Distinguished Chapter of the Year

By Ronesha Dennis

Again! University of Florida, Distinguished Chapter of the Year


UF–NSBE members honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the university’s “MLK 2010: Leave Your Mark” celebration.


Three years ago, the University of Florida reigned supreme in the competition for bragging rights as NSBE’s best collegiate chapter: Distinguished Chapter of the Year. But after the 2006–07 school year ended, it wasn’t more recognition for their chapter’s accomplishments that UF–NSBE members were seeking. They felt they needed to do more, and they wanted to do better.

Jeremy Magruder, UF–NSBE’s 2008–09 president, does a science experiment

From the time she took the job of managing the UF–NSBE Executive Board as vice president in 2008, and throughout her tenure as chapter president in 2009–10, Jelece Morris wanted to help build a legacy, one created by dedicated leaders looking not only to build a successful NSBE chapter by national standards but to grow a chapter they could proudly call their own.

“We did something (last) year called ‘L.E.A.D.’ It’s an acronym that stands for ‘Leaders Excelling and Developing,’ ” says current UF–NSBE President Robert Williams. And with L.E.A.D. came new success, greater potential and another accomplishment: another reign as Distinguished Chapter of the Year.

The Whole Mission

“We made sure that every month we hit one aspect of the National Directives, in addition to the special programs that we were doing,” says Morris. At the beginning of the year, the chapter had retained 43 percent of its membership, and several members renewed later in the year. UF-NSBE also opened a Technical OutReach Community Help (T.O.R.C.H.) Center for elementary school students and held its Fourth Annual “A Walk for Education” and a Try-Math-A-Lon Competition for NSBE Jr. members.

To Williams, however, there were parts of NSBE’s mission that the chapter neglected.

“…Our mission is ‘to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who (excel academically,) succeed professionally and positively impact the community,’ ” Williams says. “I was like, ‘Why isn’t anybody targeting the culturally responsible part?’ ”

A Team Effort

UF–NSBE and the Eastside High School NSBE Jr. Chapter supported NSBE–University of Central Florida’s “A Walk for Education” event in Orlando, Fla., 

The University of Florida wouldn’t have been named Distinguished Chapter of the Year without its dedicated board, say Morris and Williams.

“Last year and the year before — even though we didn’t win — we had really passionate people” who cared about the organization, says Morris. Williams praised the webmaster, Eric Martin-Taylor, who revamped the chapter’s website from scratch, and Programs Chair Contessa Middleton, who, Williams says, “had a drive in her to do great.”

Williams recalled multiple nights when the board stayed up well past 4 a.m. to make sure things were organized for events.

“There were so many times I was staying up late doing NSBE stuff, like planning (the cultural responsibility) forum, getting our cosponsors together, making sure the fliers were printed and making sure I was coordinating with my teammates,” he says. “(After) the time I put into it, it just felt so great to see that progress. And I also thought, ‘Man, some of that stuff can be attributed to what the (Communications) Zone did.”

Morris says the chapter had a family-like atmosphere that made their time spent together seem like fun instead of work.

“We were just hanging out and doing NSBE together,” she says.

Focus on Excellence

Williams wasn’t in attendance at the NSBE Annual Convention this year in Toronto, so he didn’t hear the chapter’s name announced as Distinguished Chapter of the Year. But his voice reveals the excitement he felt upon hearing his chapter had gained the honor.

Williams plans to keep up the momentum.

“What we have to do as a chapter is make sure everybody is accountable for each other and that our members feel like if they want to, they can contribute to the development of the organization,” he says.

This year, Williams plans to continue the Leaders Building Leaders program; start an online test tank, which will give UF–NSBE members access to old tests in gateway engineering courses; and join forces with other academic organizations on campus to host tutoring sessions for UF–NSBE members, as well as other students. Williams also hopes to have a presence in the local community, by having UF–NSBE members volunteer for urban development projects.

He says, “I mean, Chapter of the Year is great, but we have to focus on becoming excellent.”