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Black engineers coming to Hub

Will seek increase in number of blacks in field

Martin Desmarais
Black engineers coming to Hub
Chiderah Okoye, president of the Boston chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, speaks on Feb. 19 at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge during a kickoff event for the organization’s national convention. (Photo: Martin Desmarais)

The National Society of Black Engineers is visiting Boston next month with its 42nd annual convention, but the organization was in town last week to ramp up efforts to connect with the local community. The NSBE’s goal is to support engineering students and professionals. But after four decades at the job, it also works strongly to develop the next generation of engineers — and hopes to leave a lasting impact on Boston in doing so.

“NSBE is that pipeline; NSBE is that tool; NSBE is that platform that will take students that know nothing about sciences, that know nothing about engineering, and provide them the support to become professionals for the workforce,” said Neville Green, national chair of NSBE, who visited Boston on Feb. 19 for a convention kickoff event at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge.

The convention, which will be held at the Boston Convention Center from March 23-27, is expected to attract more than 9,000 attendees. It features networking, a career fair, workshops, professional development and keynote speakers. The ultimate goal is to function as an embodiment of what NSBE tries to do overall — provide the inspiration, education and connections needed for its members to succeed as engineers and technology professionals.

Started in 1975, the Alexandria, Va.-based NSBE has 31,000 members with almost 400 chapters around the world. This base serves to showcase to young students the positive future of a career in engineering, technology and science fields. NSBE is a big supporter and advocate for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for children and high school students.

Aiming high

The organization has an ambitious goal. Its Strategic Plan is to graduate 10,000 black engineers annually in the United States by 2025. Green said the future of engineering in the U.S. is in the black community and NSBE is aggressively working to make this a reality.

As such, every annual convention in different parts of the country is a chance to bring that region into the fold for its 2025 Strategic Plan. The title of the Boston convention, “Engineering a Cultural Change,” suggests that larger vision.

According to NSBE Boston chapter president Chiderah Okoye, the intent of having a Boston kickoff event a month prior to the national convention is to bring together local organizations and individuals to help them learn as much as they can about the upcoming convention, figure out ways to get them all involved and meet the organizers and team running the show.

Author: Martin DesmaraisO’Dane White, director of community and special projects for National Society of Black Engineers Boston, speaks about the efforts to get local students out to attend the organization’s national convention, set for Boston from March 23-27.

She said that NSBE can use the convention as a major vehicle for bridging opportunities in STEM for youth, college students and professionals throughout Boston.

Neville charged the gathered crowd of about 75 at the kickoff event to help NSBE make its mark.

“Your presence here is helping us change the atmosphere and the climate of what engineering will be,” he said.

While the convention is largely for the current members and there is a cost to attend, it is open to all and there are special, free events to draw in local youth, students and educators.

On March 23, the convention will be free and open with a special innovation fair called Torch Fest. The fair will showcase engineering and technology exhibits and hands-on displays of the types of things that engineers work on and create.

“It is an opportunity for the community to come in and experience what it is to be an engineer,” said O’Dane White, director of community and special projects for NSBE Boston.

Ongoing ties

The kickoff event brought in some local educators with the hope to get school districts to sign up and bring their students to the Torch Fest and to the convention’s open day. Organizers expect as many as 1,000 students to attend the Torch Fest.

As part of its ongoing activities, NSBE Boston already goes out into Boston’s schools, holding STEM days educating about the field, but it expects a boost from the convention exposure and new connections made.

“Going forward, these relationships that we build, we want to keep them post-convention, so that we make sure we continue the work of exposing the local students to what STEM and engineering is,” White said.

In addition to fighting a bias that seems to lead young minority students away from STEM fields, White said NSBE also works to combat the attitude that college is not an achievable goal, something his organization has heard at various events they have already held.

When asked why they couldn’t attend college, White said the most common reason students give was they couldn’t afford it, but also that their parents did not attend college and are doing fine so it isn’t necessary.

“It is unfortunate and this is why we want to do more STEM days, to expose these students to these fields but also let them know the resources available to them so they can have the same opportunities we have had,” White added.

NSBE Boston President Okoye said that her group is dedicated to helping all students attend as much of the event as they want, which includes helping offset the cost to attend.

“There should be no reason why a Boston area student who is interest in being a part of the conference or seeing what it has to offer shouldn’t be there,” she said.