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PACKED CROWD—The David L. Lawrence Convention Center housed more than 13,000 attendees during the National Society of Black Engineers’ 44th Annual Convention, March 21-25. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Recruiters and headhunters from NASA, the National Science Foundation, research labs, universities and nearly 250 corporations like Boeing, Google, Dow, Delta, Apple, and Northrop Grumman never had it so good—because this year’s National Society of Black Engineers’ National Convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh gave them more potential recruits than ever before: 13,418.

Not only was it the largest crowd ever to attend the society’s national convention, it was the largest crowd ever at the Convention Center.

But that number pales in comparison to the goal board members repeated at their March 22 press conference: graduating 50,000 new Black engineers over the next five years.

“We’re not like an evangelist,” said NSBE Executive Director Karl Reid, EdD. “We don’t blow in, blow up and blow out. We’re more like a pastor; we nurture and build a community.”

Dr. Reid said partnerships made the difference, and he thanked both VisitPittsburgh and Vibrant Pittsburgh for their help in promoting the event. He said the first convention he attended in 1994 had 26 corporate exhibitors, several of which, like Digital Equipment Corp. and Amoco, no longer exist. This year they had 251 and had to turn down 27.

“We sold out the career fair. We’ve never done that before,” Dr. Reid said of the 44th annual NSBE Convention. “We have over 311,000 square feet of convention space, plus all the meeting rooms. Now, 3,300 of the registrants were recruiters, and last year Northrop hired over 100 on the spot at the convention,” he said. “Many here are trying to do the same thing. We have interview space that they set up on the main floor ahead of time using our app.”

SOSSENA WOOD of NSBE, who was also a New Pittsburgh Courier 2016 Fab 40 honoree.

Another reason for the event’s success, Dr. Reid said, is that technology and engineering companies understand that diversity and inclusion improves their business.

“Companies realize diversity is a strategic imperative. We don’t have to convince them,” he said.

“Wes Bush, the CEO of Northrop Grumman and his 14 top leaders are having their strategic team meeting here at the convention. PPG CEO Michael McGarry led a corporate diversity roundtable. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter is here. Because the more diverse we are and the more times we interact, the more inclusive we’ll become. That’s proven to be the success factor for many companies—and they get it.”

NSBE National Chairman Matthew Nelson said while African Americans are making great strides in technical fields, Blacks will be making real inroads in the engineering space when STEM excellence is given the same attention—at an early age—as sports.

KARL REID, EdD, executive director of NSBE, speaking at a press conference, March 22. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

“If a kid can throw a curve ball or run a 3.4 in seventh grade, people know about it, coaches, schools—there’s video on YouTube, Twitter. So, human capital data analytics is not new,” he said. “But now, imagine having that same infrastructure for STEM—identifying those young folks with interest and ability. So, if some kid wins a seventh-grade science fair, a CEO knows about it, and can use that as part of hiring projections 20 years out.”

Where is the growth in engineering now? Not surprisingly, Nelson said most is in technology—machine learning, data analytics, or systems engineering.

“But in terms of hard-core engineering, the fastest growth right now is in biomedical engineering. It’s expected to grow 24 percent through 2024,” he said. “But the field is really looking for integrators. Firms are figuring out that putting a bunch of engineers in a room isn’t anymore—because no matter what I’m creating, I have to figure out who’s going to use it, what their needs are, how to sell it…We’re seeing cultural anthropologists in web design and software engineering because they know how people behave in environments and tailoring software to them rather than making people conform to the technology.”

As for actively promoting and investing in diversity and inclusion in engineering, he said some institutions are clearly ahead of others. He cited his alma mater, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin as large institutions, but also HBCUs like North Carolina A&T.

“The corporate community has recognized that. Northrop Grumman, for instance, has partnered with us on an integrated pipeline program that targets three HBCUs,” he said. “They are updating curriculums, supporting students financially and giving them executive mentoring so there is no lag—they come out of school and make an impact immediately.”

 

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