Blair's new National Society of Black Engineers chapter helps members find opportunities to excel

Feb. 19, 2020, 1:04 a.m. | By Jasmine Ali | 2 years, 7 months ago

How the club helps people find ways to make connections in the STEM field

This year, several Blazers created a new National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter. Club members were surprised the school did not have one and took the initiative to spearhead the development of the club. "We were kind of shocked that Blair didn't really have a NSBE chapter, so we thought it would be a great idea to start one here," senior club president Liam Olagbaju says.

Club members got inspired to start up the club over the past summer. "We got the idea from when we went on a NASA trip with our summer program at UMD and we decided we wanted to start the program here at Blair for other people interested in engineering," senior vice president Karla Press-Porter says.

Photo: NSBE members practice civil engineering by building bridges with marshmallows and toothpicks.

NSBE is a national organization that focuses on helping people of color become successful in engineering by creating a greater support system to encourage those entering the field. Most of the organization is at the college level, but there are junior chapters for high schoolers, like the one at Blair. Club members officially registered Blair's NSBE chapter a few months before school started. 

NASA aerospace engineer Sheri Horn helped as a club sponsor with the creation of the chapter. Horn also works with the Takoma Academy NSBE chapter and helped the Blazers plan lessons and get guest speakers. "She would help us set up the club on the NSBE website and get us registered, give us ideas for meetings on what we need to do this activity or give a list of like future activities we can do and introduce speakers who are interested in coming," Olagbaju says.

Club teacher sponsor James Demma decided to sponsor the club based on the club members' passion for NSBE and the message the students wanted to send. "A couple of my best students asked me to and I had to say yes because they are incredible students with a lot of initiative and motivation and why would I not support that," Demma says.

The club meets every Thursday in room 352. Each week, the club does activities such as simulating oil spills, creating structures out of toothpicks and marshmallows and dealing with dry ice. In meetings, students typically split up into groups to conduct these respective projects to find the most efficient way to solve the problem and share their findings with the club.

NSBE also has a large focus on career skills, internships and opportunities for club members. There are workshops and guest speakers to help out with this goal, and the club uses Google Classroom to post information on internship opportunities and other STEM-related events. "Our school sponsor, Mr. Demma, puts different activities or events in the Google Classroom and tells everyone about opportunities that he sees as a teacher to show to students," Olagbaju says.

In NSBE, both at Blair and nationally, networking is a crucial part of the organization’s goal to help people of color find opportunities. Blair's NSBE chapter does this by exposing members to all different types of opportunities. "[Officers] talk about how they're getting us ready for internship experiences with field trips and exposing this to all these different people to really help the members," senior club member Zolani Grady says.

Olagbaju wants to help students who otherwise might not be interested in engineering to find something worthwhile in the field through NSBE. "A lot of people are intimidated by engineering because they don't see that many people that look like them or they don't know that much about engineering, and we want to get them interested in all types of engineering," Olagbaju says.

NSBE is hoping to get more funding in the future to go to the national NSBE convention. Senior club member Nate Kelkay has previously attended the convention and understands the experience can be. "There are different workshops where you can ask about leadership and about future careers in engineering and that was a great experience," Kelkay says.

Club members want all Blair students to be welcome to the club, regardless of race. "You don't have to be black to get into the club. If you're interested in engineering and you actually have a real passion about it, you're welcome here anytime," Olagbaju says. NSBE members also think that a more diverse club population will help with becoming a more critical thinker. "Diversity is important because it gets you thinking outside your thinking box, so you're able to think critically about your own opinions and come up with better solutions and answers," Kelkay says.

Blazers want students of color to feel more comfortable exploring their interests in STEM in a community with supportive people. "It's like building confidence. When you walk in a room and you see people that have the same interest as you and look like you, you think there are other people like me that are interested in this type of stuff, and that really will help motivate you," Olagbaju says.

The current club members hope that the Blair chapter stays successful enough to one day come back to Blair and help the club that gave them their start. "I hope that future generations will carry the club on, so when we're in college, we can come back and share what we've learned to give back what we've gained from the club," Olagbaju says.

Last updated: Feb. 19, 2020, 1:05 a.m.

Tags: Club STEM nsbe black engineers

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