“Science is everywhere. You’d be surprised what you can do with a science degree!”
Patrice O. Yarbough (’80, Ph.D. ’85) has followed that maxim most of her life, and it has served her well. She and her sister, Cynthia Oliver Coleman (’71) were the first in their family to attend college. Cynthia was the first Black woman to graduate with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Houston.
Yarbough and her niece, Kelly M. Coleman, M.D. (’98), a Houston pediatrician with Kelsey-Seybold, were inducted into the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM) da Vinci Society, which recognizes donors who have given a cumulative total of $50,000 or more to the college. Induction into the da Vinci Society is the highest honor that the NSM bestows on donors. It’s a first for the da Vinci Society to have an aunt-niece duo who have reached this pinnacle of giving. Coleman and Yarbough have been funding multiple NSM students for more than five years.
Yarbough said her parents were born into a life with few opportunities. “They told us that education would give us access to options, and with those options, it would be up to us to make wise choices,” she said. “My first big choice was what I wanted to do professionally. Since I had always loved science, even back in middle school, I decided I wanted to study microbes. The field of discovery appealed to me. We were fortunate to live in Houston with so many educational opportunities, and I could make it all happen within two miles of home.”
“In the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Houston, I received a good science education in the classroom and in the laboratory. I was well-trained when I graduated,” she said. “I had excellent instructors who wanted to help me succeed in the lab. I entered the college shortly after it was founded, and the biochemistry department was new and full of young talent. We were all eager to do things out of the box.”
Yarbough recently retired from a long research career that spanned over 35 years and included employment in the biotechnology industry, academia and at NASA. She and her husband, Carl (’85), have two children who have a presence at UH. Carlyle Yarbough (’15) graduated from the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design. Felice Yarbough, a 2018 Texas A&M graduate, was recently recognized at the 2023 UH Annual Table Talk for her work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Houston Urban program.
“I feel that my own personal journey has come full circle. I’m seeing that all of the promise of excellence that my parents instilled in me and my sister is continuing in the next generation with my children and my niece. My 35-year career proves it is doable,” Yarbough said.
“And now, I can donate not just money but guidance to other students. I’ve specifically directed my philanthropy to under-represented minorities and women majoring in the sciences.”
Her motivation to give back to UH was driven by another maxim: To those who have much, much is expected. “I had a full-ride scholarship to UH in 1976 — the legacy of a philanthropist’s wish to help educate high schoolers in Harris County,” Yarbough said. “I went to school on somebody’s money — they never personally knew who they were helping, but it had a big impact. The scholarship meant that all my expenses were covered and that I would graduate debt-free. I have never forgotten that help. I think about the funding that I received and want to keep that going. Investing in student success helps ease the financial burden for the students and their families. The money given goes a long way to fulfilling many dreams,” she said.
Yarbough feels that giving should be a stretch. “Don’t just give from your surplus, but instead, sacrifice a bit more to give more. Investing in student success is how we all win.”