The Journey to Graduation: UC CEAS Students Overcome Adversity to Earn Their Degree

By: Ashley Duvelius

UC CEAS students, Ashley Frierson, Cheyenne Harden and Moustapha Lo, receive their bachelor’s degrees at the UC All-University Commencement this weekend. Their path to success has not been an easy one—day after day these students overcame unimaginable obstacles. Through hard work, courage and determination, they have proven their unwavering excellence.


Dayton native, Ashley Frierson, decided to come to UC after attending the Cincinnatus Scholarship Competition as a high school student. After graduating from Northmont High School, she enrolled at UC with the feeling she was meant to be a Bearcat. Frierson initially entered the biology program, but quickly changed to biomedical engineering before starting her college career. She took off from there.

Frierson led a successful college career, with the help and guidance of her advisors, Jeffrey Johnson, PhD, CEAS biomedical engineering associate professor educator; and Christine Johnson, CEAS Emerging Ethnic Engineering Program (E3) administrative secretary. She immediately joined the E3 program, to become acclimated to life on campus and to the rigors of engineering course work prior to starting school. Frierson also became a committed member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

She gained extensive experience through her co-op work. Frierson did a co-op round in Regulatory Affairs at Johnson & Johnson Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. Then she travelled to Chicago for an internship with Abbott. Frierson returned to Cincinnati and completed more co-op quarters with Johnson & Johnson Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc.

A year and a half ago, as Frierson was going into her fourth year of the program, her mother unexpectedly passed away. A young, grief-stricken Frierson was forced to make the difficult decision of whether or not to return to UC. With the support of her family, friends and her advisors at UC, Frierson devoted herself to completing her biomedical engineering degree.

“It is still hard for me. I couldn’t have kept on going without my friends, like Cheyenne Harden or Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Johnson. They have been my support system through this trying time. Now I try to look at all the negative things in life and find a way to turn them into the positive,” reflects Frierson.

 Surely making her mother proud, Frierson dedicated her time to her studies and to giving back to the UC community. She was a tutor for the engineering department and a research assistant. Frierson remains involved with NSBE and participated in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer program.

Frierson will receive her bachelor’s degree at the UC Graduation Commencement. She has accepted a job offer from Standard Textile Co., Inc. Since she greatly enjoyed her co-op in Chicago, Frierson plans to one day travel extensively.


The path to graduation has been challenging for CEAS civil engineering student, Cheyenne Harden. She began her journey at UC in the Freshmen Engineering Program (FEP) in 2007. Having many relatives that are engineers, Harden wanted to follow in their footsteps. She joined FEP to explore the different disciplines of engineering to see where she fit in. No matter which discipline, Harden knew she wanted a career that would help people.

Harden says, “I decided on civil engineering because of its history and how it was the first discipline of engineering. Civil engineering is broad and needed in all regions of the world where people exist. I also could see how I could help people by improving their roads, water delivery, buildings and air. I decided to focus on the environmental side of the field.”

Grateful of the help FEP gave her, Harden became an FEP tutor her sophomore year up until winter quarter of this year. She enjoyed being a resource for her students, talking with them about her time at UC and how she decided on her major. The tutorship also helped Harden to retain information from her own freshman classes, which proved to be beneficial when she took the Fundamental Engineering exam.

Additionally, she tutored during the summer months with the National Technical Association’s Summer Enrichment Program (NTASEP). NTASEP is a summer math session designed to help minority students prepare for the upcoming year’s math courses. The program works with 2nd graders up through high school. Harden was the lead coach for high school students and gave them valuable knowledge of her college experience that they could one day use.

Harden was involved with numerous organizations on campus, especially within CEAS. She held executive positions in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), NSBE and CEAS Ambassadors. As the Regional Finance Chair for NSBE this past year, she was responsible for fundraising for regional meetings and conferences. Harden planned the career fair for the NSBE Fall Regional Conference in Milwaukee, WI this past November. Through her efforts, over 35 companies and 10 graduate school representatives attended, and they raised over $96,000 for the region.

Just a few days out from graduation, Harden proudly looks at the class composite of civil engineering class of 1971. Looking back at her is her uncle, Scott Stargel, one of the first African American students in the discipline. Stargel was the first African American to do co-op work with Proctor and Gamble. Harden’s cousin started in civil engineering in 2004, but had to leave to work full time due to other concerns. He had always wanted to go back to UC, but was tragically killed in October at the age of 26.

Harden says, “I feel that this degree is for both of us. I am humbled to say I was able to make it this far. His passing has helped keep me motivated this final year and decide to continue on to graduate school in the fall.”


As a native of Senegal, West Africa, CEAS chemical engineering student, Moustapha Lo, has overcome many barriers. His father first brought him to Ohio to finish high school. When Lo arrived, his English was poor and kids were not friendly to him because of his language barrier. He made a personal commitment to learn English by staying after school to read books and going to the public library to rent movies for additional practice. After time, his English improved and so did his confidence.

Lo joined the E3 program the summer before his first year at UC. E3 is an intensive academic program that helps under-represented minority students become acclimated to life on campus and to the rigors of engineering course work during the summer before their college career. Lo took daily English, physics, math and chemistry classes.

Discouraged by an NP (not proficient) grade on his first English paper that summer, Lo sought advice from his professor. He was told to continue reading novels and practicing his writing. By the time his second English paper rolled around, Lo had improved immensely and earned 97 out of 100. He was asked to read his paper at the E3 banquet and won the most Improved in English and Physics award that summer.  

Lo started his college career that fall in chemical engineering. On his first chemistry exam, Lo was disappointed to have scored 10 points below the average. Unhappy with his performance, he spoke with Kenneth Simonson, BA, CEAS E3 Academic Director, about possibly switching to a math major. Simonson asked why Lo wanted to change majors and he explained his chemistry exam results.

“Simonson responded that my reason was not valid and I have to stick with what I have chosen. To this day, I follow his advice and he has helped me get to where I am now,” reflects Lo. 

Lo was also an active member of NSBE and gained valuable experience as an undergraduate research intern at UC. He has been involved with research and development at Ecosil Technologies, LLC and was a process engineering intern at Ingersoll Rand Steelcraft Manufacturing.

Lo also did research at UC in the material engineering department as one of his co-op experiences. He published a paper on his research titled "Journal of Applied Polymer Science." Fascinated by the field, Lo plans to go on to graduate school at UC, pursuing a master’s degree in material engineering.

It’s students like these who set the bar high at UC CEAS!  Congratulations, to all of our graduating seniors!