A Case Study of Students in Career and Technical Student Organizations

By Nicole Yates

What impact do NSBE and other like organizations have on their members? A new study shows that high school students participating in career and technical student organizations (CTSOs) and activities have clearer career paths. In partnership with Skills USA and the Educational Research Center of America, the Manufacturing Institute completed a study, “Attracting the Next Generation Workforce,” which focused on the vocational interests of students in career and technical education (CTE) courses. The key findings, although specific to students taking CTE courses, can also shed light on participants in NSBE activities.

The first question the study covers pertains to factors that influence students’ career choices. The overwhelming majority of CTSO participants cite their own experiences as the most important factor, above parental advice, classes, social media and school counselor input. This finding underscores the importance of providing students with as much exposure to engineering as possible, both in and out of school. Although NSBE is not classified as a CTSO, it does similarly provide students with extracurricular technical experiences that can influence their future career choices. NSBE’s goal of graduating 10,000 Black Engineers annually by 2025 depends on exposure of pre-college students to engineering and will only be successful if we as an organization can expand our reach.

Other findings support the importance of participation in vocation-focused extracurricular activities: researchers found that nearly two-thirds of students participating in CTSOs say their career paths are clearer as a result, compared with a little more than one-third of non-CTSO students. Within NSBE, students enter a pipeline that directs them toward engineering degrees and careers at each stage. Thus, we can expect that our high school members also envision their career plans with more clarity than their non-NSBE member counterparts do. It is important to note that students in CTE courses can matriculate directly into the workforce after high school. The vast majority of engineers need a college education at minimum, but the same logic applies to college degrees: if the experiences a student had in high school solidify her choice to become an engineer, she will begin college with that end in mind.

Another significant measure in this study asked students about their experiences with prospective future employers: a potentially critical factor in career choices. Traditional experiences with future employers include internships, career fairs and mentorship initiatives. However, less than 10 percent of participants reported having done internships, which may be surprising, since internships are commonly touted as excellent career development experiences with mutual benefits to employers and future employees. The need for more involvement from companies becomes clear here. NSBE students may engage with corporate representatives at career fairs twice per year, but does that constitute their only point of contact? With more participation in chapter activities, companies can accomplish the dual goals of promoting their brands and recruiting more of the best and brightest.

At the conclusion of the study, the authors make recommendations that encourage alignment of career-focused programs and services. Based on those, I offer four recommendations to NSBE in pursuit of the 2025 goal:

WHAT IMPACT DO NSBE AND OTHER LIKE ORGANIZATIONS HAVE ON THEIR MEMBERS? A NEW STUDY SHOWS THAT HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS PARTICIPATING IN CAREER AND TECHNICAL STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS (CTSOS) AND ACTIVITIES HAVE CLEARER CAREER PATHS.

  1. Expand the reach of NSBE by creating and supporting new chapters, strengthening existing chapters and enriching programming for chapters.
  2. Explore new constituencies by raising awareness of NSBE in diverse communities.
  3. Partner with local and national businesses to solicit guest speakers for chapter events.
  4. Provide robust resources for engineers looking to obtain licenses in their field.

By aligning NSBE’s activities on the local, regional and national levels, the organization can continue to expose more pre-college students to engineering and fuel the workforce pipeline. Success in NSBE’s mission depends on each of us, from Professionals; corporate, government and nonprofit partners; and college students who actively participate in NSBE Jr. chapter activities to the parents who advocate for chapters in their children’s schools. The next generation of engineers is being developed, and their experiences matter.

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Want to Graduate? Join NSBE

NSBE works. As members and leaders, we know this anecdotally, but one study quantified NSBE’s impact on graduation rates. In their recent submission to the American Society for Engineering Education, Monique Ross of Purdue University and Susan McGrade, Ph.D. of the Indiana Institute of Technology found that 82 percent of black students who were NSBE members at a Midwestern university graduated within six years, compared with only 7.7 percent of non-NSBE, African-American engineering students. Eighty-two percent. That means the NSBE members graduated at a rate more than 10 times higher than that of non-NSBE students.

