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Bulldog News

SC State student awarded $181,000 U.S. Coast Guard scholarship

Author: Sam Watson, Director of University Relations|Published: April 11, 2024|All News, Student News

Coast Guard
Capt. Eric Jones, Keshawn Burns, Officer Trainee Chantelle Simpkins, SCPO Edwin Colon-Melendez (recruiter), and Capt. Rick Howell at the SC State Honors and Awards Convocation on April 2, 2024. Photo by Keith Gilliard/SC State

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – A chance meeting at a South Carolina State University event put cybersecurity major Keshawn Burns on a path he never expected – a $181,000 scholarship and a job during and after his education.

 “Since I was a kid, I always said I was never joining the military, and then it just kind of happened,” said Burns, who hails from Columbus, Georgia. “It’s how the tables flip, how God can change your desires and your heart. All of a sudden, I wanted to join the Coast Guard.”

That chance meeting occurred at the SC State Career Center’s annual Internship Day with U.S. Coast Guard Recruiter Edwin Colon-Melendez, who informed Burns about the Coast Guard’s College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI).

“The Coast Guard was the last table I wanted to visit,” Burns said. “I wasn’t the best dressed because I didn’t have much at the time. I was guarding the area where people were eating so they wouldn’t sneak food in and out, and (Colon-Melendez) approached me and said, ‘I like how you look.’

“We just got to talking, he gave me his information, and it came down to this,” he said.

On April 2 at SC State’s annual Honors and Awards Convocation, Colon-Melendez and other Coast Guard officers presented Burns a check for the first year of his scholarship.

“There’s just a lot to take in right now, and I think if I keep putting my best foot forward, I’ll be able to achieve my goals in a faster manner. I’m just really blessed right now,” Burns said after the presentation. “I’m so happy right now, not only for myself, but I can also help my kids when I have them in the future.”

Those chosen for the CSPI enlist into the Coast Guard, complete basic training during the summer and receive full funding for up to two years of college. Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree, a CSPI graduate attends Officer Candidate School to earn a commission and start a career as a Coast Guard officer.

CSPI funding includes not only payment of tuition, books and fees, but also repayment of student loans, a full-time Coast Guard salary, housing allowance and medical benefits.

“It takes a lot of pressure off,” Burns said. “I don’t have to worry about trying to find a scholarship for this, trying to find a scholarship for that. I don’t have to worry about where food is going to come from. I don’t have to worry about how I will pay my bills. I’m so thankful.”

As a cybersecurity major, Burns was one of four SC State students who attended a national artificial intelligence (AI) conference at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts last fall.

He intends to use his education in the Coast Guard.

“The Coast Guard has a lot of cybersecurity fields and a lot of cybersecurity personnel teams, and I hope to join one of them to make a difference in this world,” Burns said. “I’m not going to stop here. I’m just going to keep going.

“I know there’s more for me to achieve, and I know God’s got more for me if I just keep going forward. If I can just keep trying, he can handle the rest,” he said.

Burns became the second SC State student in as many years to earn a CSPI scholarship. At the 2023 Honors and Awards Convocation, communications major Chantelle Simpkins – now an officer trainee -- received the award. She was on hand to congratulate Burns this year.

Over the years, SC State has produced more than 25 Coast Guard officers, many of whom are in the current ranks. SC State accounts for four of an estimated 18 African American captains serving in the Coast Guard.

For more information about SC State's Cybersecurity Program, visit

For more information about the U.S. Coast Guard’s CSPI, visit