Written by Jeremy Atuobi with contributions from Sopulu Anidobu and Jordan Wallace
For members of the University of Michigan’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter, this year was one unlike any other. Typically, NSBE hosts an annual barbecue on North Campus to celebrate the new school year and to welcome first-year and transfer students into its organization.
Except this year, there was no soul food being handed out on the North Campus Grove and chants were largely omitted due to the awkwardness of expressing such pride in sync over Zoom. Yet in a year characterized by the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, something that will keep chapter members chanting in their respective living spaces is the designation of National Large Chapter of the Year within the Society. Since NSBE U-M was chartered in 1984, this is only the third time that the chapter has received such a distinction — once in 2000 and again in 2006.
The NSBE National Executive Board annually assesses chapters across its six regions for the award, splitting contestants into three tiers based on chapter size. Given the size of the NSBE U-M chapter, it was placed in the ‘large’ category. Scoring is based on a variety of factors, including unique programming, interaction with other chapters, volunteering, and conference participation. This year’s honor is coupled with the fifth consecutive time that NSBE U-M was crowned Region IV Amazing Race winner, naming it the region’s highest achieving chapter.
“To be a part of history is a blessing, but the impact is where the sweetness lies,” said Jeremy Atuobi, NSBE U-M chapter president. “I did not anticipate that this is how we would end the year, but it could not have been done without a strong supporting cast of an e-board. This year, I learned that the approach to success in NSBE is done by a bottom-up approach because if members aren’t empowered, NSBE’s mission is not fulfilled.”
According to Jordan Wallace, chapter vice president, this year’s tactical adaptations were what transformed the experience of members from the norm. “This year, we worked hard to develop a sense of family and camaraderie. We executed the plans set forth over the summer, using one-on-one meetings and feedback forms to gauge areas of improvement and shift elements of our programming to better address membership needs. We worked hard to evaluate our performance and push one another to improve, developing key skills among our leaders in their various focus areas.”
Engineering freshman Kemi Johnson cherishes the role of NSBE in her first-year. Despite an experience she largely partook in from her home in the Chicago suburbs, she reflects, “I absolutely love the community. College was an entirely new experience, especially in a pandemic. It’s a constant support network that I feel comfortable going to whenever I need help.”
The re-working of operations by the NSBE U-M chapter parallels the efforts orchestrated at the national level. Rather than accomodate an expected 15,000 members in Orlando, Florida, for its 47th Annual Convention in March, NSBE chose VirBela, a digital platform that allowed for safer collaboration.
Sopulu Anidobu, the chapter’s conference planning chair, was extremely satisfied with the outcome of virtual conferencing throughout the year. “We made it a point to create an engaging experience that felt as realistic as possible,” she said “At Annual Convention, we would sit together virtually at the general session, go on virtual boat rides, and explore campus and workshops with one another. We had over 40 members attend who all agreed that they were able to take something positive away.”
Collectively, four NSBE U-M students served in leadership capacities on the NSBE’s regional and national executive boards. They include: Kori Maxie (Region IV technical outreach and community help chair), Serena Day (Region IV membership chair), Tamia Middleton (national programs chair), and Jocelyn Jackson (national chair). Atuobi believes that the depth and breadth of Michigan students’ reach across NSBE mirrors the University’s pedagogical aims of producing the Leaders and Best.
As the sun sets on another school year, a leadership transition is underway internally as Atuobi, Wallace, and Anidobu are all graduating seniors. A new group of scholars have accepted the torch, the visual representation of NSBE’s mission, as they embark on shaping the NSBE U-M experience in a new normal. Although the triumphs of this year have inspired a determination to keep the torch burning, for this chapter, it is most brightly lit every time members prioritize the NSBE mission: to increase the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.
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