February 21, 2023
By Syl Kacapyr, Cornell Engineering
The Cornell chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is celebrating Black History Month with a variety of events expected to be well attended thanks to the student organization’s recent efforts to boost membership and revitalize its programming.
“NSBE is like one big family,” said chapter president Demola Ogunnaike ’22, a doctoral student studying environmental engineering technology. “In general, African Americans are underrepresented in engineering and what NSBE does is provide that community, that safe space and support system for underrepresented minorities.”
NSBE is open to all students at Cornell – an engineering major is not required – and events such as this month’s study jam, movie night and a Black History Month roundtable are open to the entire Cornell community.
It was through NSBE’s social events that Modupe Oridota ’25, a biomedical engineering student and NSBE programs chair, found some of her best friends and study partners.
“I really don't think I'd still be in engineering without it because engineering can get really hard, especially when you’re surrounded by people who might not have the same experiences as you,” said Oridota, who came to Cornell from a predominantly Black high school in New York City. “If I’m feeling discouraged with a class or prelim, I can talk to somebody from NSBE and they help me feel like it’s normal.”
Having moved from Nigeria and then New Jersey, Judith Jatto ’25, NSBE historian and parliamentarian, said navigating Cornell would have been more difficult if not for the sense of community she found through NSBE.
“Coming to this country and then to Cornell, I didn’t really know a lot of people,” said Jatto, a computer science with the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, “but I find joy and comfort in going to NSBE events and in giving back so that other people can feel supported.”
Jatto is one of about 90 active NSBE members at Cornell. The vibrant community is a stark difference from just a few years ago, when the pandemic diminished membership and activities to a critically low level, according to Ogunnaike.
“It was really hard to find that community, especially when everything went virtual,” said Ogunnaike, who credits his presidential predecessor, Isabella Animadu ’22, M.Eng. ’22, and the NSBE executive board for rebuilding the Cornell chapter. Ogunnaike said he hopes to welcome more members and grow the diverse mix of student identities and backgrounds that have served to strengthen the organization.
Cornell founded one of the first NSBE chapters in 1977, helping to establish the national organization’s first magazine and communications network. As an early member, Cornell inspired subsequent chapters to create professional development initiatives to help address the low graduation rate of African American students in STEM fields. Today, NSBE has more than 600 chapters across the country and continues to carry out its founding mission.
“We’re helping students build their portfolios and resumes, which is especially helpful to first-year and first-generation students who might not have had that experience in high school,” said Jatto, who added that NSBE helped her build a professional network through national conferences and campus events. “We’ve also been focused on helping students access career fairs, internship opportunities and other Cornell resources.”
Tutoring sessions, mentoring and development programs are among the retention services offered by NSBE, while other initiatives are geared toward recruiting new students. As part of NSBE’s community outreach efforts, the Cornell chapter is working with the Engineering Admissions Office to help prospective students envision themselves at the university.
“We’re doing a lot of things towards getting as many students into the engineering pool as possible,” Ogunnaike said. “We’re doing everything we can to fulfill our mission and continuously inspire the next generation of Black engineers.”
Syl Kacapyr is associate director of marketing and communications for Cornell Engineering.
This story was originally published in the Cornell Chronicle.