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Continuing its campaign to increase the number of Black engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers partnered with the U.S. Army to share educational and career opportunities with Black students at the 2015 NSBE Maryland Fall Regional Conference.

Earlier this year, the organization set a goal to produce 10,000 bachelor’s degree recipients in engineering annually, by 2025, up from the current number of 3,620 through a campaign dubbed “Be 1 of 10,000”. The NSBE’s campaign has also committed to reaching out to Black 7th graders since October.  The conference, geared toward college students, is an attempt to make the field more approachable by introducing potential graduates to a host of professionals with science, engineering, technology, and math careers.

“As students and professionals in STEM, we know the importance of driving this change, to ensure the future of our communities,” said NSBE National Chair Neville Green, a senior in chemical engineering at the City University of New York.

But with Black students consistently falling below the benchmarks for success in STEM careers in subjects like algebra, calculus, and geometry, reaching those numbers may prove challenging.

Only 19 percent of Black 4th graders in the U.S. and 13 percent of the nation’s Black 8th graders were proficient in math in 2015, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and are only 1.1 percent of the nation’s Black college freshmen enrolled in engineering programs in 2010, according to a recent analysis conducted by the NSBE.

Delano Houghton, a freshman at Morgan State University who attended the NSBE conference, was among those Black students whose early math and science grades could have easily stopped his dreams of becoming an engineer.  Houghton, however, said with tutoring and a commitment from his parents to learning, he improved.

“My grandfather was a horticulturists in the 1940s when everyone said that Blacks were animals and didn’t have the capacity to learn math and rigorous sciences, and my dad kept reminding me that if it could be done without computers and support then, it definitely could be achieved now,” said Houghton.  “I dropped all sports and put the time I would have spent on basketball or football practice, on algebra and chemistry.”

Houghton said that the “Be 1 of 10,000” campaign has the potential to surpass its goals with the same support that athletics get. “It’s not a condemnation in any way, but I could have used the people who cheered me on in community sports in my corner with these classes,” Houghton said. “Young people know what is important to the community and society by who gets behind it – who supports it.  STEM could be like that.”

“Be 1 of 10,000” has targeted 7th graders because they are scheduled to graduate from four-year colleges in 2025. However, NSBE’s strategic goals also include the creation of a “pipeline” to engineering careers for sophomore-senior student populations that provide online resources and support. The NSBE Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) program for students in grades 3 through 8, already reaches younger students.