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.

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.