By RON FANFAIR
Close to 10,000 young Black engineering professionals and students will meet in Toronto next spring. It will be the first convention of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to be held outside the United States.
The 36th annual event takes place from March 31-April 4 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Toronto city councilor Michael Thompson has been working closely with the group’s executive for the past three years to bring the event to the city.
“This all started in 2006 when I had a meeting with Tourism Toronto which was looking to land a major U.S. group to hold its convention here,” said Thompson, the only Black councilor on Toronto’s City Council. “At around the same time, the NSBE came up on my radar and I contacted their executive director and other senior executives to get them to commit to come here to host their 2010 conference.
“I have been working with them since, and I can tell you that I am very impressed with the way they conduct themselves and their business after attending their last three conventions in Ohio, Orlando and Las Vegas. This group has about 33,000 members worldwide and, initially, we were expecting about 15,000 delegates to come to Toronto next year. However, with the issue of passports, we might get close to 10,000 positive young Black youths, many of them with Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Others are in very creative and complex fields. These are very bright and well educated young people.
“For me, this is not only a positive opportunity for the City of Toronto in terms of tourism and bringing an infusion of money here and helping our businesses, but also helping young children because students from the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic School Board will be invited to the convention to see all these young energetic Black youths who are doing very well in the field of engineering.”
The NSBE is one of the largest student-run organizations in the United States.
“This organization is driven by students and sometimes we hear people say that the youths are only interested in instant gratification and that the only thing they think about is themselves,” said NSBE administrative chair Stacyann Russell. “Well, I have 33,000 members that say we care about our community and we need to make sure we do our part in the world and bring our people behind us to make a difference.
“We are one of the few organizations that have the ground troops that are necessary to solve our problems, from getting people interested in Math and Science to actively solving engineering problems out there. We have the soldiers ready to make that move and years from now when it’s written in the history books, you will be able to say you have been part of that.”
Founded in 1974 by six male members of Purdue University’s Black Society of Engineers, the NSBE established a presence in Canada in 1994 with the formation of the first chapter outside the U.S at McGill University.
Prior to the establishment of the Canadian chapter, three Canadian students from Windsor and Montreal attended the 1975 NSBE convention.
Russell said the NSBE’s main goal is to improve the recruitment and retention of Black engineering students.
“The thing that brought us together was our everlasting mission to increase the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and personally impact the community,” she said. “That is the cornerstone, the heart and the beat of this organization.
“When you look around, you realize that we are relevant and we are needed. In Toronto, 40 per cent of your Black youths are not graduating from high school and the number rises to about 50 per cent in the United States. On top of that, there is a global need for engineers.”
Toronto Police has promised the organization that its members will be safe in the city while Ryerson University president and vice-chancellor Dr. Sheldon Levy said his academic institution has “a self-interest” in the convention since Ryerson aims to attract and retain the best and brightest.
The 2010 National Convention’s planning chair, Ainsley Stewart Jr., said next year’s convention outside the U.S. represents a major step in global expansion plans and prominently promotes the growth, success and effectiveness of the NSBE programs.
“To commemorate this specific convention, we will be hosting very creative and unique events to showcase the City of Toronto and take advantage of the international atmosphere,” he added.