Posted on March 30, 2011

Revenge of the Nerds: Job Opportunities Abound for Black Engineers

Steve Giegerich, stltoday (St. Louis), March 27, 2011

Brenda Nathan doesn’t shy away from the perception of her chosen profession–she embraces it.

“I’m a complete nerd,” boasted the California Polytechnic State University mechanical engineering major, one of 8,000 young people attending the National Society of Black Engineers convention in downtown St. Louis last week. “I take pride in it.”

The revenge of the nerds–as Nathan and other conventioneers can attest after four days of courtship by the nation’s top corporations–is called job opportunity.

The student-led organization was to conclude its 37th annual meeting with a Saturday night concert by rapper-actor LL Cool J.

In addition to the job fair, the four-day event at America’s Center featured symposiums on employment (“The Parallels of Job-Seeking and Dating”), personal enhancement (“Eliminating self-defeating behavior”) and abstruse engineering discourse (“Battle of the Frameworks: ITIL/Six Sigma/ISO 9000/CMMI”).

Organizers said the presence of 300 top-drawer exhibitors–Apple, Boeing, Intel, the CIA, Johnson & Johnson, Honda, Facebook, General Mills and Wal-Mart to name just a few–represented more than an empty gesture to minority hiring. Several companies, in fact, reserved interview rooms off the convention floor with the express purpose of making on-the-spot offers to qualified candidates.

Fourth-year Hampton University electrical engineering major Taylor Armstead, {snip} is fully aware of the advantage of being a highly educated black candidate: “We’re a hot commodity right now,” he said.

Nationally, 2 million people earn a living as professional engineers. Of those, the NSBE estimates 70,000 are African-American.


Seventy percent of the 10,000 black students who enroll as engineering majors each fall, he reports, don’t make the cut. Mack [Carl Mack, executive director of the 35,000-member society] said it is incumbent on blacks in communities, along with schools, to turn young people on to math and science as a practical alternative to the minuscule odds of striking it big in sports or entertainment.

To Mack, the group’s outreach effort is the not-so-simple task of getting enough kids, and their parents, to buy into the reality of education being its own reward.