New Worlds to Explore

Singer/songwriter Whitney Coleman performs.
Whitney Coleman is no stranger to records and recording: she broke plenty of the former in her high school and college basketball careers, and has been turning the music she writes and sings into audio and video recordings since she was a seventh grader.

The IUPUI graduate student, who is seeking a Ph.D. in informatics, doesn’t play organized basketball these days. She has new worlds to conquer: 
one academic (creating a mobile application that unites her interests in athletics, health care and learning) and the other personal (her budding musical career that includes a game-day concert in the Super Bowl Village).

Both pursuits excite the slender 24-year-old as much 
as her basketball career did. Coleman was a high school basketball star in California, good enough to earn a place on the adidasTM All-America team, and then set multiple records while starring at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in up-state New York.

Whitney Coleman has had a varied career, including as a model..

Coleman has had a varied career in her young life: basketball star, graduate student, fashion model and singer.

The opportunity to create mobile applications for digital devices in fields that intrigue her is compelling, but so is the chance to perform the music that tells her story with passion. “School is my main priority,” Coleman says, but she tries to perform as often as she can in Indianapolis-area clubs, and her Super Bowl game-day concert in the Super Bowl Village remains a major highlight. “I always thought of music as a hobby that I seem to do really well,” she adds. “It wasn’t until I moved to Indianapolis that I’ve gotten the attention of larger audiences. That makes a (music) career a potential reality.”

Pathway to IUPUI

Music is part of what drew the former California student 
to Indianapolis. Coleman enjoys electronic music, and she and an RPI ensemble performed online with Scott Deal and the IUPUI Telematics Ensemble. Deal is an IUPUI faculty member in the music technology program, part of the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI.

As she explored what IUPUI was and what it had to offer, Coleman found herself drawn to informatics. She realized the school could connect “to other fields that interest me,” like human computer interaction (HCI), which revolves around such fields as computer science, behavioral science, psychology and others. “The cool thing is that it can be applied to anything, as long as the human-to-computer aspect is the focus,” Coleman says. “I’ve always been interested in improving people’s lives; I believe my research in HCI can do that.”

Her ties to IUPUI also grew because of a personal connection with Kenneth Durgans, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion at IUPUI, and with doctoral student Jasmine Viera, who also pitched the joys of downtown Indy life to Coleman. “After I heard that, I was sold!” Coleman laughs.

Coleman works closely with her faculty advisor, Joe Defazio..

Coleman works closely with her faculty advisor Joe Defazio on her current project. 

The academic work has been demanding, but Coleman enjoys the challenge. Joe Defazio, an informatics faculty member who works closely with her, calls Coleman “a very creative, thoughtful student — always looking for ways to improve her work" and use the lessons she has learned.

She’s already co-authored two research papers — including one with Defazio — and has been involved 
in other projects, as well. But her current passion 
is researching and planning a mobile application for personalized learning, aimed at college athletes who want to enhance their performance in competition.

Expressing herself

Music has become an important means of self-expression for Coleman, who writes her own songs. “I usually write tunes based upon current emotions and situations in my life, so the lyrics just help express the story that I felt in the chords,” she says.

She started writing music early on. “I think my first one was in the seventh grade, when we were supposed to read a book, then do a presentation,” she recalls. She didn’t want to do a regular presentation, so she enlisted the help of her father, Gregory Coleman, to do a music video in which she sang the story line and the video captured it all. Her writing picked up a notch just before college when a major injury knocked her off the court. To fill the time, she started “writing music more seriously. That’s when I really learned how to play piano and record my own music,” Coleman says.

On stage, she has easily shed any early shyness. “I definitely have a fearless attitude that I believe comes from my faith in God,” she says. “I believe that same faith helps me feel comfortable to show personality and charisma when I’m on stage, as well.”

She finds performing empowering, “as if I’m not in control, but in a good way,” Coleman says. It helps that her family — her father, mother Marian, sisters Kim and Tiffany and brothers Greg Jr. and Brandon — loves hearing her sing. “I still feel like I’m in grade school, though, when they ask me if my homework was done before I did a show,” she laughs. One key lesson her parents taught: “always look to help people and be appreciative of the good in your life,” she says, a lesson that still shapes her life.

That’s one reason she serves as the youth choir director in the New Zion Tabernacle Church in Indianapolis. “I’m able to mentor the youth and share with them the word of God,” she says, though “it seems in most cases they wind up teaching me.”

Coleman inherited at least some of her musical talents from her father, who played guitar professionally, including for Sister Sledge. He is now a contractor for JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), while her mother is an air quality analysis and compliance supervisor, both in California.

Coleman may have left her playing career behind, but she still finds the game has lessons to offer, whether she’s in the classroom or on stage. “Basketball taught me about adversity, failure, perseverance and success,” she says.

“I find myself relating a lot of things I face today to things I learned on the court.”