James Madison University

Empowering Diverse Engineers

By: Daniel Vieth
Posted: December 4, 2013

The disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, referred to together as “STEM,” are not always known for the diversity the people who study them. To help disband these stereotypes, JMU is committed to providing opportunities both academically and professionally to anyone who has interest and skill in these areas. Recently, the JMU Department of Engineering was nationally recognized by an organization devoted to improving the recruitment and retention of ethnically diverse engineering students. Under the guidance of Dr. Kyle Gipson, a group of engineering students are happy to announce JMU’s new chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

NSBE is one of the largest student-led societies in America, with almost 400 chapters located around the country and the world. Their mission is to empower individuals, most notably African-American engineers, to excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. The organization was founded at Purdue University in 1975 by a group of six individuals who wanted to gather people together who had shared experiences of being black engineers. During the late 1960s, 80% of African Americans who entered engineering programs dropped out before graduation. The “Chicago Six,” as they are now known, wanted to work to improve this statistic and encourage the recruitment and retention of black engineers who were committed to excellence.

When JMU decided to establish their chapter of NSBE they wanted to create a slightly different tone. The overall mission of the JMU Chapter of NSBE is to help any individual succeed academically and professionally, with a particular appreciation for African-Americans. JMU’s chapter has set out to encourage and assist all individuals with an interest in pursuing engineering, regardless of ethnic background. “It’s not just a black’s only club,” Gipson explained. “If you are about the empowerment of ethnically diverse individuals that happen to be in the area of engineering, then this is a program you should be a part of.”

The engineering students who helped form the JMU Chapter of NSBE have been working on this for about a year and a half, evolving from the initial conversations, to interest meetings, to the development of the application and constitution. “We wanted to develop an identity that still fit within the message of NSBE,” Gipson said. “Our standpoint is that NSBE is tried and true about helping to build people’s professional and academic identities. One of the focuses that we have is to provide opportunities for students within STEM disciplines to study, collaborate, and share ideas.”

The JMU Chapter of NSBE has already begun developing plans for next year, both for getting more individuals interested in joining the society and reaching out to the community. “We really want to be able to not only help the Department of Engineering, but also the college, JMU, and the community at large,” Dr. Gipson stated. “We want to give back to the community, go to local high schools and middle schools, do student tutoring and workshops.” As they solidify their plans to expand both internally and in the community, the new NSBE chapter intends to take on projects in the community that can help individuals get interested in science and engineering and be motivated to succeed.

Commenting on JMU’s commitment to diversifying the STEM disciplines, Gipson called the new NSBE chapter a positive step. “The organization and our chapter have to keep proactive,” he continued. “We have to be able to not only share our vision, but be cognizant of where we are.” The new chapter plans to continue facilitating their message of empowering individuals within the STEM disciplines as they work toward increasing membership. If you are student, faculty member, or member of the community interested in promoting individuals in engineering to be productive and successful, as well as have a commitment to excellence in the realm of professionalism and collegiately, then contact Dr. Gipson about joining the JMU Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers today!