Young engineers work to inspire students

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In Allegheny County, the growth of medical and high-tech manufacturing firms, hospitals, universities and shale oil mining companies has resulted in a need for trained engineers

Yet here and across the country, students continue to lag behind their international counterparts in primary science and math education, leaving many—particularly African-Americans—unprepared to take advantage of the high-paying, career positions available in today’s job market.

preparing
PREPARING FOR SUCCESS—Ninth graders at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy raise their hands to tell members of the National Society of Black Engineers they know what they want to do. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

But through a partnership between the Urban League Young Professionals and the National Society of Black Engineers, young Black engineers are returning to local classrooms to promote their fields and the life-changing opportunities they offer.

On April 27, about a dozen engineers met with students at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland for the ULYP’s Science Technology Engineering and Math program, part of its 9th Annual Day of Service.

“This is about bridging the gap in these areas of study and getting the students excited about their futures,” said ULYP program co-chair Roxanne Easley. “And we’re delighted to be partnering with the NSBE in this work.”

The first introductory sessions for about 200 of the academy’s 9th and 10th graders began with an inspirational presentation by Jacob Howell, an electrical engineer with Ansaldo, formerly Union Switch and Signal, who grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. His message was direct: He is proof that despite disadvantages, if you know what you want, strive for excellence and you will succeed.

“Technology is not going to stop. When I went to California University of Pennsylvania, an advisor suggested I drop engineering because I was playing football, and I was good,” said Howell. “I said no. Now I’ve got three championship rings, an engineering degree, I’m working in my field and I love it.”

Eugene Williams, the local ULYP treasurer and now with Medtronics, got his biomedicine and engineering degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He told the students that whether they wanted to be game designers, architects or theoretical physicists, strive to have the best grades and the best plan. He said both the NSBE and ULYP can help in that regard.

“The importance of being part of organizations like these is being around people of a like mind, who you can talk to, who have a desire for excellence and will help you,” he said.

Following the initial presentations, students broke up into smaller groups with the engineers. Travelius Harris, president of the local NSBE chapter, talked with his group about opportunities in his field. He is a nuclear engineer with Westinghouse and will soon be joining about 5,000 others working near Augusta, Ga., on the first reactors to be built in this country since before the students were born.

Yesinia Alvarado, originally from the Bronx, N.Y., doesn’t have to go to Georgia, she designs wellheads for Marcellus and Utica Shale oil drilling rigs. She works for Baker Engineers and lives right here.

She, like neuroscientist Marie Matthews and Tonya Edmonds, a software engineer with UPMC’s technical development center, said the opportunities are here for minority women too.

Adsejuwon Anjoorin, who came here from Nigeria two years ago, told the students they are amazingly fortunate to be in a Pittsburgh School right now because they can get the Promise Scholarship and attend universities people from around the world spend $60,000 to attend.

“You will never lack for a job with a science and engineering background, and because it’s hard, people will pay you well to do it,” he told his small group. “Where I come from, we have gold and diamonds in the soil, you can pick them up. But they look like dirty rocks. Once you refine them, they shine. That is the process you are going through, and it will result in a shiny, new you.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com)

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