Five years ago, Southern University and A&M College, a historically Black college located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, invited about twenty chancellors from various universities in Nigeria. What Southern University found as they listened to the problems, solutions and challenges the West Africans brought with them was that they were very similar to some of theirs in Baton Rouge.
|At the podium, William Brown, long-time moderator of the annual BEYA STEM Conference Panel of Engineering Deans of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, listens as Tuskegee University College of Engineering Dean Legand L. Burge takes the mic. On his right is Southern University and A&M College of Engineering Dean Habib Mohamadian|
Take groundwater problems for example, explained Habib Mohamadian, an engineering dean, educator and researcher at Southern University for over 30 years. “A lot of groundwater problems in this country tend to be in neighborhoods underrepresented in finding the solutions, “he observed. “You get to Africa and you also hear of groundwater problems; sometimes caused by pesticides sent there many years ago,” he said.
“I'd like to see HBCUs [historically Black colleges and universities] develop things which are useful for our students, with students over there, and then solve problems that are useful to the world. Because there are groundwater issues across the globe and if we can work with researchers on both ends we can learn from each other, learn how to teach students better,” Mohamadian said.
Historically, Black colleges have excelled in educating African students, said Bill Brown. As a former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deputy director of military programs, Brown managed a total workforce spread across more than 91 foreign countries, providing reimbursable engineering expertise throughout the world. Brown has served as a longtime moderator for the panel of engineering deans of historically Black colleges and universities¯which meets at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) Global Competitiveness Conference¯under the AMIE umbrella
AMIE is an acronym for Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering. The non-profit organization is the outcome of an initiative by Abbott Laboratories in 1992, and represents a coalition of industry and government agencies, plus, accredited Black colleges and universities schools of engineering who see a diversified workforce as a competitive advantage and an essential business strategy. AMIE partnerships include employers such as Booz, Allen, Hamilton, Chrysler, Constellation Energy, Corning, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Company, The Boeing Company, Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Energy.
As engineering educators, engineering schools, engineers, and technology businesses think globally, the Baltimore-Md-based AMIE is looking to spread its wings.
“It's time for HBCUs to take a greater role in moving African nations into the mainstream, Brown said. “This is tremendous opportunity in terms of people and minerals because we can't fly airplanes without the continent; use cell phones; and women wouldn't have that 'best friend’¯diamonds” he added. “It's important for students to understand the context of their engineering education, and that the continent should be in the leadership of what AMIE is about in terms of science, engineering and technology.”
Alabama A&M University is the newest of the HBCU engineering programs.
“We had to go through a desegregation lawsuit before our program was accredited in 2000,” explained Arthur Bond, who joined Alabama A&M as dean of engineering and technology in 1992, and played a pivotal role in the nine-year challenge. “We have research going on at Alabama,” Bond said. “We have our programs with Africa; we have a fantastic work with peanuts. In fact a young doctor has developed a method whereby people can eat peanuts without being affected by them and that is supposed to be marketed. But we can't get there right now because we need the IBMs to donate computers,” said Bond who is now dean emeritus of engineering and technology at Alabama A&M.
Onetime Motorola executive, Candi Castleberry-Singleton, with experience at Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle) said, "More and more companies that globalize are going to be significant in creating partnerships. You cannot force employees to value diverse perspectives, expect them to embrace your inclusive philosophy, but through your culture and multicultural strategies in an effective chain net and processing, it shows intent to have an inclusive environment." Castleberry-Singleton is now chief inclusion and diversity officer at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a $7 billion integrated global health enterprise.
IBM, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and HP are just a few of the companies operating globally that have helped HBCUs with in-kind donations. For example, at Southern University, Boeing, HP and others put together a computer system facility that videotapes every lecture making them available to students for anywhere, anytime learning.
Similarly, computer-based product management, engineering, design and manufacturing software as well as hardware and training were part of an in-kind contribution of software and other technology to Howard and Tuskegee universities from the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE). PACE links companies such as, General Motors, Autodesk, HP, Oracle, Siemens PLM Software, and their global operations, to support selected academic institutions worldwide to develop the automotive product life cycle management team of the future.
Through PACE, Tuskegee University got involved with training in Ghana and Uganda more than 5,000 miles away. "What is the advantage of doing all of this? asked Legand Burge, dean of the College of Engineering and professor of electrical engineering at Tuskegee. “What can I really get out of this as a student? I see the initiative to work with other countries whether they are in Africa or wherever as an opportunity for students to gain experience,” he said.
Whether it's having a presence in South Africa building homes, teaching people how to use indigenous materials, or spending weeks in Egypt on water and environmental issues project, Burge said "I don't think value is the question. I think we have a better chance of learning.”
AMIE's purpose is to expand corporate, government, and academic alliances to implement and support programs to attract, educate, graduate and place underrepresented minority students in engineering careers.