Why does NSBE work? In this paper, the authors assert that NSBE provides a holistic social space for members to engage in quality relationships, participate in activities and cultivate a sense of belonging. NSBE promotes a culture of solidarity, so increasing retention in engineering as a direct result of mutual support fits the society’s narrative perfectly. Transcripts of interviews with participants in the study, both current students and recent alumni, tell a compelling story, when coupled with statistics obtained from the university database. The three major recurring themes about the value of NSBE that surface in these interviews are family, confidence and pride.

The university at the center of this study is described as a “small, Midwestern, predominantly white university” with no minority engineering program coordinator, no black faculty in the College of Engineering and no other notable black student organizations on campus. This is where NSBE excels: in spaces where the black community craves organization. Think about the story of NSBE’s founders, affectionately known as “the Chicago Six.” They started by simply coming together with the common goal of graduating, and although they were a small group, they supported each other when their larger campus community did not.

One of the most exciting findings of this research is that NSBE membership facilitated feelings of belonging to both the engineering community and the broader campus community among the student participants in the study. Students who felt connected to NSBE also felt connected to engineering and the campus as a whole, despite the small African-American population and utter lack of black faculty in their discipline. In the comments included in the paper, participants reveal that NSBE provided them with a sense of community they may otherwise not have had or that they did not have during other stages of their education. Many of the NSBE members share stories of being “the only black kid” in class and tell how sharing that experience with others diminished their feelings of isolation.

When students join NSBE, they become members of a global network of engineers, most of whom have experienced the unique difficulties that come with being an African American in their field. If nothing else, this research should encourage our outreach to non-NSBE members, especially those who are struggling. It is not enough for current members to succeed: as a Society, we must continually invite others into our community to make progress toward the goal of graduating 10,000 Black Engineers every year at the bachelor’s degree level. With 2025 swiftly approaching, achieving this dramatic increase in engineering graduates may seem like a daunting task, however, the first step can be as simple as an invitation.

Source: Ross, M. and McGrade, S. (2016). An exploration into the impacts of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) on student persistence. Submitted to the American Society for Engineering Education’s 123rd Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, La.

Is the Black Engineering Crisis a Woman Problem?

Written by:

Karl W. Reid, Ed.D
Executive Director
National Society of Black Engineers
Erika Jefferson
Founder
Black Women in Science and Engineering
Valerie Thomas
Director
Women in Science and Engineering
Special Interest Group
National Society of Black Engineers

Back in 2007, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), coined the phrase “the quiet crisis” to describe the growing gap between the nation’s demand for engineers and scientists and the inadequate pool of skilled talent to meet the demand. She argued that our nation’s failure to provide students from all backgrounds with an adequate education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) explains why we’re not keeping up with the growing demand for technical talent. And given that Dr. Jackson’s concerns were raised nine years ago — at the dawn of both the mobile and social media revolutions, to name a few — the quiet crisis is no longer quiet!

NSBE 2025 and the Engineering Crisis Among Blacks

It’s now commonly known that the percentage of engineering degrees awarded to African Americans in the U.S. is on the decline, from 5.4 percent of all engineering degrees awarded in 2003 to 3.5 percent in 2014, according to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). This decade-long retrenchment is why the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) has announced its strategic plan goal to nearly triple the number of black engineers this country produces annually, from 3,500 in 2012 to 10,000 by 2025.

Invariably, many NSBE members and other stakeholders ask the next obvious question: How do we get to 10,000? In addition to our published plans to expand and scale-up our programs and partnerships in all segments of the educational pipeline, one recent study suggests another clear path to 10K.

A recent book edited by John Slaughter, Yu Tao and Willie Pearson Jr., “Changing the Face of Engineering: The African American Experience,” suggests that the engineering crisis among blacks in America is a black woman crisis. In other words,the percentage of African Americans is declining in engineering largely because fewer African-American women are earning degrees in the field.

