The first time Russell Crockett tested his mettle was after his junior year of high school in Washington, D.C. For six weeks, he took classes in the Carnegie Mellon Action Project (CMAP) summer program in Pittsburgh, the purpose was to take minority students with aptitude in math and science and expose them to engineering.
Before that summer, he says, he was like most teenage boys—putting up with school, discovering girls, not really thinking about where he was heading. But CMAP changed that. "I was an average student with above-average math and science marks but very little insight into competing with the best of the best," he remembers. "When I showed up at the program, it was intimidating. I'm sitting around kids who look just like me but who have straight A's and scored hundreds of points above my SAT scores. My big question was 'Can I compete?'"
The answer—he discovered by working hard—was yes. "I made a 180-degree change." He took that change back home. "My last year of high school, I really focused on academics and earned straight A's," he says. "There was just a clear direction about who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go."
And what Crockett decided he wanted was to major in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. Once again, the question of whether he could compete arose. He remembers being told early in his freshman year, "Look to your left. Look to your right. Look behind you. Look at yourself. Only one of you is going to make it through here." The candid assessment caught his attention. He ended up with a 3.25 GPA his first semester. "I was pretty proud."
CMAP re-entered his life, too. "There weren't many days that I didn't go by the office—just kind of check in, see who was there," he says. The draw came from the support and tough love he received. As he remembers it, the program directors would say, "We'll help you through this the first time, but next time, you've got to go out and get this by yourself."
"There was both the push and the pull," he says.
Today, Crockett (E'87) is a senior vice president for TPC Group in Houston, Texas, which provides petrochemicals to companies worldwide. But he hasn't forgotten his college days. He is passing on that "push and pull" to students by virtue of two $50,000 endowments, one to establish the CMAP Legacy Diversity Scholarship Fund and a second in support of the Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science. "The scholarship has been a chance for me to see myself all over again and give an opportunity to somebody else," says Crockett, who adds he is energized by his reconnection to the university.
That connection goes beyond gifts. He is a member of the CIT Dean's Advisory Council and was recently named to the Carnegie Mellon Board of Trustees, a role he was glad to take on. "The continuity of the diversity commitment at Carnegie Mellon is deep," he says. "It's not just fluff and words and glossy brochures with people from different ethnic backgrounds." Crockett can speak from experience.
—Sally Ann Flecker