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Founding Chapter of National Society of Black Engineers Carries Forth Legacy

Group photo of the NSBE members

 The dream of a national organization for Black engineering students was founded and realized at Purdue University. The National Society of Black Engineers has grown from its inception on the West Lafayette campus to becoming one of the largest student-run organizations in the country. Today, the “Mother Chapter” at Purdue is carrying forth the organization’s legacy with a variety of programs to build the next generation of Black engineers. NSBE’s roots date to 1971. In response to high dropout rates among Black engineering students at Purdue in the late 1960s, two undergraduate Boilermakers, Edward Barnette and Fred Cooper, approached the dean of engineering with the idea of starting a Black Society of Engineers (BSE). The dean agreed to the idea and assigned the only Black faculty member on staff, Arthur J. Bond, as advisor. VPSL-NSBE-Prepare-for-the-Fair-Fall-23-LG-5.jpg

Barnette served as the first president of BSE and, with the encouragement of Bond, recruited the young men who became the founding members of NSBE – Anthony Harris, Brian Harris, Stanley L. Kirtley, Edward A. Coleman, George A. Smith and John W. Logan, Jr. Encouraged by their success at Purdue, BSE president Anthony Harris wrote letters to the presidents and deans of every accredited engineering program (288 schools) to identify Black student leaders, organizations and faculty members who might support the formation of a national organization for Black engineering students. The first national meeting took place from April 10-12, 1975, with 48 students representing 32 institutions in attendance. The meeting was the birth of NSBE.  National Society of Black Engineers member standing infront of the NSBE sign

Growing from its roots at Purdue, NSBE today boasts more than 24,000 active members and 600 chapters in the U.S. and abroad. Purdue’s chapter had 216 active members during the 2022-23 academic year. Membership can ebb and flow throughout a school year and the chapter expects to achieve similar membership totals this year.  
Leaders of Purdue’s NSBE chapter focus their efforts on helping members obtain their degrees as well as jobs and internships in the field. Through its Pre-Collegiate Initiative, the organization’s impact on this mission can begin as early as elementary school. NSBE partners with the Hanna Community Center in Lafayette to deliver STEM-based programming to youth participants in the Center’s numerous programs.  
Alexis Kindred, vice president of NSBE, says similar programs in her local NSBE Jr. chapter helped spark her interest in engineering and the organization at a young age.  
“They had STEM competitions right when I was getting into the STEM aspects of what I wanted to do with my life,” says Kindred, who is studying mechanical engineering technology.

“They were able to gravitate me towards robotics and throw me into theatre with electrical lighting. It became an experience where I was able to see people who looked like me doing things that I heavily, heavily wanted to do with my life.”  National Society of Black Engineers member standing infront of the NSBE sign

 One of NSBE’s goals for the upcoming year is to reconnect with the NSBE Jr. chapter in Lafayette to provide similar opportunities for local youth. NSBE Jr. chapters offer membership and mentorship for students in grades 3-12.  

 NSBE cultivates its members for success through its Mentorship program, where upperclassmen serve as mentors for first-year and sophomore students. In a typical year, 30-40 first-year students seek mentors through the program – this year, there are already 50 students who have shown interest. NSBE offered a Freshman Survival Guide event to help ease first-year students in their transition to campus and will offer a finals prep event this fall. The program also hosts social events such as movie nights, game nights and outings to build connection and community.   National Society of Black Engineers member standing infront of the NSBE sign

Kirundah Kunyiah, treasurer of NSBE, was a participant in NSBE’s mentorship program as an underclassman. As an international student from Nairobi, Kenya, Kunyiah says the program was important in learning how to navigate classes and professional opportunities. He is now paying it forward as a member of NSBE’s executive board and mentor to younger members of the organization.  

“I did my first year of classes online, so I was a little disconnected from NSBE,” Kunyiah says. “When I came to campus, it was very helpful to find that community. Being an international student, navigating the professional development space is a little different because you have visa restrictions. It was helpful to have upperclassmen who have done it before and have gotten internships and full-time roles. I think it’s very pertinent to pass the knowledge down to international students coming in – where to apply for scholarships, where to get jobs and companies that look for international students.”  VPSL-NSBE-Prepare-for-the-Fair-Fall-23-LG-34.jpg

 Another opportunity for first-year students to gain leadership experience and acclimate to campus is through the Freshman Council, which serves as a freshman executive board. Several members of NSBE’s current executive board, such as Amareah Bead, programs chair, served on the Freshman Council. Experiences on the Freshman Council help board members expand their knowledge of NSBE and inspire them to continue to serve the chapter in leadership positions.nsbe-member-fall-2023 

 “I had leadership experience in high school, but nowhere near the level that it exists on a college campus,” Bead says. “NSBE has such a deep community and people are coming to us because they’re passionate about the different aspects of NSBE and want to be here. It’s a lot more responsibility, but it’s also rewarding seeing how people can benefit from what you’re doing on executive board.” 

