Cover Story – Chapters of the Year: Sustaining the Flame

By Cindy Atoji

It’s a moment that Kaleb DeShawn Richardson will always remember. He was fidgeting in his seat, waiting for the National Chapter of the Year announcement. The audience at NSBE’s 39th Annual Convention in Indianapolis was quiet and tense as they listened. Would their chapter be the one? “The most distinguished Large Chapter of the Year goes to…Prairie View A&M University,” said Calvin A. Young III, last year’s NSBE national chair. Richardson, 21, current president of the Prairie View NSBE chapter, jumped out of his seat.

“I was overcome with gratitude, because I was humbled to see that the hard work that our chapter put into all our programs, helping members achieve their goals, was effective,” says Richardson about the honor announced last March.

But the other convention surprise came when, for the first time in the Society’s history, Chapter of the Year was a three-way draw, as Prairie View A&M University, Louisiana Tech (National Medium Chapter of the Year) and University of Miami (National Small Chapter of the Year) all shared this highest honor. And there was another “first.” Louisiana Tech made history by receiving its second national Chapter of the Year Award since 2012: the first time a chapter has been so honored in consecutive years.

Prairie View NSBE members with University of Houston, Texas Southern University and Houston Professional chapter members, at the Fall 2012 “A Walk for Education” in Houston

One of Prairie View NSBE’s study nights for freshmen engineering students (March 2013)


Prairie View A&M University

This quiet campus outside of Houston, Prairie View A&M University, is known nationally as one of the top producers of African-American engineers. For Prairie View officers Vanessa Kwarteng and Kaleb Richardson, both studying mechanical engineering, it’s a great place to pursue an engineering degree — and be involved with NSBE. From the beginning of this past school year, it was the chapter’s goal to become the National Chapter of the Year. And a dizzying roster of programs ensued that furthered NSBE’s mission: A Walk for Education, ExxonMobil Day, Linux Seminars, Mentor Mentee and even flag football and other social events.

Kwarteng, last year’s chapter president, is particularly proud of the Walk for Education, because the chapter collaborated with the NSBE Houston Professional Chapter, University of Houston and Texas Southern University in putting the event together.

“It showed we could work together to accomplish our goal and make an impact in the community,” says Kwarteng, 24, of Dallas, Texas. “Our chapter truly felt like a family. Like every family, we had our own issues, but we always came out stronger. And it taught us how to work better together as a collective unit.”

University of Miami

University of Miami NSBE members with their faculty advisor, Vincent Omachonu, Ph.D., P.E.. (front row, third from left), at the chapter’s End of Year Barbeque (May 2013)

It’s only appropriate that a Region III pillar, University of Miami (UM), garnered the National Small Chapter of the Year honor. The UM Twitter title page says, “The National Society of Black Engineers at the University of Miami may be small in number, but strong in character, intelligence and dedication.” Although the students at this Coral Gables, Fla., institution rave about the low-key tropical vibe on campus, it’s one of the nation’s major research universities.

But in her first three years of college, senior Bianca Akunna Williams, 22, of St. Petersburg, Fla., noticed that black professional engineers were lacking at UM. As outgoing chapter president in 2013, she led the formation of a NSBE Distinguished Speaker Series, to highlight prominent black engineers and other speakers.

“This is a program that I am particularly proud of because, when you see an area of improvement at your university or in your career, it is important to do something about it,” says Williams. “As a chapter we recognized that we could supplement the university’s programs to increase minority engineering exposure, and we made it happen.”

Louisiana Tech

Members of NSBE’s Louisiana Tech chapter pose with members of the National Executive Board and Regional Executive Board during the Cajun Zone Meeting (February 2013)


When the Louisiana Tech University chapter made history recently by receiving its second consecutive national Chapter of the Year Award, two-time Chapter President Trevan Jenkins was psyched. But as excited as he was about winning the awards, he knew it wasn’t about the accolades.

“It’s about the positive impact we have on our members, the community and Louisiana Tech University,” says Jenkins, 23, of Shreveport, La. “I’m happy not only that the group has won these awards but also that it has achieved so much exposure in Ruston and the surrounding areas.”

La Tech NSBE members joined university faculty, staff and other students, cleaning up the campus, planting flowers and raking leaves during “Tech Beautification” days in January 2013 and October 2012 

Louisiana Tech, a public university located in rural Ruston, La., bustled with chapter activities, ranging from “Tech Beautification” — during which students picked up trash, planted tulips and raked leaves — to the annual MLK Jr. Birthday “A Walk for Education,” during which NSBE members handed out materials promoting higher education and Louisiana Tech in low-income neighborhoods. And to celebrate Black History Month, a new program called “La Tech NSBE Makes Black History” focused on helping all “Study Jam” students make a “B” or higher on exams in the month of February. It proved to be effective: 83 percent of the participants received a B or higher on assignments; 64 percent got an A or higher.

“We helped our members improve grades on their assignments and feel more confident in themselves,” says Kendall Belcher, 21, of Shreveport, La. The chapter’s two-term community service chair graduated from Louisiana Tech last May with a degree in civil engineering.

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