ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Nearly 200 national and regional officers, advisors and administrators of the National Society of Black Engineers gathered on the campus of Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va., on June 7–11 for NSBE’s 2017 National Leadership Conference (NLC). The NLC — part of the curriculum of NSBE’s yearlong National Leadership Institute — provides training, guidance and inspiration to the collegiate and professional members who lead the Society, which is one of the largest student-governed organizations based in the United States. This year’s iteration of the conference is the first ever at Virginia Tech.
NSBE is dedicated to increasing the number of black engineers worldwide and moving African-American engineering students and professionals from underrepresentation to overrepresentation in their field. The Society has set an ambitious goal: to positively impact African-American communities and the U.S. by increasing the number of black bachelor’s degree recipients in engineering in the country to 10,000 annually by 2025, up from only 3,501 in 2014.
The conference, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, will teach NSBE officers to achieve this goal by “climbing the mountain,” said Tamar Daniel, chair of this year’s NLC.
“Our theme this year is ‘Reach your highest peak at NSBE NLC.’ We want people to develop the pathway to their vision,” said Daniel. The four phases of the conference will provide the officers with information about “preparation,” “process,” “trailblazing” and “the summit” — an analogy to mountain climbing — to enable them to master their leadership role.
“The National Leadership Conference is the first opportunity our national and regional leaders have to come together as one, each year,” said Matthew McFarland, NSBE’s National Leadership Institute chair. “This conference is critical to our organization, as this weekend provides training and direction for the hundreds of engineering students and professionals who will move our organization forward. Participation in this conference prepares them to lead NSBE toward accomplishing our mission and realizing our vision of graduating 10K black engineers annually.”
The NLC agenda includes workshops, speakers and panel discussions that will provide the officers with training in areas such as budgeting, expense management, public relations, funds solicitation, governance, best practices in nonprofit organization management, and balancing NSBE work with the demands of school. Vital nontechnical skills such as effective communication, coalition-building, asset-mapping and conflict resolution will also be taught.
The morning of June 8 will be dedicated to a graduate school fair, part of an all-out effort to recruit black students and potential faculty to Virginia Tech, said Bevlee Watford, Ph.D., P.E., professor of engineering education, associate dean for academic affairs and director of the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. The fair will give NSBE officers the opportunity to meet with Virginia Tech faculty, staff and students to learn about the university, the graduate school application process and VT research in their majors.
“…We’re making a substantial investment in this conference, and that’s good: I think NSBE is an organization that should be supported by the university,” said Dr. Watford, who was a founding member of the NSBE chapter of Virginia Tech while she was earning her undergraduate degree in engineering at the university in the 1980s. “But I would say the primary goal was to get these students to Blacksburg to see us and maybe think about joining us…. I think that students who get degrees from Virginia Tech do well. I would like to see a lot more African-American students choose Virginia Tech for their education…and to consider working here, getting a faculty position, if that’s the career they choose.”
“NSBE is extremely grateful to the Virginia Tech College of Engineering for hosting this event and providing our leadership with this strong impetus for our work this program year,” said NSBE National Chair Matthew C. Nelson. “Securing this partnership with one of the nation’s top schools bodes well for our success in reaching our common goal of increasing diversity in engineering.”
-Submitted by Yvette Watson