U student named to USA Today national academic honor team

Zachery Coelius’ dyslexia prevented him from reading until he was in the fourth grade.

Boa Lee

Having a learning disability did not prevent University senior Zachery Coelius from excelling in academics, serving his community and enjoying life.

A group of higher education instructors from across the country appointed him to the 2004 USA Today All-USA College Academic Team.

For 15 years, USA Today has recognized undergraduates nationwide who do well in and out of the classroom. Coelius, who received an honorable mention in last year’s awards, is the first University student elected to the 20-member team in at least the last 12 years, University officials said.

“I think they just pulled my name out of a hat,” Coelius said. “I am surprised and humbled.”

Coelius is dyslexic and did not learn how to read until the fourth grade. However, those who know him said they believe he has made up for this in another way – arguing.

Coelius, a political science and history student, is co-president of the University’s Parliamentary Debate Society. He also founded Votes for Students, a nonprofit organization that e-mails students, encouraging them to vote.

In 2002, he served on a panel chaired by Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 State Plan Advisory Committee worked to improve and update Minnesota’s voting infrastructure.

Ryan Black, a political science senior, has known Coelius since Coelius joined the debate society three years ago.

“Zack is amazing,” said Black, co-president of the debate team. “He’s very interested in a lot of things that will make his and our life easier.”

Steve Keplinger, Coelius’ father, said his son is mostly responsible for his success. “He does his own thing. I’ve heard people say how he’s absolutely immaculate.”

John Watkins, a University English professor, nominated Coelius for the award. Watkins said this was the first time he had nominated a student for the College Academic Team.

“Rarely have I encountered someone like him,” Watkins said. “Zachery just has a remarkable initiative. He has a highly analytical intelligence and a great, outgoing personality.”

Coelius said his personality is partly attributable to his life experiences.

He still uses University services to help him overcome his disability, which he said has incited him to often work harder than others to achieve his goals.

When he was a high school sophomore, Coelius hopped on his 10-speed bicycle and rode from Minnesota to Georgia solo. During those 22 days, Coelius said, he met people in homes and diners who helped him open up.

“I learned so much from them,” Coelius said. “I can remember where I was every single day. It really changed my life.”

The following summer, Coelius was back on his bike for a 45-day trek across the United States and Canada.

Although Coelius’ list of awards and achievements continues to grow, he said they are “icing on the cake.”

“I just enjoy it,” Coelius said of why he is involved in so many activities. “If people think that was cool, I guess that’s all right.”

The academic team recognizes students for their achievements and does not participate in competitions. Winners each receive a trophy and $2,500. Their names and biographies will appear in USA Today on Feb. 12.