Another Quiet Crisis Is Simmering

In one chapter, Shirley Malcom and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux paint a sobering picture. African-American women have a two-to-one advantage over African-American men in overall undergraduate enrollment and degrees awarded (problematic statistics in their own right), however, black men enrolled in engineering programs outnumber women by three to one. “Since 1977,” they write, “the female advantage that African American women experience in college enrollment and earned bachelor’s degrees does not translate to large numbers in the field of engineering.”

To put this in perspective, Monique Ross of Purdue University, in a recent study, summarizes it this way: although black women comprise 6.4 percent of the general population, they make up only 1.2 percent of undergraduate engineering enrollment and 0.77 percent of all engineering degrees awarded! It’s hard to become more underrepresented than this.

The researchers make it clear for NSBE that the path to 10,000 must proactively include black women. According to Malcom and Malcom-Piqueux,

If African American women earned bachelor’s degrees in engineering at the same rate as their male counterparts, this would yield more than 3,500 additional African American engineering bachelor’s degree holders annually.

Gender parity will double the number of black engineers this country produces and get us two-thirds of the way to our 2025 goal.

What Do We Do?

We need to be intentional about increasing black girls’ and black women’s interest in, awareness of and self-efficacy with regard to engineering. Here are a few ways we can collectively make this happen.

Change the conversation about engineering. The National Academy of Engineering’s efforts to “change the conversation” about engineering shift the focus from hard, technical descriptions located in disciplinary silos such as “electrical engineering” to a more contemporary reality that engineers solve cross-disciplinary problems that benefit people’s lives, a message that has resonated with young people, and especially young women.

Increase interest. Fewer black women are expressing interest in engineering at the onset. According to the National Science Foundation, only 3.2 percent of African-American freshmen women express interest in majoring in engineering, compared with 14.6 percent of black males. Engineering must be made more accessible by aligning the discipline with the interests of girls and young women. For instance, demonstrating how engineering is being used to improve the quality of lives for countless communities and people may make it more appealing.

Create more mastery experiences for girls. Developing self-efficacy (confidence) early in math and science for girls (and boys, too) is key to turning the trends around. Providing girls with exposure to engineering problems and opportunities to be successful in solving them is an important path to 10,000. NSBE’s all-girls and co-ed SEEK (Summer Engineering Experience for Kids) programs provide elementary school students with an opportunity to learn and apply engineering principles to build and present toys, all while boosting their math skills, affirming their identity and building self-confidence.

Showcase role models. There are innumerable examples of black women who have achieved academic and professional success as engineers. For instance, women make up 40 percent of the pre-collegiate, collegiate and professional membership of NSBE, a number that is double the national average of women in the engineering workforce. By having access to formal mentorships and being exposed to the personal and professional accomplishments of female engineers, more young girls could see that a career in engineering is possible. NSBE’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Special Interest Group and the Houston-based Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE) organizations provide great opportunities for women to network virtually and in person, while offering a great source of brilliant role models for those who are inspired to follow in their footsteps.

The path to 10,000 must engage more black women to pursue engineering. This is a call to action. By changing the conversation about engineering, creating more awareness and access, and leveraging existing networks, we can equip more black women to solve the increasingly complex problems of the 21st century, problems that engineers’ technical training and innovative mindsets are uniquely positioned to solve.

STEM and Social Justice: Applying an Engineering Lens to Social Change Part 2

Written by:

Karl W. Reid, Ed.D
Executive Director
National Society of Black Engineers
Emily Williams
Associate Director
Social Justice Initiative, University of Illinois at Chicago

The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is rooted in social justice. In Part 1 of this blog, we made the case that engineers’ unique, disciplined approach to problem solving can be used not only in areas such as heat transfer and structural dynamics but also more broadly. Applying engineering to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and countless other global and domestic challenges is crucial if we want to improve and save lives.

