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Columbus College of Art & Design alum Robert Coles (Retail Advertising, 1995) has established the Coles Diversity Impact Scholarship Fund to strengthen access and opportunities for incoming students at CCAD. The fund will support at least one student per academic year who demonstrates commitment to diversity at the college. It will be awarded to an incoming first-year student in addition to other financial aid support.

Creative thinkers can positively impact diversity and inclusion

Coles, senior director of creative and digital services at Stanford University, is an active leader in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging both at his employer and in his outside pursuits. He believes creative thinkers are some of the best-equipped to have a profound and positive impact on the future of inclusion and diversity. “For me, this new scholarship is an investment in what I feel is an incubator of what our future looks like. Those who are going to succeed are going to embrace diversity and inclusion, and I think a place like CCAD is a place that wants to do that. That’s why I invest,” he says.

Coles notes he was fortunate to have supportive individuals invest in him throughout his educational pursuits. An influential high school teacher encouraged his artistic talents early, helping him to build a portfolio and organizing trips to Columbus cultural hubs (including CCAD). Mentorship and instruction from CCAD faculty set Coles on a successful path at the college. Coles recalls how Retail Advertising faculty Billie Ingram and Jerry Bayless taught him the critical skills of professionalism alongside art and design skills. Coles hopes his scholarship investment at CCAD will support students with similar creative ambitions as his own.

Finding home and belonging at CCAD

Coles says of all of the places he has studied or worked, CCAD is where he has felt most at home. “The value of the sense of belonging is immeasurable,” he says. “Being comfortable in your own skin and feeling like you belong means more to me than money or prestige. As an artist at CCAD, I could be who I wanted to be. I had a safe space to explore, to try new ideas, and to show emotion. Through this new scholarship, I hope I can enable others to find a home and sense of belonging at CCAD.”

Coles hopes the new scholarship will not only make pursuing creative passions and an art and design education more accessible, but also that investing in diversity will help students feel valued. “Everything I do to pay opportunities forward is tied to experiences I’ve had in the past. Growing up, I saw a lot of people with talent and ability who didn’t have the opportunity to access or realize their creativity. I want to make sure students formally understand that inclusion should be for everyone; they are acknowledged, seen, and supported.”

Coles’ professional roles prior to Stanford included serving as director of creative services and brand management for Franklin University and as director of creative services and enrollment marketing at CCAD. He began his career at Victoria’s Secret and has since built his own company, Brand Creative Marketing, LLC, serving such clients as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Columbus Blue Jackets. He is a co-founder of the Stanford Black Male Wellness Group and strategic advisor to Stanford’s Black Coalition. In 2022, he served as a mentor and visiting presenter for Stanford’s Medical Humanities Summer Scholars Program. Additionally, Robert is a published children’s book illustrator with five books to his credit, each featuring a person of color as the protagonist.