National History

In 1971, two Purdue undergraduate students, Edward Barnette (now deceased) and Fred Cooper approached the dean of engineering atPurdue University with the concept of starting the Black Society ofEngineers (BSE). They wanted to establish a student organization tohelp improve the recruitment and retention of black engineering students. In the late 1960’s, a devastating 80 percent of the black freshmen entering the engineering program dropped out. The dean agreedto the idea and assigned the only black faculty member on staff, Arthur J. Bond, as advisor.

Barnett served as the firstpresident of the BSE. The fledging group gained momentum in 1974, withthe direction and encouragement of Bond and the active participation of the young men whose destiny was to become the founders of NSBE. Nowknown as the Chicago Six, these men are Anthony Harris, Brian Harris,Stanley L. Kirtley, John W. Logan, Jr., Edward A. Coleman, and George A.Smith.

Encouraged by their on-campus success, AnthonyHarris, president of the Purdue chapter, wrote a letter to thepresidents and deans of every accredited engineering program in thecountry (288), explained the Society of Black Engineers (SBE) conceptand asked them to identify black student leaders, organizations andfaculty members who might support their efforts on a national basis. Approximately 80 schools responded. Many had similar Black studentorganizations with similar objectives. A date was set for the firstnational meeting and 48 students representing 32 schools attended theevent, held April 10-12, 1975. Harris also changed the organizations’nomenclature from the BSE to the Society of Black Engineers (SBE).

It was at that historic meeting through majority vote, that SBEbecame the National Society of Black Engineers. The familiar NSBEsymbol “N” with lightning bolts was chosen and it remains adistinctively recognizable symbol representing the premier technicalorganization for African American engineering students and professionals. NSBE was eventually incorporated in Texas, in 1976 as 501.3c non-profit organization. John Cason, also of Purdue, served asthe first elected president of NSBE. As the organization grew,Virginia Booth became the first female National Chairperson and thefirst to serve two terms 1978-1980.

The torch symbolizes members’ everlasting, burning desire to achieve success ina competitive society and positively affect the quality of life forall people. The lightening bolt represents the striking impact thatwill be felt by the society and industry due to the contributions andaccomplishments made by the dedicated members of the National Society ofBlack Engineers.

NSBE has since grown from six to over15,000 members and the annual meeting has blossomed into the AnnualNational Convention, hosting over 8,000 attendees. NSBE has 17 NSBEJr. pre-college, 268 student and 50 alumni/technical professionalchapters. Headquartered in Alexandria, Va., NSBE offers academicexcellence programs, scholarships, leadership training, professionaldevelopment and access to career opportunities for thousands of membersannually. With over 2000 elected leadership positions, 12 regionalconferences and an annual convention, NSBE provides opportunities forsuccess that remain unmatched by any other organization.

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