Most summers, graduating college students across America ask themselves the same question: ‘What do I do next? Travel, go back to school, or work?’ The answer for many is usually "I don't know."
But for Olivia Moore, a computer science major at Bowie State University (Maryland’s oldest historically black college) in the spring of 2005, the answer was simple: attend the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference.
Like thousands of students who were planning to say goodbye to their alma maters with engineering degrees tucked under their arms, job prospects seemed none too bright, and the search for contacts in industry perhaps even more daunting.
"I went in hopes of figuring out what to do with myself after graduation," Moore said. While this anxiety haunted many students standing at a fork road, Tyrone Taborn, Ph.D (h.c.), chairman and CEO of Career Communications Group, which publishes USBE & IT magazine, was about to launch CCG’s Developing Institute for Emerging Leaders program.
The Developing Institute for Emerging Leaders initiative responded to what Taborn believed is a growing need to hire engineering, science, technology, and math college graduates with the right soft skills to make a smooth transition into the workplace. According to Sheila Richburg, CCG coordinator and campus relations’ director, "It is important for students to possess skills that include networking, and understanding the fundamentals of time management.”
Julius Gunn, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and a co-op student at the Rolls-Royce Corporation, said that leadership programs such as DIEL are helpful because they provide direction, and emphasize the importance of business etiquette.
"Throughout my work experience with Rolls-Royce, I have learned that by combining …an ability to carry yourself with respect, and giving the customer the same respect on top of a good product, with supporting data, fosters good business [relationships]."
Equally important, Gunn says, is to know what takes priority. Evidently, he does. The Tennessee native will receive the 2007 Black Engineer of the Year Student Leadership Award. "I really can not describe my joy right now,” Gunn said.
He admits that at one time his future did not look so clear. Gunn attended a liberal arts high school, where he studied art, poetry, and music, and it was not until his freshman year of college that he decided on engineering. "I was always passionate about math, and wanted to learn how to build and construct things for self preservation," he said. "I also wanted to know how things worked from a theoretical perspective, so I could have some justification for why some physical problems happen."
Gunn exemplifies a level of success which students are encouraged to achieve in DIEL. But understanding the big picture can take time. "Sometimes students do not understand just how it impacts their overall career growth," Richburg said.
So far, DIEL has partnered with ten Historically Black Colleges and Universities with ABET-accredited engineering programs. The Council of Engineering Deans, an advisory board made up of 10 HBCU engineering deans, who are co-hosts of the annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards conference, contributes to the program by helping to expose students to hiring managers, online information hubs, and corporate recruiters.
Although Moore had not participated in any leadership development programs while at Bowie State, she believes that just attending the Conference served as a sort of boot camp.Moore attended several seminars and workshops, one of which had a panel of African-American female employees of Northrop Grumman Corporation.
"It was awesome," she recalls. "The diversity - married, single, single parents, young and old women - helped me to see that I can balance a career and motherhood." Moore, a single parent of a two-year-old girl, found the seminar for professional women inspiring, and the forum provided her with the confidence booster she needed to connect with industry leaders.
She spoke to several Northrop Grumman employees, and got business cards from other BEYA Conference attendees. The following week, Moore called one of the recruiters, who not only offered her a resume makeover, but also forwarded her resume on to the appropriate hiring team. Soon after graduating, last May, she was hired as a software developer in the Information Technology division of Northrop Grumman Corporation.
In many ways, Moore's story epitomizes the mission of BEYA. The Conference’s history dates back to 1986, when a small group of Black engineers decided to acknowledge the accomplishments of their peers.
BEYA sought to recognize, recruit, and retain minority talent, and, ultimately, create a network of some of the most forward thinking engineers in the country. Seminars were designed to consist of job advancement and diversity program information relevant to minority professionals. In addition, seminars were, and still are, instrumental in connecting students and working professionals with local and national industry leaders.
DIEL’s mission is similar in that it nurtures students from under represented groups, and grooms them for leadership and personal development, "which gives them a competitive edge when they enter the workforce," Richburg explained.
By building a program that includes non-minority institutions, DIEL aims to create a forum where high achieving, goal-oriented students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math-based disciplines can learn, interact, and connect with mentors and career coaches from the BEYA Conference, and other CCG events such as the National Women of Color Technology Awards, and Minorities in Research Science.Students who attend CCG diversity conferences usually leave with a better sense of their goals.
According to Danielle Strand, assistant director of science, engineering, and mathematics academic support services at Bowie, "They return to school with a strong desire for more leadership development experiences.” Strand works with DIEL as part of meeting the goals of the national Model Institutions for Excellence Initiative program at the University, by focusing on academic and faculty support, early intervention, and summer enrichment.
Bowie State is one of the universities chosen by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the Model Institutions for Excellence initiative, which is aimed at increasing the number of historically underrepresented minorities successfully completing master's and doctoral programs in science, engineering and math.
Since the start of Bowie State’s partnership with DIEL in 2005, Strand says students now have an opportunity to "relate the theory to the practice by learning from professionals who walked the paths they are walking now. Students also get exposure to professional networking, career planning, employment, and internship opportunities. "With this program, we hope to increase awareness of [DIELs'] efforts in developing more students to become emerging leaders," Strand says.
Gunn will accept a BEYA honor alongside other award-winning professional and student engineers, including Jerome Crocker, senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, who will receive a BEYA in the same category, and Paul Engola, program management director at Lockheed Martin Corporation, recipient of the 2007 President's BEYA.
Like Gunn, Engola was only 20-something when he made his mark as an emerging leader in engineering. In 1996, he worked on the first commercial satellite launch in Kazakhstan, Russia, and has since become one of the youngest, African-American aerospace engineers at Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest defense contractor.Although programs and conferences such as DIEL and BEYA, aim to incorporate more people of color into corporate infrastructures, those efforts can sometimes thwarted.
In April of 2005, Engola told the Denver Business Journal "Diversity in the past was often limited to what was mandated by law… It's not about being PC, it's not about a narrow definition, it's about the aspects that make us unique individuals, and you build on them to produce something better in the end."
While more students are developing the professional skills they need through leadership programs such as DIEL, working professionals like Moore are putting into action the lessons they learned at the BEYA Conference, and taking surefooted steps to building a career.
She is presently pursing a master’s degree in software engineering, and plans to pursue a managerial position with Northrop Grumman. This summer, thousands of engineering students will be contemplating their future after graduation. Moore advises: Set a goal, and just “do it”
“There will always be someone or something that can help,” Gunn says, “You just have to be diligent to find that person, [conference], or book which holds the information."