National Society of Black Engineers contributes to students’ success

Posted: February 24, 2021

She felt the sense of community at her very first meeting.

That’s when electrical and computer engineering major Kamila Thompson decided to join The Ohio State University National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

Ohio State NSBE chapter members pose during a 2019 meeting.
Ohio State NSBE chapter members gather for a general body meeting in spring 2019.

The organization provides support to Black engineering students, members said, who sometimes feel isolated.

“I was normally the only Black woman in my class, but now I was going to a space where there were several Black people, and people can relate to what you're feeling,” said Thompson, who is president of the Ohio State NSBE chapter. “It was also really fun.”

Founded in 1975, the Ohio State NSBE chapter strives to “increase the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.” Originally dubbed the Black Undergraduate Engineers Council (BUEC) at Ohio State, the group added the NSBE name in 1975 when the national organization launched. Several years later, the Ohio State chapter elected to be known as NSBE moving forward.

“NSBE provides that safe space where we can be vulnerable, where we can learn comfortably, where we can express ourselves freely, and where we can develop as professionals and students,” said Vice President Kennedy Kelly, who also joined the Ohio State NSBE chapter at the beginning of her freshman year and became increasingly involved in the organization.

Kelly, a communication major, works to provide fellow members with the types of opportunities from which she has benefited.

Along with hosting study tables, professional development workshops, motivational speaker events and outreach activities, NSBE also emphasizes the importance of community service.

During a typical year, NSBE holds two major outreach events in addition to other targeted efforts. Each fall, a pre-college information session is held at a local Columbus school to educate high school students on the college application process, the Common Application used by 900 institutions worldwide, scholarship programs and important dates. In spring, they collaborate with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at Ohio State to host STEM Challenge, an event that incorporates hands-on activities to interest local middle-schoolers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“The community service that we typically do is with the same schools,” Kelly explained. “I believe NSBE also has had an impact on the surrounding community based on a lot of the community service that we do.”

In addition to holding general meetings that tackle a range of issues, the chapter also hosts a mentorship program that matches first- and second-year students with upper-class students in the same major.

This year, due to the pandemic, participants had virtual monthly group check-in meetings where small groups of mentors and mentees could play games and chat in a relaxed atmosphere, Thompson noted.

“We make sure that we're checking in and that if they need help professionally or academically, that we’re there,” she said. “And since they’re in our major, we can offer them some specific advice, maybe how to get into the program, how to get a job at this company, that kind of thing.”

NSBE received the College of Engineering’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Enhancement Award in recognition of their extensive work to create inclusive communities and was honored for Excellence in Operations during The Ohio State University’s 2019 Student Life Leadership Awards.

Kamila Thompson headshot

Thompson said her mentee experience is what first sparked her interest in taking a leadership role in the organization.

“My mentor freshman year was the then-president of NSBE,” she said. “So I really got a lot of insight into leadership, how NSBE runs, and what it means to go through this experience and then give back to others.”

Thompson’s mentor convinced her to attend her first national NSBE conference, she added, which further piqued her interest in leadership.

“It was really fun, 10,000 Black engineers in one place,” she said. “It's just an experience that you can't really get anywhere else.”

Taking on a leadership position in NSBE not only helped Thompson gain new skills, but she also finds it rewarding to help others, whether it’s sharing internship or full-time employment opportunities, or providing support that encourages someone to stay in engineering.

“It allows you to learn how to lead, and then learn how to organize and learn how to impact people, which a lot of a lot of students don't get a chance to do,” she explained. “It's fulfilling to know that, even if you don't realize it, you really are having an impact on people.”

Interested Buckeye engineering students can can sign up for the Ohio State NSBE chapter’s weekly newsletter and join their GroupMe chat for more informal conversation. 

Interested in supporting the Ohio State National Society of Black Engineers chapter and its members? Consider making a gift to the NSBE Scholarship Fund or the Ohio State National Society of Black Engineers chapter.

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, 

Category: Students