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Understanding the National Society of Black Engineers – Events, support, and community impact

By Anton Zekveld

CHICAGO, Ill. (May 21, 2024) – On February 24, over 300 students and parents attended Engineers Week, or E Week, hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers. Attendees learned about engineering through engaging activities and workshops. This event signifies the core mission of the National Society of Black Engineers, or NSBE — to advance and support aspiring engineers, from grade school all the way to the professional level.

But NSBE extends much farther than this one event, having national significance as well as individual impact for thousands in the Chicagoland area, and even around the world.

What is NSBE?

In 1974, a group of Purdue Engineering students known as the “Chicago Six” got together with a few of their peers and Professor Arthur J. Bond, Ph.D. to form SBE – the Society of Black Engineers. According to the NSBE website, at their first meeting in 1975, 48 students from 32 engineering schools “unanimously voted to form the National Society of Black Engineers.” Since then, the organization has grown from a collection of 48 students to an international network of over 600 chapters with over 24,000 active members.

Over 300 students and parents attended Engineers Week, or E Week, hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers Region IV. (Photo provided)

NSBE offers a variety of programs for all ages, from kindergarteners interested in engineering to professionals pushing engineering into the future. Their mission is “to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.”

The society does so in a multitude of ways, such as introducing youth to engineering through NSBE Jr. programs, supporting college engineers and helping them network with experienced professionals, and encouraging community engagement at every level. This takes place in six regions, spanning the United States and other countries. Chicago and the surrounding area are a part of Region IV. It is here that Jabez Anderson, Director of Pre-Collegiate Initiative in Chicago, lives and works.

Jabez Anderson, Director of Pre-Collegiate Initiative for NSBE Region IV

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Jabez Anderson is the Director of Pre-Collegiate Initiative for NSBE Region IV. (Photo from LinkedIn)

Jabez Anderson graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in Structural Engineering after transferring from Purdue Calumet, now Purdue Northwest. He then went on to work as a geotechnical engineer materials tester and a drafter before landing his current job as a Project Engineer at Wessler Engineering, a wastewater management company in Northwest Indiana.

Anderson said that while he was technically a part of NSBE while he attended Purdue, he wasn’t actively involved until he became a professional engineer. He said that the reason he’s in NSBE now is because of Melanie Mosley. A few years ago Anderson met with Mosley, Vice President of NSBE Chicago Professionals, “the Queen of Chicago NSBE”, to talk about a corporate partnership between Wessler Engineering and NSBE.

“Once that was actually set up, then I started to talk with Melanie more,” he said. “I participated in a couple of events just volunteering on behalf of Wessler, and then Melanie stated ‘Hey, we have an open position for PCI (Pre-Collegiate Initiative), would you like to be a part of that?’”

He took her up on that invitation and, when an election was held last year, he was voted in as the Director of PCI for Chicago NSBE. In this role he is responsible for establishing and managing NSBE Jr. chapters and resources for K-12 students, helping students get connected with professionals, and running STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs for students in K-12. These responsibilities align with Jabez’s goal of bringing STEM to underprivileged communities.

“For a long time I’ve wanted to work with students. … In particular I want to work with Gary, Indiana, but I do want to work with children, period,” he said. “I want to bring STEM into underserved communities to help diversify the field of engineering.”

Students use tape and straws to create a structure at NSBE’s E Week in February. (Photo provided)

How can local students get involved?

Jabez estimates that there are around 20 NSBE Jr. chapters in the Chicago area. A NSBE Jr. chapter can operate like any school club, and all it takes to get one started is five interested students and one adult advisor. In these chapters, NSBE Jr. members are given resources, activities, projects, and unique opportunities to connect with professionals and collegiate engineers. As a way of building community within the organization and between engineers, collegiate members volunteer to help with NSBE Jr. chapters by running programs and going to schools as speakers.

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Students in kindergarten through high school can participate in NSBE. (Photo provided)

“Any school, kindergarten through 12th grade, that wants to have a NSBE Jr. chapter, all they have to do is have five members and an advisor, create bylaws, of course assign everybody a position, and then sign up to be a national member of NSBE,” Anderson said.

He added that NSBE isn’t just for engineers.

“What engineering does is it gives you the ability to think critically, and the ability to think critically is necessary for all fields, because you’re going to run up on a time when you have to make a decision that isn’t necessarily in the books or that somebody hasn’t told you to make, per se. You’re going to be in a situation where you have to think critically,” he said.

Those interested in starting a NSBE Jr. chapter can reach Anderson at [email protected] for assistance.

One obstacle that often arises at schools is that teachers already feel overwhelmed with work, but Anderson said that being an advisor is simple and doesn’t take too much time or involvement.

“It seems like a heavy lift, but I do want to say for advisors in particular it is not that heavy of a lift … The advisor will mostly just be a part of meetings and stuff like that but the students, I believe, are the ones that should be doing most of the planning work, most of the execution and things of that nature. The advisor would just be there for guidance’s sake.”

E Week 2024

Every year, the NSBE Engineering Week Exposition brings hundreds of students from around Chicagoland to a day full of engineering workshops, activities, and opportunities to meet professional engineers. This year’s event took place in February and was one of the largest E Weeks in the region’s history, with over 300 students and parents going to Hermann Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

E Week attendees watch a traffic engineering demonstration. (Photo provided)

Students began their day at 9 a.m. with an introduction, then headed to the first session. Each session allowed students to experience different types of engineering through hands-on workshops led by professionals in that field. For example, while the students built a bridge or a tower with marshmallows and toothpicks, the presenter would teach them structural principles, which they could then put into practice in real time. Among the favorite workshops were bridge building, ice cream making, and traffic control. After the morning sessions came lunch, and then the students went off to their final session before the closing ceremony and left at 3 p.m.

The event is open to all students, from kindergarten to 12th grade. Membership in NSBE Jr. is not a requirement, and the total cost per student was only $10. The low cost stems from NSBE’s dedication to reaching all students, regardless of financial situation.

Students engage with a water demonstration from the Midwest Water Reclamation District during NSBE’s E Week in February. (Photo provided)

Summer events for students

Currently, there are three engineering summer camps being offered by NSBE to Chicago area students. These camps, called Engineering Explorers, will be weeklong day camps, and each one will serve a different age group:

  • June 24-28: Sixth through eighth-graders can attend the camp held at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
  • July 15-19: Fourth through sixth-graders can go to a camp held at mHUB.
  • August 19-23: High schoolers can attend the camp held at the Museum of Science and Industry.

More information on these camps and how to sign up is available at chicagonsbe.org/eexplorers.

Anderson is excited to further expand the reach of NSBE Chicago, and said that he has a lot of big plans in mind for the future.

“I’m planning on bigger and better things, you know, the West Side of Chicago I heard was looking for NSBE to reach out and so I want to see if we can, you know, push our efforts on the West Side, not forgetting the South Side, and, fingers crossed, maybe even the North Side could join the party,” he said. “So we’ll see if we can start spreading this thing out a little bit further.”

The Lansing Journal
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