Where Are They Now?

Former NSBE Jr. Members Emerge as NSBE Collegiate Leaders

The age-old saying, “Mighty oaks from small acorns grow,” can aptly describe these three NSBE members. They have transformed themselves from NSBE Jr. members-at-large to leaders of one of the world’s best student-governed organizations.

Sossena Wood, NSBE National Chair

As a former high school track star, Sossena Wood initially had very little time for NSBE Jr., attending a single meeting as a sophomore before finally joining in her senior year. Aside from a scheduling conflict, Wood adds that, “Because I went to a predominantly African-American school, I did not see it as much of a priority, since I was receiving most of what I needed through the school’s curriculum.”

But NSBE eventually pushed her outside of her comfort zone, when she was a college student majoring in electrical engineering. Prompted by a past chapter president at the University of Pittsburgh, and a personal desire to become the chief executive officer of her own company, Wood quickly became engaged in the work of the chapter at Pitt.

“By no means was this goal (of becoming a CEO going to be) accomplished by being shy and timid. I had to grow in a phenomenal way,” says Wood. “So, I sought out to face my fears of public speaking and stretch my passion for the organization, becoming chapter president and from there moving to regional and national leadership.”

Today, this phenomenal young woman is a Ph.D. candidate in bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, a K. Leroy Irvis and GEM Fellow, and a recipient of Pitt’s Rising African American Leaders Award. She says NSBE’s vision of growing and developing a global network of minority technical professionals is another main goal for her.

Sukari A. Brown, NSBE Region I Chair

“If someone had told me in 2005 that I was going to one day lead Region I of this international organization, I would have looked at them like they were crazy,” says Sukari A. Brown.

But here she is, eight years later, a civil engineering student at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, setting the agenda for the entire NSBE region and its collegiate chapters in New Jersey, New York state, the New England states and several provinces in Canada. “I have experienced NSBE on a NSBE Jr. and collegiate level,” says the Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “Being at the chapter, zone, regional and national leadership levels has allowed me to be more understanding of membership concerns and perspectives. It’s been a little weird for me, being viewed as this high and mighty regional chairperson, because I still view myself as just a member — (only) with a little more responsibility.”

Being among like-minded people is a key reason Brown remains affiliated with NSBE. Coming from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, she was initially looking for a group of peers that had a cultural experience similar to hers. She said she has found that and much, much more.

“NSBE has shown me that it’s possible to become an engineer,” she says. “I have examples — living, breathing examples — of people who look like me or come from where I come from, that allow me to believe I can do it.”

Vernon Cutting III, NSBE Region II Chair

Beginning as an active member and leader of the NSBE Jr. chapter at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore, Md., and now as the leader of NSBE’s Region II — covering the Mid-Atlantic region, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East — Vernon Cutting III has always displayed a passion for “giving back to others.”

“My goal as a NSBE leader is to make an impact on the community and people that we serve every day,” says Cutting, who is scheduled to graduate from the University of Maryland in December with a bachelor’s degree in physical science/mechanical engineering. “If we want to increase the number of future engineers, business owners and leaders, we must impart (to them) the knowledge that got us to where we are today.”

It is worth noting, adds Cutting, that NSBE membership has its own benefits.

“The most important thing NSBE has done for me is give me a family and a support system,” he says. “Having NSBE members in both my high school and at college has inspired me to carry on with my engineering degree, no matter how hard it seemed at times.”

Cutting says he plans to honor this NSBE family by starting a nonprofit organization that mentors young, underrepresented minority children interested in science, math, technology and engineering.

Kevin M. Briscoe is a writer based in Baltimore, Md., and a former editor of NSBE Bridge.