Working To Uplift Underrepresented Student Voices in Engineering

2/29/24 Pratt School of Engineering

The National Society of Black Engineers at Duke continues to promote principles of equity and collaboration between researchers across the industry who come from underrepresented communities.

Group photo of Duke NSBE members in front of the chapel
Working To Uplift Underrepresented Student Voices in Engineering

The engineering field has transformed over the last several decades, ushering in generations of more diverse and inclusive thought leaders and researchers. The National Science Foundation reported that the STEM workforce in the US made gains between 2011 and 2021, with “increased representation of women and underrepresented minorities.” 

Much of that progress is due in part to initiatives that foster environments that uplift voices from underrepresented groups, much like the National Society of Black Engineers.

Founded in 1975 at Purdue University, the organization was the result of students recognizing an alarming number of Black freshmen dropping out of engineering programs. Its initial goals were to recruit, retain and train more Black engineering students with the support of a network built on collaboration and visibility. 

A robust community of diverse thinkers makes for greater strides in research, and organizations like NSBE at Duke hope to uplift that message. McKenna Vernon, a senior studying environmental engineering, serves as the vice president of the Duke chapter of the NSBE and says its mission is multifaceted. 

Software engineers from Google participate in a panel teaching NSBE members about the different paths to industry and how to prepare for technical interviews

Last year, they partnered with Brogden Middle School by sending members to visit classrooms and help students with various wheeled projects. NSBE has even worked with Google and Tanium, a cybersecurity and systems management company, on professional development activities where speakers have visited campus to talk about the opportunities they offer.

“NSBE isn’t just for engineering majors,” Vernon shared. “Computer sciences, math subject areas, data science–anyone from STEM can join and really benefit from the society.” Having students from different disciplines engage with one another helps bridge the gap between those underrepresented voices as well.

We partner with the Career Center to get interview tips, provide elevator pitch help and aid in applying to graduate programs. With that, we hope Black engineers can still have a space to thrive.

McKenna Vernon Senior, Environmental Engineering

NSBE members also contribute to the local community through partnerships with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the North Carolina Food Bank. These activities underscore the group’s commitment to social responsibility and community engagement.

Vernon mentioned the importance of adapting to changing circumstances, such as the impact of the Supreme Court decision on admissions processes and the need for increased support from university administration. These challenges only highlight why NSBE’s advocacy and support work are so important, as they continue to ensure that any STEM student has the resources and opportunities needed to succeed.

“Our goal is to make sure that on campus, we set students up for success in the future,” Vernon shared. “We partner with the Career Center to get interview tips, provide elevator pitch help and aid in applying to graduate programs. With that, we hope Black engineers can still have a space to thrive.”

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