Oscar Harris (A'71) is as passionate about mentoring underserved youth as he is about innovative transportation architecture. That's why the Carnegie Mellon University alumnus and trustee was recently named to theGrio.com's 100 history makers of 2013.
TheGrio.com is an NBC news website with an African American perspective. Its annual 100 list highlights 10 people in 10 fields of expertise "making history today."
After earning his masters in architecture from CMU, Harris founded Turner Associates Architects and Planners in Atlanta. He has since become one of the most influential businessmen and architects in the southern U.S.
"My graduate thesis was in transportation, and at the time, Atlanta was developing its transportation system and airport," explained Harris. "I was brought here because coming out of CMU, I was on the cutting edge."
And he credits a great deal more to his time at the university.
"When I arrived at Carnegie Mellon, I felt I was really on top of the world and could do anything that I put my mind to," said Harris. "I learned creative, out-of-the-box thinking and that I wanted to have my own firm, to be in business for myself. CMU gave me the ability and confidence to think in a big way."
His university experience also provided him with classmate and colleague James Graves (A'71), who worked with Harris for 20 years helping build Turner to success.
When asked to join the CMU Board of Trustees, Harris was "excited" to give back. And while on campus, he became acquainted with S.K. Woodall, a fellow of the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, and Woodall's outreach program exposing underserved youth to the field of architecture.
Harris was so "taken aback," he became a Studio fellow and brought the after-school program back to Atlanta, where it thrives today.
"I was fortunately surrounded by older people who got me involved in the Boy Scouts, took me on trips and exposed me to opportunities," Harris said of his youth in Pittsburgh. "That became the basis for my dedication to mentoring. You have to focus in on the young people because they're going to become the future."
It was that foundation that led him to architecture and CMU, beginning with a field trip in elementary school and culminating in his parents' recommendation to attend "CMU, one of the top architecture schools in the U.S."
"I am very, very excited about Carnegie Mellon in the future," added Harris, who received the Alumni Merit Award for Excellence in 2000.
"CMU's creativity, innovation, passion and entrepreneurship and the way the university integrates them; the interdisciplinary culture, the cross-pollination, that's where you get creative juices flowing and innovation happening. Everyone at CMU is just fantastic. I can't say enough."
Harris was awarded a Bronze Metal from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 2004 for his professional contributions and elected to the prestigious College of Fellows of the AIA in 2006. He is currently completing his book, "Oscar," chronicling his life experiences and views to be published this fall.