NSBE celebrates 50 years of positive impacts for Black students at all levels

Purdue University will host multiple booths, a reception and a semiconductor panel at the NSBE Convention March 20-24.
Group photo
Purdue Engineering alumni, faculty and staff have attended the National Society of Black Engineers conference annually since its inception in the 1970s. 

More than 50 years ago, a group of Purdue pioneers had a vision for an organization focused on supporting and promoting the aspirations of Black collegiate and pre-collegiate students and technical professionals in engineering and technology. That mission ultimately birthed the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), one of the largest student-governed organizations based in the United States.

NSBE, which has more than 600 chapters and more than 24,000 active members in the U.S., will hold its 50th Annual Convention, hosted by Region III, March 20-24 in Atlanta, Georgia. The convention is a four-day constitutional event with an anticipated 15,000 attendees, 400-plus companies and a 5,000-plus NSBE members general session, according to the NSBE convention website. During the annual convention, the society conducts organizational business, elects national and regional leaders, holds competitions, and provides professional and personal development, networking and celebratory activities.

NSBE members interested in attending the convention can register late through March 23.

Purdue University will host multiple booths, a reception (registration required) and a semiconductor panel in conjunction with the convention. It makes sense Purdue will have such a large presence at the national meeting, as its West Lafayette campus was the location for what ultimately was the initial gathering held for the national society in 1974. “Inside Purdue Engineering” has more information about the history of NSBE at Purdue, dating back to 1971 when students Ed Barnette and Fred Cooper formed what was then called the Black Society of Engineers. 

The Minority Engineering Program at Purdue University was formed in 1974 as one of several initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in the College of Engineering and is committed to engineering research and knowledge sharing with the international community through peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations. Virginia Booth Womack serves as its director. Booth Womack also is connected to those early days of NSBE, as she served two terms as the national chapter president in the late 70s and early 80s, the first woman to do so.

“I couldn’t have survived had there not been a NSBE,” Booth Womack said in the Inside Purdue Engineering story. “Leaving and coming back in the organization was my pathway to success. That’s how NSBE changed my life. It became the vehicle for people like me to come to a university and find a way to be successful, even when the odds are stacked against you. I never forgot that.

“NSBE’s mission, everybody knows it by heart, is ‘to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers that excel academically, succeed professionally’ — and this is the most important thing — ‘and positively impact the community.’ Every NSBE (member) knows that. It’s all about community building. I believe in that mission. I believe it’s as relevant today as it was back in the '70s.” 

Purdue spearheaded the formation of what became the National Society of Black Engineers, as early pioneers Virginia Booth Womack and Marion Blalock (sitting, on phone) were involved in the 1970s.