 NSBE members cite Virginia Womack Booth, who serves as the organization’s faculty advisor and significant mentor to those in the organization. Booth is an important figure in NSBE’s history, having served as the first female national chairperson and the first to serve two terms (1978-80). She has served as the director of Purdue’s Minority Engineering Program since 2004. It isn’t uncommon for Booth to host students for dinner in her home and connect one-on-one with organization members.  

 “She’s made an impact on so many of us,” says Mozen Mertami, president of NSBE. “A lot of people look to her as a mentor and she continues to pour her passion and knowledge back into us and push us forward. She’s really like our Mom.”  nsbe-presideNational Society of Black Engineers president standing infront of the NSBE signnt-fall-2023

 Opportunities for connections through NSBE extend beyond campus to the professional world, with programs that prepare NSBE members for internships and career fairs as well as opportunities to connect with successful alumni. A current series of programs is helping prepare students for the career fair at the upcoming NSBE Region IV Conference in Chicago in November. As part of the program, recruiters from companies such as Accenture and Medline will be on hand to work with students and offer insight into what recruiters are looking for at career fairs. 

 “The goal is to give our members a new perspective of the recruitment process and make sure we demystify it for them,” says Cassie Megwa, secretary of NSBE. “This will be their first career fair outside of Industrial Roundtable, which can be overwhelming. The point of the series is helping our members prepare their resumes and LinkedIn, know how to talk to recruiters and learn what happens in an interview.” 

 Connections with alumni help facilitate additional opportunities. In her role as president, Mertami often receives messages from alumni who are returning to campus for career fairs or seeking to share internship or career opportunities. Other alumni continue to participate in NSBE’s GroupMe chats and share opportunities with current members. NSBE also recently hosted an Alumni Panel during Homecoming to connect alumni with current students.  VPSL-NSBE-Prepare-for-the-Fair-Fall-23-LG-3.jpg

 “You can see the impact NSBE has had on them,” Mertami says of NSBE alumni. “They’re still looking out for us and trying to send opportunities and events our way.” 

 NSBE also offers numerous social and special-interest opportunities for members. The club sponsored a trip to Kings Island as a way to destress before midterms. For members with an interest in athletics, NSBE also sponsors intramural teams and hosts a basketball tournament. The NSBE executive board has high hopes for its Grand Prix team, with two karts and an enthusiastic cohort of 35 members hoping to contribute to a successful finish at the Purdue Grand Prix in April. The organization is also planning a special celebration for its graduating seniors in the spring. National Society of Black Engineers member standing infront of the Purdue Fountain

 Being part of such a historic organization comes with extra visibility among alumni and NSBE chapters around the country. While members of the executive board acknowledge that visibility can come with a feeling of extra pressure, they are quick to recognize the efforts of those who came before them and express the pride they feel in carrying forth the legacy of the organization. 

 “Every time I think about the fact that we’ve met people who were there when this organization was founded and it has spread so wide across the nation and impacted so many people, it makes me feel really grateful that I can be here,” says Patrick Thompson, an international student from Guyana who serves as NSBE’s Parliamentarian. “When we went to the NSBE convention, some of the founders visited us and all of the Purdue engineers, students and alumni gathered for one big photo. It’s a great sense of pride that you feel knowing that you’re a part of the Mother Chapter and able to carry on the legacy.”   

 Mertami echoes those sentiments and sees the legacy of mentorship being passed down through generations of NSBE alumni.  National Society of Black Engineers member standing infront of the NSBE sign

“Knowing that we’re able to make an impact on somebody’s lives and push them forward towards their goals is a rewarding experience in so many different ways,” Mertami says. “Having that sense of community and someone to lean on, whether it be professionally or socially is so important. People before us have gone through some struggles and the same things we’re going through. If we pour back into others the same ways that have been poured into us and push the next generation of engineers, that is an impactful moment and an inspiring moment for our organization.”  

Students interested in joining NSBE can follow the steps on the organization’s website. NSBE holds regular events open to all members that can be viewed on their calendar. Stay up to date with news, photos, event announcements and more by following NSBE on Instagram.