Empowered by Vision

Georgia Tech, Distinguished Chapter of the Year

By Lynette Locke


2010–11 officers of NSBE’s Distinguished Chapter of the Year — the Georgia Tech Society of Black Engineers — with United States Navy personnel. The Navy honored the chapter with a VIP tour of Naval Station Norfolk, in Norfolk, Va., in June 2011.


Photography: John Land, for the United States Navy

While others may endeavor to conquer the world, some have slightly smaller but no less admirable aspirations. This was the case for the Georgia Institute of Technology NSBE chapter — officially the Georgia Tech Society of Black Engineers (GTSBE) — the 2011 NSBE Distinguished Chapter of the Year. The honor was announced at NSBE’s 37th Annual Convention in St. Louis last March.

It should come as no surprise that the chapter’s board leadership played a large part in gaining the recognition for the group. Terence Johnson, president of the chapter in 2010–11, says he had a clear view of the direction in which he wanted to steer the group. So, at the beginning of his term, he looked at the NSBE National Directives — “Academic Excellence” and “Pipeline Development” — and created a vision that incorporated those elements.

“(Last) year was really about forging a more sustainable chapter, and I think we did that through fresh ideas and innovative programming,” Johnson says. “We weren’t content to just rest on our laurels of going to Georgia Tech. We really tried to break new ground.”

Johnson is a graduating senior in civil engineering. He developed his passion for engineering as a child playing with LEGOs.

“Living in the Bay Area, I’d always been surrounded by engineering feats and wondered how I could build something like the Golden Gate Bridge,” he recalls.

Leaders Preferred

In August 2010, still new to his job as president, Johnson took on the task of mobilizing the group to face a new challenge: being chosen as one of the 14 chapters in NSBE’s pilot Retention Program.

“We wanted to encourage both academic excellence and leadership development, not just within NSBE but on Georgia Tech’s campus, as well,” he says. “We recognized early that we had to work with other organizations in order to make this big undertaking work. We held joint workshops with (Georgia Tech’s) Office of Minority Educational Development, African American Student Union and other groups, regarding academics, social life, professional etiquette and succeeding at Georgia Tech.”

Johnson adds that the chapter made a point of encouraging leadership and commitment to the NSBE cause. Several rank and file members decided to give more time to the chapter by joining the Chapter Executive Board. This resulted in freshmen running for and winning nine of the 16 spots on the 2011–2012 executive board. GTSBE also tested new chapter pilot programs, such as the Office Hours competition, set to be fully rolled out this fall, which encouraged students to see their professors during office hours and offered scholarships to the competition winners. In addition, the chapter revamped its freshman leadership development component, called Lambda Delta Rho.

Eyes on the Prize

Receiving the Distinguished Chapter of the Year honor fulfilled a goal NSBE’s Georgia Tech members had set the year before in Toronto, at the end of the 2010 Annual Convention. From their first meeting after that event, they had their eye on the prize, says current Chapter Vice President Courtney McCormick.

“I would say the main reason we won is because to become the Distinguished Chapter of the Year was the goal of our Chapter Executive Board. When we came together for our first executive board meeting, we decided that we were going to put in the work to help our community and to bring recognition to the energy and effort that the members of our chapter put in year to year,” McCormick says.

The chapter had three main priorities, the first of which was freshmen retention in engineering. This is also a goal of the NSBE Retention Program, which seeks to improve the graduation rates of blacks in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The members made a concerted effort to connect with the freshmen and give them advice about their majors, school workloads and balancing their academic and social lives. The chapter offered tutoring sessions with upperclassmen, did extra work with students on the weekends and made it known that they were available to help those students who needed it.

The next block in the chapter’s mission-building was community service work, through NSBE’s Technical OutReach Community Help (T.O.R.C.H.) program. These chapter activities were especially popular among freshmen members, who participated in projects on and off campus and actively supported the efforts of other organizations, such as the Harland Boys and Girls Club in Atlanta.

The third focus was on reenergizing the membership. Members put a great amount of time and energy into implementing chapter programs, by attending events, joining committees and going to conferences on their way to achieving the goals set by the chapter. They made strong showings at university social events, such as the Black Student Organization Cookout and Membership Week, while continuing the chapter’s Career Oriented Workshop and Speaker Series.

Team Effort

The Georgia Tech chapter gratefully acknowledges the role that its corporate sponsors had in getting its many initiatives accomplished. These included Chevron Corporation, United Technologies Corporation, Cisco Systems, Inc., Lockheed Martin Corporation, Eaton Corporation, Fluor Corporation, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Alcoa Inc., CH2M Hill, Merck & Co., Inc., Ford Motor Company, Parsons Corporation and Bechtel Corporation. These organizations donated funds and scholarships to the chapter, allowing it to focus on presenting quality programs and events.

Lynette Locke is a writer based in Baltimore, Md.

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