Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series of feature stories that highlight diversity on Florida Poly’s campus and celebrate Black History Month.
At 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22, half a dozen Florida Polytechnic University students found themselves at a different campus, laying out materials for younger students to use, hoping to ignite an interest in engineering and technology. They’re members of the Florida Poly chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and this was their first STEM (science, technology, math, and engineering) workshop of the spring semester at Southwest Middle School in Lakeland, Florida.
The middle schoolers immediately found their hands filled with K’nex pieces to build a chariot that would need to carry a Sphero robot. Their creation was then put to the test on a track drawn on cardboard. The workshop was divided into three challenges designed to develop creative problem-solving and teamwork.
“Most of the schools we’ve worked with don’t have the resources for certain educational equipment, like Raspberry Pis and Sphero robots,” said Jenario Johnson, a senior majoring in electrical engineering from Tampa, Florida, and past president of NSBE Florida Poly chapter. “So we spend our funds on it and engage with those students.”
The NSBE members will continue organizing and volunteering in the workshop every week for the rest of the semester. It is part of the club’s efforts to fulfill its goal of maturing and cultivating minds academically, professionally, and culturally. That includes their own.
“We put a great value on doing outreach, trying to give back. But it’s really an experience that enriches us as well,” added Johnson.
Besides community outreach, the NSBE Florida Poly chapter organizes on-campus events like monthly speaker sessions with African-American industry leaders and community influencers. The club also creates technical workshops and coordinates study groups for its members.
“We want to provide a room where minority students can feel comfortable studying with other students just like them,” said computer engineering junior Troy Kelly, current president of the club, from Nassau, Bahamas. “It’s very important to encourage others and let them know they have someone else they can talk to, who can relate to them in some way.”
NSBE was founded by students at Purdue University in 1975 to help improve the recruitment and retention of Black engineering students. The Florida Poly chapter of NSBE was established by Dr. Robert Green, assistant professor of chemistry, in 2016. The purpose was to create a space for mentorship of African-American students and increase retention rates beyond the national average. Currently, the club has 25 registered members and 80 percent are African-American.
“As a black student you may not personally know black engineers, but as a NSBE member you see that becoming a successful Black engineer is possible,” said Green. “Then it is less likely for you to give up when you feel like you’re failing, and you are more likely to persevere.”
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