But for most engineering students or professionals, it’s not often clear how to apply their discipline to redress social problems that are confronting our communities and the developing world. Here are a few suggestions:

Graduate with excellence. Every collegiate and pre-collegiate NSBE member has the same primary goal: to graduate with excellence. Earning a degree with the highest grades possible equips you to conquer social problems and increases your options to apply your skills, interests and passion anywhere.

Be multidisciplinary. The cofounders of #BlackLivesMatter did not simply found a movement on a whim. The idea for the hashtag and the conviction around the need for a movement were the result of studying and learning about black history, black feminism, black politics and queer theory. Broad study and intellectual curiosity have been encouraged and practiced by many of the young activists in the movement. In the same way, engineers can complement their technical and scientific knowledge with knowledge of the humanities, arts and social sciences.

Don’t accept the status quo. Our current world privileges some and subjugates others. This can change. When you invent new technology or perfect an existing model, ask who benefits and who loses from the end result. Will disadvantaged and already marginalized communities be able to access the product? Will the creation of said product or technology irreparably damage our planet? Adopting a sense of social responsibility means thinking about the impact we have on the world.

Find something you’re passionate about. Mike Murdock, in his book “The Assignment: Powerful Secrets for Discovering Your Destiny,” asserts, “What grieves you is a clue to something you’re assigned to heal.” Finding a cause or movement that emotionally fires you up may be a window to your calling, even if you respond by making it an extracurricular activity…for now.

Research what others have done or are doing. Chances are that there are others who share your passion and interest for a certain cause. However, as an engineer, your perspective may bring fresh solutions to the problem. It’s always better to add momentum and diversity of thought to an existing movement than to start a movement of your own.

Connect with communities. The people who are closest to the problems are most aware of what the solutions are and should be. When solving social problems, it’s important to work with individuals who are most affected. What do they want? How do they talk about the issues affecting them?

Seek out advisors. There is safety in numbers, particularly when it comes to the numbers of advisors who can help you avoid “landmines.” There are countless people in our lives who’ve succeeded and failed, and who are willing to offer lessons learned about their experiences. Experience isn’t always the best teacher. Teachers and advisors are!

Build sustainable networks. In her TED talk, Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, draws the distinction between current-day protests and the civil rights movement. The latter took years of planning and organizing, with attention to building communications networks and lasting relationships. Sustainable movements require a commitment to slow and steady organizing and collaborative networks, and not just a rapid assembly of people who are following a hashtag.

Focus relentlessly on data. Sustainable movements answer the “So what?” question with data. What effect will you have, and how can it be measured? Giving attention to metrics and piloting solutions while capturing and sharing data are key to building financial, human and institutional support.

Mentor your successor(s). Many movements rise on the charisma of a singular leader. But these same movements fail when that leader leaves or is removed, for whatever reason. Lasting social change initiatives invest in training and mentoring future leaders.

Social justice matters, for the sustainability of life on this planet and for the healthy development of human civilization. By taking a few steps and asking particular questions, social justice can be viewed through the lens of any career field.

Engineers can create the world we want to live in. In fact, it is up to them, and countless others who are trained to think critically and solve problems, to name injustice, to strategize and to develop informed, thoughtful alternatives. See yourself as an influencer who can catalyze change. Our world depends on it.

NSBE Launches Campaign to Graduate 10,000 Black Engineers

Annual Goal for the U.S. Is Set for 2025

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Only 19 percent of black 4th graders in the U.S. and 13 percent of the nation’s black 8th graders were proficient in math in 2015, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 5.5 percent of black 8th graders in the U.S. in 2005 completed calculus five years later, and a mere 1.1 percent of the nation’s black college freshmen enrolled in engineering programs in 2010, according to a recent analysis conducted by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). And then there’s this distressing fact from the American Society for Engineering Education: the percentage of African Americans among U.S. engineering bachelor’s degree recipients has been declining for more than a decade and was only 3.5 percent in 2014.

