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Greener Scholars, Then and Now: Stephen Mitnaul, '09

Stephen Mitnaul, '09As the University of South Carolina continues to commemorate the 50th anniversary of desegregation, My Carolina Alumni Association is proud to support the Richard T. Greener Scholarship.

Since 1983, My Carolina Black Alumni Council has actively worked to attract bright students to the University by providing scholarships to graduating high school seniors who have excelled in school. Richard Theodore Greener, the man for whom the scholarship is named, became the first African American to graduate from Harvard University in 1870 and was the first African-American faculty member at Carolina in 1873. To find out more information about the Greener Scholarship, please click here.

There are so many great success stories with these scholarship recipients. Here is one of them:

“The University of South Carolina gave me chances to network and know how to meet people, which was essential when moving up to Philadelphia and not knowing anyone,” says Stephen Mitnaul, a 2009 graduate and former Greener Scholarship recipient.

“Through the University of South Carolina, I’ve been able to do a lot of research in electrochemistry working with fuel cells. The classes and the research definitely gave me the skills and knowledge that I needed for the job I have now. I was prepared academically to succeed professionally after attending the University of South Carolina.”

Mitnaul had a lot of reasons why Carolina was a good fit for his education. He’s a Columbia native and his mother, Merritt, works at the university and graduated from the school in 1981.

“I studied chemical engineering and I also wanted to minor in music,” Mitnaul says. “I wanted to stay in state somewhere, and South Carolina had a school of music, so that was another factor. Of course, with Steve Spurrier coming into town around that time, I told myself, 'I have to go here!'”

While Carolina certainly had a lot to offer, Mitnaul says it would have been a lot more difficult to make his dreams come true had he not been a recipient of the Greener Scholarship.

“It was just a blessing,” Mitnaul says. “To get a chance to receive a scholarship to help out with the cost of school and to not put any financial burdens on my family with me attending school, it meant a lot. I have a younger sister who is also now a graduate of USC, and at the time I knew whatever I could do to decrease that burden on my mom would be great.”

A chance meeting the summer before his freshman year at Carolina helped shape his educational and professional future. While attending a function for scholarship recipients, he found out about a grant that was given to the school for fuel-cell research.

“I went in thinking I wanted to do computer engineering,” Mitnaul says. “When I found out about this and spoke to Dr. John Van Zee from the engineering school, he informed me that this was something in the electrochemistry department for chemical engineering."

"So he gave me a chance to work in his lab the summer before my freshman year and gave me a chance to do some research," Mitnaul continues. "He told me if I liked it, then I could go into chemical engineering instead of computer engineering. That put me on the path where I am now with my career.”

Mitnaul put his education and opportunity to good use and currently lives outside of Philadelphia. He works as a validation engineer for Merck, which is a global healthcare company.

Mitnaul was fully engaged as a student at the university. In addition to Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, he was involved with the National Society of Black Engineers, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Brothers of Nubian Descent, Association of African American Students and the Residence Hall Association. He is also a graduate of the Honors College. With all of those activities, he’s proud of the strides that African-Americans have made at the university in the last 50 years.

Mitnaul spent a lot of time studying in the Swearingen Engineering Center, but when he had free time, he enjoyed meeting and interacting with a variety of people on campus.

“I got a chance to be very involved with a lot of campus organizations, which allowed me to meet a wide range of people from different areas with different interest and backgrounds,” Mitnaul says. “So that was a fond memory. Being able to be on the Horseshoe was great because of how historic and beautiful that area is. I’m still jealous of students now every time I watch a football game on television because I remember how much energy there is in the student section on game day.”

Following graduation in 2009, an internship at Merck eventually translated into a full-time job at the company. Mitnaul credits the culture at the university in helping him make that transition into the workforce.

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