National Society of Black Engineers chapter at USC named best in the nation

The national honor reflects the group’s strength in academic excellence, professional development and community outreach

March 29, 2018 Marc Ballon

As a reflection of its overall excellence, the USC chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, or NSBE, has won the organization’s coveted National Chapter of the Year Award.

The USC chapter also came in third in NSBE’s National Academic Tech Bowl, and, in 2017, placed second nationally in the Debaters Competition.

“This is really, really special,” said Shana Douglass, president of NSBE’s USC chapter and a senior in mechanical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Added Brandi Jones, USC Viterbi’s vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives: “I am thrilled that USC NSBE was recognized in this significant way. I am also beyond proud of its commitment to academic excellence, professional development and community outreach.”

National Society of Black Engineers: One of the country’s largest student-run organizations

With more than 29,000 members at 394 chapters across the country, NSBE is one of the largest student-run organizations in the country. Its mission calls for “increasing the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”

The USC chapter stands out for the quality of the academic and professional resources it makes available to members, said Tilden Chima, a 21-year-old senior in biomedical engineering and NSBE’s academic excellence chair.

Not a lot of NSBE chapters do the kinds of things we do.

Tilden Chima

“Not a lot of NSBE chapters do the kinds of things we do,” he said.

On the academic side, NSBE partnered this year with the Viterbi Academic Resource Center to offer members free tutoring every Tuesday night in math, biology, chemistry and other subjects. Up to 15 NSBE members, mostly freshmen and sophomores, regularly attended the sessions, Chima said.

On the professional front, the local NSBE chapter received funding from Google to throw its first Black Excellence Gala in February. The well-attended event brought together NSBE members, tech professionals, business owners and organization alumni for an evening of networking. Throughout the year, the local chapter brought in representatives from Facebook, Intel, Ernst and Young, among other blue-chip companies, to give presentations and meet NSBE members.

Most importantly, he added, NSBE paid for airfare, hotels and event fees for members to attend NSBE national and regional conferences. The national gathering, held this year in Pittsburgh, was “a huge career fair with more than 100 top companies there to recruit ‘NSBEians,’” said Chima, who considers members of the USC chapter “family.”

Academic and professional accomplishments

NSBE’s dedication to its members’ academic and professional success seems to have paid off.

Member Isis Wyche recently gained admission to eight neuroscience PhD programs, including Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley.

USC NSBE graduates have jobs lined up at some of the world’s most prestigious tech firms. Chima has secured a position at Oracle Corp. as a solutions engineer. Douglass, the NSBE president, plans to go to work as a supply chain engineer for Microsoft Corp., for which she interned in China last summer. Other graduating NSBE seniors have landed jobs at Twitter and Google.

“Our NSBE chapter’s success is a resounding affirmation of the Viterbi movement to change the conversation about engineering,” USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos said. “I am extremely proud of them.”

The local chapter has grown rapidly over the past five years, jumping from 10 members to 55 today. USC NSBE, with the support of Jones, has become so respected that the organization recently sponsored a campus-wide talk about blockchain given by Sandra Johnson, one of the first African-American women to earn a doctorate in electrical engineering. The speech drew a capacity crowd and inspired many in the audience.

“I love the idea of changing the perception of who an engineer is,” Douglass said. “Like NSBE, I want to change the narrative about what black people can do and who we could become.”