But the core mission of NSBE, founded 40 years ago, is to increase the number of black engineers. So the Society has decided to do something about the effect of these disparaging statistics on black youth and on the nation’s need for talent in the critical fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The Society has targeted an ambitious goal: to have the U.S. produce 10,000 African-American bachelor’s degree recipients in engineering annually, by 2025, up from the current number of 3,620. NSBE will launch its “Be 1 of 10,000” campaign in October 2015, with an outreach to African-American 7th graders and others across the country. NSBE’s goal is to have 150,000 7th grade students envision themselves as engineers and pledge to achieve academic excellence in subjects such as algebra, chemistry and physics, which are at the base of an engineering education. The Society will then provide online and other resources to help those students achieve their goals.

“NSBE’s leadership is totally committed to this campaign,” says NSBE National Chair Neville Green, a senior in chemical engineering at the City University of New York. “As students and professionals in STEM, we know the importance of driving this change, to ensure the future of our communities.”

“Be 1 of 10,000” is reaching out to 7th graders because they are scheduled to graduate from four-year colleges in 2025. However, continued success in meeting NSBE’s strategic goals will require the Society to increase the STEM proficiency of students who are even closer to the start of the “pipeline” to engineering careers. In addition to the online resources being provided, plans to meet these milestones are expansion of the Society’s Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) program for students in grades 3 through 8, and encouraging more public school districts to offer calculus in high school.

NSBE’s leadership is totally committed to this campaign…as students and professionals in STEM, we know the importance of driving this change, to ensure the future of our communities.

Providing more academic support to African-American engineering students in college is also part of the plan. This support will include tutoring and mentoring by older student and professional members of NSBE, collaborative study sessions, training in test-taking and other measures. We will also seek support to boost the institutional capacity of colleges of engineering to recruit, educate and graduate more black engineering students.

“10K looks like a big number, until we divide it among our 227 collegiate chapters across the U.S.,” says Tolu Oyelowo, NSBE’s national academic excellence chair, who is a senior in biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University. “If each chapter graduates an additional three members by 2025, we will have met our goal.”

The campaign is designed to mobilize the Society’s 31,000-plus members and others as well. Those who partner with NSBE will help bring about a positive cultural change that will create a mind shift in students of color across the nation. The hope is that these children will begin to see themselves as engineers instead of the athletes and entertainers they most often view as role models.

“Graduating 10,000 black engineers per year will generate benefits that extend far beyond our organization,” says Karl W. Reid, Ed.D., NSBE executive director. “By harnessing the STEM talent of greater numbers of African Americans, we are expanding the corps of problem solvers and innovators in service to the nation.”

NSBE’s “Be 1 of 10,000” campaign is sponsored by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Media sponsors of the campaign include WGBH Boston and National Journal “The Next America.”

To join the campaign or for more information, visit Graduate10K.NSBE.org. Or follow the campaign on social media at #Be1of10K. Through these and other media, NSBE hopes to make engineering a household word in the African-American community and help more black students envision themselves as successful engineers.

ABOUT NSBE
Founded in 1975, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is one of the largest student-governed organizations based in the United States. With more than 31,000 members and more than 300 chapters in the U.S. and abroad, NSBE supports and promotes the aspirations of collegiate and pre-collegiate students and technical professionals in engineering and technology. NSBE’s mission is “to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.” For more information, visit www.nsbe.org.

ABOUT WGBH
WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web, includingMasterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Arthur, Curious George, and more than a dozen other primetime, lifestyle and children’s series. WGBH’s television channels include WGBH 2, WGBX 44, and the digital channels World and Create. WGBH TV productions focus on the region’s diverse community include Greater BostonBasic Black and High School Quiz Show. WGBH Radio serves listeners across New England with 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s Local

NPR®; 99.5 WCRB Classical Radio Boston; and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® Station. WGBH also is a major source of programs for public radio (among them, PRI’s The World®), a leader in educational multimedia (including PBS LearningMedia™, providing the nation’s educators with free, curriculum-based digital content), and a pioneer in technologies and services that make media accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired audiences. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards and Oscars. Find more information at wgbh.org.