In some ways, Keairez Coleman is a pioneer, blazing what could become a well-worn trail between USC and a Southern university.

The visiting scholar from Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black college in New Orleans, is working this summer at USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy as part of the McNair Scholars Program, a government initiative that aims to increase the number of graduate students from traditionally underrepresented populations. But Coleman’s visit represents a prototype for a program the division aims to begin to better diversify its student body.

“We’re looking for creative, innovative ways to bring greater diversity to physical therapy,” said Xavier alumnus Terry Richardson II, a faculty adviser for the Physical Therapy Multicultural Leadership Alliance at USC.

“We’re the No. 1 physical therapy program in the country, and Xavier is the No. 1 school for placing African-Americans in health professions schools, so it seemed like a natural partnership.”


More diversity: Future visiting scholars

Like Coleman, future Xavier visiting scholars would audit classes as well as shadow researchers, physical therapists and physical therapy students to better understand physical therapy education.

Promising Xavier scholars could then apply for early acceptance at the division. While the details are still being worked out, Richardson hopes to finalize the USC-Xavier partnership later this fall.

In the meantime, Coleman, a track-and-field athlete majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry, is excited about the opportunities ahead during his eight-week visit to USC.

“I feel that this experience will be a critical point in my career journey,” Coleman said. “I hope to gain as much knowledge as possible and use this experience as inspiration for future endeavors.”

— Yasmine Pezeshkpour