As the new head of Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering (AMIE), Veronica L. Nelson doesn’t want to shake up or radically change the organization but she does want to position it to better serve all its stakeholders.
“My vision is to really grow what we have and take it to the next level,” said Nelson, who was appointed AIMIE’s executive director in March.
To do that Nelson, who is a mechanical engineer by training and has worked in the implementation and overseeing of talent acquisition strategies and development of programs and outreach efforts directed at securing diverse talent pool, said increasing the awareness of the organization is paramount.
Nelson said her goal is for AMIE to develop and implement a sustainable strategic plan to advance minorities interest in engineering and increase diversity in the engineering workforce which is a competitive advantage and an essential business strategy.
She wants to ensure stronger collaborative work with AIMIE’s partners and a broader impact on building a “talented and exceptional diverse STEM pipeline.”
Nelson points out that her considerable experience during the past 29 years in corporate America has prepared her well for her current duties. Prior to joining AIMIE, she was a senior associate for Booz Allen Hamilton responsible for developing and implementing firm-wide university and diversity recruiting strategies and before that she spent 22 years in six different engineering and human resource capacities at Northrop Grumman Corporation, starting as a process engineer and ending as a corporate university relations manager.
AIMIE, which is based at Morgan State University in Baltimore, is no newcomer in working on advancing minorities in engineering. In fact, it has been around for 24 years, the result of an initiative by Abbott Laboratories. It is made up of 15 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and 26 member companies. Its 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.”
In her vision statement for AIMIE, Nelson said it is critical to:
• Develop and enhance programs to promote and encourage minority students to pursue engineering careers
• Recruit minority students for co-op, intern and full-time opportunities at member companies to increase the STEM pipeline
• Develop an avenue for members to exchange “Best Practices” and solutions for the development of a diversified engineering workforce
• Develop a strategic plan to enable engineering research/technology transfer agreements between engineering schools at HBCUs and member companies
• Communicate the value proposition of AMIE and the capabilities of HBCU partners
• Partner with organizations to increase the K-16 STEM pipeline and continue to attract, recruit, retain and graduate engineering students.
Nelson said not enough young people of color are interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and the opportunities that exist for meaningful, in-demand jobs in the engineering field. She partly blames popular culture and the lack of role models represented on television, in movies and literature. Careers in sports, entertainment, medicine, education, etc. are well represented but STEM careers are not.
“They don’t understand what engineering means and how it impacts everything you do, what you eat, wear, where you live, drive. It impacts everything you see and touch,” she said.
However recently she has seen a glimmer of hope, pointing to movies such as Hidden Figures, based on the true story about African-American women at NASA who were instrumental in the space program.
Nelson has to look no further than home to see the power of exposure to and opportunities in STEM for young people. Nelson is the mother of two sons. She points out that one son always knew mechanical engineering was a path he wanted to follow, but not so for her younger son who was interested in becoming a doctor to make a difference. All that changed when her son participated in a pre-engineering summer program sponsored by the National Society of Black Engineers. She said he’s had a change of heart and the high school junior now wants to pursue a mechanical engineering career.
“You never know,” she said. “I laid the foundation, someone else lit the spark.”