It was truly an awesome sight to see last week when thousands of young positive black men and women descended upon our fine city to attend the 36th Annual National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Convention. The event, which ran from March 31st to April 4thmainly at the Toronto Convention Centre, marked the first time that an NSBE annual convention was held outside of the United-States.

Founded in 1975 at Purdue University, NSBE has for its primary mission to: "increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community."

Within the decade prior to NSBE’s creation, a staggering 80% of African-American freshmen entering engineering college programs dropped out. In an effort to combat the isolation and lack of support for black engineering students nationwide, NSBE founder Anthony Harris, one of the other original “Chicago six”, set out to contact the presidents and deans of every accredited engineering program in the country. Approximately 80 schools responded and 48 students from 32 schools were present at the inaugural national meeting.

Today, the National Society of Black Engineers comprises of more than 450 College, Pre-College, and Technical Professional/Alumni chapters in the U.S. and abroad. In Canada, there are several NSBE student-run chapters mainly in Ontario and Quebec. The University of Toronto is among those Canadian schools with an NSBE presence. NSBE today counts over 33,000 members.

Between 5,000 and 7,000 NSBE members were on hand for the first international convention in Toronto which wrapped up last week end. According to Scarborough Centre Councillor Michael Thompson, who was instrumental in helping to bring the convention to the city, the impact of the event is estimated to reach between $12 to $20 million in revenue for the city.

As Councillor Thompson correctly declared: "(The convention) brings an opportunity for young people to see other young people applying engineering knowledge and the process to go through in terms of getting their degrees. More importantly, it''s a symbiotic relationship of seeing other young people excel at what they''re doing."

Anthony Harris & Tanya Stephens

>> Original NSBE founder Anthony Harris with Toronto''s NSBE Marketing and Promotions Manager, Tanya Stephens

NSBE group pose

>> NSBE members from the U.S. posing for AfroToronto.com

Dr Perry

>> Dr Steve Perry addressing the convention attendees


Speaking to AfroToronto.com, both Canadian NSBE members Nnaziri Ihejirika (Vice-Chair) and Tanya Stephens (Marketing and Promotions Manager) echoed this sentiment. Ms Stephens, born and raised in Montreal from a Caribbean background and a computer engineering graduate from Concordia University, told us:

“We have the opportunity to change the way young people think about how successful they can be. …. They see so many of us that are doing positive things in one place. Just the image is what they need to see. ... I would like to see a shift toward positive stories in the community, versus negative ones.”

{sidebar id=10}Ms Stephens pointed to a group of students from Lester B. Person who came to the convention and were inspired to start a pre-college chapter at their school.

The NSBE emblem (pictured at the top of the article) symbolizes the members’ burning desire to succeed as exemplified by the torch -- while the lightning bolt denotes the impact that the organization seeks to have on the industry and society in general.

Vice-Chair Nnaziri Ihejirika, a UofT mechanical engineering grad and reliability engineer at Suncor Energy, also told AfroToronto.com that a very important focus for NSBE member is to reach out to the youth in order to encourage them to embrace math and sciences.

Indeed, the National Society of Black Engineers strives to accomplish the following:

  • Stimulate and develop student interest in the various engineering disciplines.
  • Strive to increase the number of minority students studying engineering at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • Encourage members to seek advanced degrees in engineering or related fields and to obtain professional engineering registrations.
  • Promote public awareness of engineering and the opportunities for Blacks and other minorities in that profession.
  • Function as a representative body on issues and developments that affect the careers of Black Engineers.

Precisely to address these goals, the 36th Annual NSBE Convention featured motivational speakers, workshops, executive roundtables and panel discussions. Experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as representatives from Fortune 500 companies came on board to offer their precious wisdom and to look for prospective employees.

In a both moving and humorous address to the convention attendees, the inspirational founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, CT, Dr Steve Perry (who was featured in CNN’s Black in America series) stressed the vital importance of reaching out to the youth.

“What you do is inspire. You make it so that our children can believe in themselves” he said.

For more information, please visit www.nsbe.org.

More pictures from the 36th Annual National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Convention:

NSBE Torch



>> Wal-Mart executives


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