Rows of students from universities across North Carolina filled Strum Auditorium for a summit hosted by UNC's chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers on Saturday.
The National Society for Black Engineers, or NSBE, is comprised of various professional, regional, collegiate and high school chapters from all over the United States. This Saturday, UNC's chapter hosted “P.I.E.: Rethinking the Recipe,” the theme for this year's Comfort Zone Summit, to help students gain professional development and networking skills.
Sydney Cheek, senior and president of UNC’s NSBE chapter, said PIE, which stands for performance, image and exposure, is a slogan students often hear in the professional industry.
Jose Pineda Reyes, vice president of Saint Augustine’s University's chapter, said he was looking forward to engaging with members from different North Carolina universities, particularly aiming to increase the status of his school’s chapter.
“We’ve been dormant for the last couple of years,” Pineda Reyes said. “My main objective is to learn more about NSBE, to see how it’s coordinated in a broader aspect.”
Cheek, who is a member of a NSBE regional board and the membership coordinator for universities in North and South Carolina, has been working with her executive board to plan the summit, as well as another conference to be held in the spring.
The summit began with a presentation by Dexter Robinson, UNC senior academic adviser, on “the elevator pitch.” Robinson charged conference attendees with crafting 6-word stories and action statements, giving them only a few minutes to come up with answers to his challenge.
In addition to the opening presentation, the summit included graduate school, LinkedIn and resume-building workshops, led by professionals and academics, as well as a fashion show. Cheek said the activities were particularly important because they provide students with the “tools to be successful.” Cheek, who founded UNC’s chapter two years ago, said the resources the organization provides were much needed.
“I definitely struggled coming up through engineering,” Cheek said. “If I had a family to support me – and I had a couple of friends – but if I had more, I think it would have been better, and I definitely don’t want anyone to struggle to find that themselves. I don’t want them to feel like they have to do everything alone because you don’t.”
Sam Ndukwe, UNC sophomore and programs chairperson for UNC’s chapter, said the program provides the chance to connect with other Black students and students of color who are interested in engineering and other STEM fields.
“The fact that it’s a national organization, and not just a collegiate organization, we’re able to connect with professionals and get opportunities or internships that other students can’t,” Ndukwe said.
Akylah Cox, sophomore at Duke University and programs chairperson for Duke’s chapter, reiterated the importance of NSBE in providing examples of minority representation. Cox is one of two Black students majoring in environmental engineering in her class.
“It’s really low representation, and it’s not something I really realized a lot in high school, but I realized that going into college, it’s really important to have a community,” Cox said. “I think NSBE really provided that for me at Duke.”
Cox said attending last year’s national conference was particularly fulfilling.
“I was like, ‘Wow, these are just all Black engineers,’ and it just really felt empowering to see,” Cox said.
Cheek, who is majoring in biomedical engineering, said providing opportunities for minority students does not seem to be a main focus within UNC’s BME program, particularly as the program is fairly new.
“It just got accredited two years ago,” Cheek said. “I think because everyone’s so busy with that, diversity efforts are an accessory to a functioning program, which I can understand why that would be the case.”
Cheek said the process of creating UNC’s NSBE chapter required significant work, particularly in garnering support from faculty and advising.
“The reality is I think everybody could always do better,” Robinson said. “I think one of the difficult parts when you think about something that has a focal point on minority students or students of color, or any kind of targeted population, is if somebody doesn’t identify with that, sometimes it’s difficult to understand the value. I hope that this is just the first part of the University’s charge to help build up the support systems for multiple targeted areas and groups on campus."
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