When Chike Egwuatu walked into his first computer science class at WSU, he felt a bit out of place. Not only was he one of the few black students there, he was also a relative novice to coding.
“Among my classmates, there were people who had been coding for over a decade,” said Egwuatu. “I felt like an imposter.”
It wasn’t until he found a supportive community on campus that Egwuatu felt like he could confidently tackle the challenges of being a computer science major. That community was the WSU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
“My peers in NSBE encouraged me every step of the way and made me feel like I could make it,” said Egwuatu, a junior who has since held software engineering internships at Microsoft and BlackRock.
Alyssa Hampton, president of NSBE, said Egwuatu’s story illustrates exactly why the club was founded.
“We want to provide a safe, supportive community for black students, which celebrates diversity in STEM,” said Hampton, a senior in bioengineering.
“Our club is focused on professional development and making sure our students are well-prepared for their careers,” she said.
NSBE hosts workshops on internships and building resumes, along with Week of Welcome events and leadership seminars. Last year, former NFL player Jedidiah “Jed” Collins hosted a financial literacy workshop at WSU in collaboration with NSBE.
For students like Maximillian Obasiolu, NSBE events led to networking opportunities they had no access to before.
“I actually ended up talking to the hiring manager who later hired me for an internship at a NSBE event for leaders in underrepresented communities,” said Obasiolu, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, who was a Presales Systems Engineering intern at Dell EMC last summer.
“Professionally, the alumni workshops held by the club were super useful to me,” he added.
“You can’t thrive in any field without a support network,” said Egwuatu, who is now secretary of the club. “Being in NSBE gave me a vital community that stood by me when going was tough.”
Club president Hampton said she is motivated to give her time and energy to NSBE because of her own experience as a minority in STEM.
“As a black woman in engineering, you’re constantly reminded of how few women, especially women of color, there are in your discipline,” she said.
The NSBE cabinet consists of nine people and holds bi-monthly meetings for planning. Club members are currently preparing for the NSBE national convention to be held in San Antonio, Texas in April.
“We’re looking to continue what has been a really dynamic year by hosting more events like evenings with industry and other activities,” said Hampton, who has been president since April 2019.
“We have had several companies reaching out to speak to students in our club,” said Egwuatu.
Egwuatu advised students to use the tutoring facilities in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture and try to resolve any academic issues or problems as early as they can in the semester.
“Three words – network, network, network,” he said. “It’s never too early to start networking with peers and people in industry.”
Egwuatu also suggested to students to reach out to WSU alumni through clubs like NSBE and spend time improving their profile on LinkedIn, a professional networking and job search website.
To students of color in engineering, Hampton said: “It’s so easy to get discouraged, it’s natural to feel like you want to give up.”
“But know that you’re making a difference just by being here,” she added. “So, keep your head up.”