Sometimes the toughest part of going to college is finding a spot to fit in.
With the security of friends and family absent for many incoming freshmen, extracurricular clubs help the like-minded meet at Binghamton University.
The Watson School has about 20 different clubs directly affiliated with the college, and many of them foster the abilities of minority student populations including the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Society of Women Engineers.
NSBE (pronounced Nez-bee for the uninitiated) was founded in 1971 at Purdue University before spreading across the nation. It is one of the nation’s largest student-run organizations, with over 31,000 members in more than 400 student and professional chapters.
While not limited to African-American students, or engineers for that matter, the Binghamton chapter of NSBE has a constant stream of résumé building, interview-skills training and social events for all students to participate in. Most recently, the club hosted a robot sumo wrestling competition where teams designed robots to smash into each other until one either succumbed to the beating or was forced out of a makeshift ring.
NSBE chapter President Tremayne Stewart, left, and Vice President Uthman Olowa.
As many clubs do, NSBE arranges for members to travel to regional and national conferences, often splitting bus fares with fellow engineering students from Cornell University, Syracuse University, University at Buffalo, Rochester Institute of Technology and Colgate University, to name a few.
“We want to foster a community where black engineers can come and not feel alone. You can feel like a part of something and be accepted,” says NSBE President Tremayne Stewart.
“Despite the name, we welcome anyone of any race, any creed, any color, any kind. What we think is the most important thing is that we are all great engineers. Not just black engineers, or white engineers or Asian engineers, but we strive to all be great engineers, period.”
Last year, with the help of Lockheed Martin, the chapter brought in award-winning mentor, former engineering professor, technology entrepreneur and motivational speaker Calvin Mackie to discuss educational attainment, persistence and the importance of college degrees.
Even with successes, there are still opportunities for growth and change. African-American students make up about 6 percent of the University population. In an effort to bring in more diversity, some Watson departments encourage current students to become ambassadors for the college with their former high schools.
“There is more of an initiative to encourage more women, Hispanic and black students into engineering because the population of engineers is getting older,” Stewart says. “I think that Watson has a great opportunity to encourage more people to come in and change the norm, to change the way that we look at the world.”
The Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers is the youngest of the chapters on campus. The national organization was founded in 2007 and the Binghamton chapter was organized in 2010.
“Many clubs are often purely professional or purely social on campus. SASE effectively combines both aspects as being both a professional and social club,” said SASE President Lucy Lin. “While members learn how to successfully network, they can also learn how to make Japanese onigiri rice balls, which was our most popular social event.”
SASE chapter President Lucy Lin, left, and Vice President Sophia Fu.
Aside from the on-campus gatherings, members of SASE also attend regional and national conferences. The 2015 national conference in Houston in October was the largest conference and career fair for
Asian-Americans in the United States.
“Ninety percent of the members who attended received career interviews on the spot, while four students received offers within two weeks of the conference,” Lin said. “One of my favorite parts of SASE is the ability and ease of meeting members from chapters all across the country.”
Beyond making current professional connections, the organization promotes making future links on and off campus.
“SASE actively promotes collaboration between collegiate chapters and it is a great way to network among people your age,” Lin said. “It is unique in the fact that there are many opportunities to continue involvement after graduation as well. Many passionate members continue to be actively involved in SASE on the national level even after their undergraduate career and fulfill roles such as regional coordinators or become part of the National Conference planning committee.”
The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers was founded in Los Angeles, in 1974 by a group of engineers employed by the city of Los Angeles.
The Binghamton chapter of SHPE, shorthanded to “Shep” by its members, started 11 years ago.
One of the club’s proudest accomplishments is the 2-year-old SHPE Jr. program where Binghamton University students work with Binghamton High School to expose younger students to science and engineering majors that they might not have considered.
“When we started, current club President Manuel Ferix (a past SHPE Jr. chair) and I wanted to create an environment where students can express any ideas they have, regardless if they think others might find it outrageous,” said SHPE Vice President Kaila Umbach. “This year, William Claydon and Jhoan Avila (current chairmen) have successfully continued this mentality.”
SHPE chapter President Manuel Ferix, left, and Vice President Kaila Umbach.
SHPE has also teamed up with Lockheed Martin during the past three spring semesters for technical team projects. This year, teams modified quadcopters (small drones) to pick up, carry and drop off tennis balls in designated locations. Even though it seems rudimentary, companies such as Amazon and organizations like the Red Cross could use the technology to deliver packages or medical supplies in the future.
“If people don’t know us by ‘SHPE’ they can probably recall us walking around with our quadcopters,” Umbach said. “These projects allow members to participate in a major project for their résumé, create professional connections and gain valuable leadership experience.”
Improving résumés, practicing job interview
skills and attending the annual SHPE national conference are all things that the club routinely does. Members traveled to Baltimore in November for the national conference, which featured over 200 companies looking for employees.
“I am not Hispanic, but I have grown to be part of the SHPE familia over the past four years,” Umbach said about the club that does not require its members to have Hispanic heritage. “We want members to feel like they have someone they can ask for help, study with, hang out with, and just welcome everyone into our SHPE familia.”
The Society of Women Engineers was founded in 1950 and now has approximately 27,000 individual members, 55 percent of which are students. There are about 30 members in the Binghamton chapter.
As with the other societies, attending regional and national conferences is an important part of what the organization does, but SWE also raises money to fund an annual book scholarship to help students get the texts they need to succeed.
SWE chapter President Clare Biging, left, and Vice President Katie Leenig.
“We try to provide various events that are designed to help the women in Watson get a leg up on their studies as well as with networking with professionals. Some of the events we have held this year include a coding workshop, a biomaterials lecture and a networking event with Ernst & Young,” said SWE President Clare Biging. “The Watson School has been helpful for SWE, as it is with all of the clubs it works with. Their contributions make it possible for the clubs to do all kinds of extra things. For us, we were able to fund a number of women to go to [the annual SWE national conference] in Nashville this year.”
Finding women interested in joining the organization is a challenge. However, Biging, a graduating senior, has high hopes.
“I believe that the future is very bright for SWE. We have really dedicated members who are taking over the club next year, and they have great ideas,” she said. “We are already planning a Society of Women Engineers Summit
for next September.
I think as more women start attending the Watson School, we will be able to expand our club even more and continue to help encourage women to thrive in the STEM field.”