National Society of Black Engineers is strengthening pipeline of underrepresented students

By Chris Levister

Members of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter at UC Riverside Bourns College of Engineering had the experience of a lifetime recently when they attended the society’s National Convention in Indianapolis. The students earned honors and awards for service and outstanding leadership.
The 39th Annual Convention is NSBE’s premiere event encompassing the organization’s best and brightest members showcasing NSBE culture, membership achievements, local and national talent, and Black entrepreneurship.
At the conference, UC Riverside students were among the 9,000 NSBE members who attended a host of workshops, meetings and events, including those highlighting women in engineering, graduate school programs, opportunities for studying and working abroad, programs for veterans and recent medical findings for bioengineers.
Roslyn Womble ’13, president of the Bourns School of Engineering UCR chapter of NSBE, was named Region 6 Chapter President of the Year and Demetri Wilright ’14 was elected NSBE Region 6 chair, a role he will assume May 1, 2013. Region 6 includes 13 western states and more than 100 university, college and community college chapters; alumni (professional) chapters; and junior (high school and pre-college program) chapters.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Womble. “The experiences and relationships that result from attending a national conference like this helps shape a student’s professional development and encourages academic competition. Here we get to compete against students from the best engineering programs in the world.”
The students also had the opportunity to network with other NSBE members and professional mentors, as well as corporations from across the country that conducted interviews for open positions. More than 300 companies, such as Chevron, United Technologies and 3 M conducted interviews with promising students, and dozens of grad school programs were represented to give the college students opportunities to think about what comes after graduation.
The UCR chapter was also honored at the convention with the Retention Program Scholarship for the successful implementation of its program to ensure that African-American engineering students at BCOE persist to graduation.
At the conference, BCOE Dean Reza Abbaschian participated in a dean’s round table discussion about retention of African-American students and hosted the student delegation for dinner.
“I came away from the convention with renewed enthusiasm for our efforts to engage African-American students in STEM education, where they are seriously underrepresented,” said Dean Abbaschian. “It was very clear to me that our students have developed into exceptional leaders and role models for their peers and underclass students at the college. They have raised the bar for future students whom I am confident will maintain this high standard of achievement, leadership, and professionalism.”
“This convention was empowering, encouraging, and exciting. I really love what the National Society of Black Engineers stands for and also what it is doing for the members who belong to it,” said computer science major William Ebekwe.
The members of the chapter raised all of the money to attend the convention, which included corporate support from Raytheon and Northrop Grumman and from NSBE’s national organization (in the form of chapter relief), and the Retention Program Scholarship.
Womble said her pitch to corporate sponsors was simple: “By helping us, you’re helping yourselves by creating leaders who could possibly work for you one day.”
“Our goal at BCOE is to expose students to fast-changing national and global research environments. We aim to prepare American students to better understand the outside world and become globally competitive in their future careers,” Dean Abbaschian said.
Attending the national conference is important and uplifting because students get exposed to professionals in their field, said mechanical engineering major Dante O’Hara.
“This is where they get critical exposure to the hiring process and learn what’ on the horizon with new technologies and advances. Attending these functions helps keep students motivated to continue pursuing engineering as their profession.”
Summer 2012 O’Hara joined a team of UCR students who traveled to China to conduct academic and cultural exchange activities at Tsinghua University in Beijing. O’Hara says UCR’s commitment to strengthening the pipeline of underrepresented students into science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) careers offers a viable solution to our nation’s growing global competitiveness problem in engineering and science fields.
Dr. Ernest Levister, vice chair of the BCOE Council of Advisors and long-time advocate and supporter of STEM education for African-American students, said: “The need for organizations like NSBE is more important than ever. Education is the key to American competitiveness, and our nation is falling behind. Fewer young people are selecting STEM study paths despite the increase global demand for technological workers. To keep engineering and scientific jobs in the United States, and ensure America maintains its leadership, we need to inspire a new generation of Americans to pursue STEM careers. One way to do so is to spotlight black role models who are raising stars in these fields.”
“UCR is committed to a climate of excellence, inclusion and diversity,” said Dean Abbaschian. “The development of engineering innovation for our global community requires the collaboration of exceptional individuals who have a variety of personal experiences, values and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance.”