The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) faced a dilemma a few years ago.
The largest student-managed organization in the world with a membership of nearly 33,000 was not in a position to provide scholarships or internships to its international members even though it was quickly blossoming as a global entity.
International members confronted NSBE’s leadership demanding they fix the problem so that they could feel they were valued members.
“The global organizations would say we can’t hire foreign-born students and we can’t give them internships or scholarships,” NSBE’s executive director Carl Mack told Share. “That was when we made an absolute commitment in 2005 to hold our very first annual conference outside of the United States and, in that case, Toronto.”
The 36th annual convention, which attracted about 7,000 engineers and students from Canada and the United States, concluded last Sunday at the Metro Convention Centre in downtown, Toronto
Mack, who learned during the conference that Clarkson University had selected him to receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree during next month’s convocation, said the decision to come to Toronto was made at a tremendous price.
“That was because at least a third of our corporate supporters said if you go to Toronto, we cannot go and that’s not because we are upset with you,” he said. “They said the reason is because they can’t recruit on foreign soil. So when you got a third of your financial base telling you they cannot go and you are going to lose that money, especially in these tough economic times, and for the leadership of NSBE to say O.K., we will accept the loss of the revenue because that pales in comparison to us proving to our international members that we hear your cries and we are going to make you a priority, that shows where our commitment was.
“Since that time, we have been able to secure over $200,000 in scholarship funding for our international members and our corporate sponsors are now beginning to hire our international members not only full-time, but also in internship positions.”
Mack said the Toronto convention was a success beyond NSBE’s wildest dreams.
“I think it’s going to lay the foundation and the groundwork for NSBE to now take this annual convention all over the world,” he said. “We have done leadership conferences in both Ghana and Nigeria and we are an unbelievable motivating force to our brothers and sisters in the motherland.
“There is not a place on this planet that I could say I can’t see us ever going. This organization breaks stereotypes and barriers everyday. This event in Toronto has absolutely shattered barriers for us.”
Councilor Michael Thompson worked closely with NSBE’s leadership over the past three years to bring the conference to this city.
“I do not think you could have chosen a more fitting location for this landmark event,” he said at the opening ceremony. “I welcome you as leaders of tomorrow who will build a better world for people of all nations…Your hands are the hands to which we will entrust the guardianship of our planet. You have, in my view, a great opportunity to transform this world to make it a better place for all.”
In welcoming the conference participants, Mayor David Miller said that a Black man – William Hubbard – founded Toronto Hydro, the local distributor of electric power in the city, which employs many engineers.
Close to 20 students from Blessed Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School in Malvern participated in the pre-college initiative conference that’s part of the convention. They attended workshops and took part in the engineering and design, the science fair and the new Try-Math-a-Lon competitions.
The pre-college initiative is designed to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I am very excited to be part of this conference and to meet particularly Black female civil engineers because that’s my career goal,” said the school’s NSBE junior chapter president, Adolphina Wilson. “I have been with our chapter for the past three years, but this is the first convention I am attending so I am really thrilled.”
The Grade 12 student, who will pursue her post-secondary studies at the University of Toronto, said her father – Adolphus Wilson who is an engineer with Halsall Associates Ltd. – was her inspiration for choosing a professional discipline that encompasses design, construction and maintenance of the physical and naturally-built environment.
The convention concluded with the 13th annual Golden Torch awards that recognized organizations and individuals who exemplify NSBE’s ideals of academic excellence, professional success and dedication to improvement of the Black community.
Recently promoted Rear Admiral Willie Metts, the highest ranking African-American in the U.S. Navy’s Information Warfare division, was presented with the Distinguished Engineer of the Year award; retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Frederick Gregory received the Golden Torch Legacy award; Colonel Dr. Jeffrey Butler, who is one of four senior division chiefs for the National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite program, was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement in Government award and Canadian-trained Dr. Kofi Mensah was bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement in Industry honour.
As one of two senior fellows in General Mills Research and Development department in Minnesota, Mensah is responsible for engineering the products and processing equipment used in many of the company’s products.
The Ghanaian-born Mensah was the recipient of a Canadian government scholarship to pursue a degree in Agricultural Engineering at the University of Guelph.
“It’s good to receive this award in Canada where my journey began many years ago,” said Mensah who moved to the United States to earn a Masters degree from Ohio State University and a doctorate in Food Processing.
Canada’s rhythm & blues Juno nominee Kim Davis sang the Black National Anthem to open the convention while violinist and Unionville High School of the Arts graduate Andrew Forde performed at the closing ceremony.