A Legacy of Leadership: School of Engineering NSBE Student Chapter Celebrates 35 Years

The National Society of Black Engineers’ (“NSBE”) emblem, composed of a flaming torch backed by two criss-crossed lightning bolts, was designed with a bright future in mind. The torch symbolizes “the members’ everlasting, burning desire to achieve success in a competitive society and positively affect the quality of life for all people.” The lightning bolts represent the “striking impact the will be felt by the society and industry due to contributions and accomplishments made by the dedicated members of NSBE.”

But in 1971, before there was a need for a national emblem, two students from Purdue, Edward Barnette and Fred Cooper, approached the dean of engineering with an idea for an organization that would improve recruitment and retention of black engineering students. That group, the Black Society of Engineers, evolved from six members into the Society of Black Engineers and held its first national convention in the spring of 1975.

2015 marks 35 years that NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s NSBE student chapter has been in existence. Thriving would be a more accurate description with the student chapter producing three national chairs, three of five of the last five regional chairs and two zone chairs. NSBE’s student chapter is making an impact on the campus of the School of Engineering and sending its members out into the world with its mission statement in mind. 

“NSBE’s legacy is the large cadre of alumni who live and breathe its mission: to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community, said Calvin Young, former NSBE national chair and former School of Engineering chapter president.

Young is definitely one of that number. He credits NSBE as the reason he did not drop out of college. 

“I struggled deeply freshman and sophomore year at Poly,” Young said. “NSBE Chapter President and Poly alum, DeVaughn Lane, took me under his wing and studied with me so I could be motivated to keep pushing.”

Not only did Young make it through his undergraduate program, but he went on to further his education. This spring, he received his MBA from Harvard Business School.

“My involvement in NSBE was the avenue to jobs I held prior to HBS, and is at least partially responsible for HBS’s acceptance of me into the Class of 2015,” said Young.

As the premier technical organization for African American engineering students and professionals, now boasting tens of thousands of members, NSBE still maintains a familial feel. As evidenced in Young’s partnering with DeVaughn Lane, it’s a quality of NSBE life that one acquires a second family to support and nurture along the way.

“Being a part of NSBE is like having a home away from home,” said Sabrina Fletcher, former NSBE chapter secretary and presiding student chapter president. “From my first semester, they’ve made me feel welcome and made my transition into college so much simpler and more comfortable. With them, I have friends, tutors, mentors and advisors.”

Fletcher connected with more of her extended family while attending her first NSBE National Convention this year in Anaheim, California. There she gained a new perspective on what was possible for her in seeing successful blacks in the community. She also met Christine Pembroke, who would mentor her into her current chapter presidency.

“Both of these moments are what motivated me the most to become a part of NSBE’s legacy of leaders,” Fletcher said. “The convention and my experience with NSBE this year really showed me the impact that we have as a club on the campus.”

In her new position as chapter president, Fletcher is excited about the upcoming year and the organization’s future. Although NSBE was founded on the development and growth of blacks in engineering, Fletcher emphasized that the student chapter is not exclusively a black or engineering club. All majors and ethnicities interested in joining will be welcomed.

“Now that we’ve merged with NYU, we expect a wider range of students to join us,” Fletcher said. “And as this happens our agenda for our members will grow and change. We will need to reach out to corporations that not only help engineers but business majors, law majors, liberal arts majors, etcetera…We won’t just be helping engineering majors but all majors.”

In addition to broadening the club’s membership base, increased community involvement is also on the agenda. Expanding the pre-college initiative by starting new NSBE Jr. Chapters which expose the younger generation to opportunities in the STEM fields and will give insight into university life is high priority.

Still a full-time student, Fletcher’s immediate goals for herself include creating her own app and, hopefully, a summer internship. As far as long-term aspirations, she is interested in software engineering or mobile application development.

“My ultimate career goal is to reach a level of comfort in my career where I have time to give back to my community,” she said, “and expose more minority students to STEM fields through summer community centers or camps such as SEEK.”

This penchant to give back, to pull others along, is one Christine Pembroke, Fletcher’s mentor and speakers and workshops coordinator for NSBE’s annual convention, is a quality that fortifies NSBE and its members.

“NSBE believes that action is the evidence of learning, so after all the workshops, socials, seminars and meetings, NSBE then beckons its members to leadership,” said Pembroke. “This is where the real transformation begins…Leaders lead, titles don’t.  NSBE is an organization of leaders—in schools, in the workplace and in the community.”

Pembroke is currently working as an estimator in the pre-construction division of Clark Construction while continuing to remain active in NSBE. She has plans of returning to school for her MBA and working her way up to chief estimator.

She describes her involvement with NSBE as “life changing.”

“Many of us have joked around that a NSBE testimonial likens that of ‘finding the light’ in church,” Pembroke said. “NSBE accepts you for who you are, and what you have, then says, ‘Let me fortify your strengths, and refine the thing that make your weaknesses.’” 

The torch is still burning; the impact is indeed striking. Here’s to 35 more years of NSBE excellence.