then worked with Webber to repackage the Energy 101 content into an innovative “course app,” a first for UT Austin.

National Student Employee of the Year is just one in a series of accolades Tharpe has received. This time last year he was a finalist for UT Austin's President’s Student Employee of the Year Award, and in December 2014 he was awarded the President’s Leadership Award from the Texas Exes.

“He’s achieving at a level you might expect from someone who has decades more experience,” said Webber. “He has a much broader vision about the way the world works...a much longer term strategic view of how to get things done.”

Webber said he believes there is no question that Tharpe will be an entrepreneur, a business leader, a thought leader.

“He’s going to make his mark on society,” Webber said.

Background: Tharpe was selected for the national award from a field of 2,539 nominees from four regions across the country.

The National Student Employment Association (NSEA) is a nonprofit association of professionals involved with programs for students who work while attending college. The organization supports and promotes student employment through research, professional development and the exchange of information.