Favour Nerrise wanted to be a brain surgeon when she was 10 but was conflicted. "Brain surgery looks cool. But how can we make surgical tools better?" she recalls thinking.
With the help of her mother, Nerrise searched online for robotics tutorials, training videos, and local competitions. Initially, she found VEX Robotics and First LEGO League, two organizations that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Nerrise also came across the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), a nonprofit with the mission of increasing the number of Black engineers.
Now 22, Nerrise is an electrical engineering Ph.D. student at Stanford University, currently researching tools, models and methodologies that can help medical professionals better understand how the brain functions. She also has risen from NSBE local chapter president to her current role as National Chairperson as she leads its effort to increase diversity in the engineering field.
Only 5% of developers, engineers and programmers are Black, according to data from /dev/color, a non-profit that helps companies find Black tech talent. Nerrise says she is the only Black woman in her 160-person electrical engineering Ph.D. cohort. But she and NSBE are hoping to increase these numbers through Game Change 2025, a strategic plan that Nerrise implemented to see 10,000 Black engineers graduate annually by 2025.
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Currently, about 6,000 Black engineers are graduating every year, according to Nerrise.
NSBE's mission is to help more Black engineers excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community by, among other things, offering youth workshops, engineering camps, relief funds and scholarships.
Nerrise wants the nonprofit to become a household name.
"We're completely redefining what it means to be an NSBE member and what the NSBE identity looks like," she said.
NSBE has three primary engineering audiences it is supporting, starting with expanding awareness of STEM to a pre-collegiate demographic. It also offers technical and leadership training to college students to prepare them for the professional world, and to engineering professionals to advance their careers.
But to meet the goal of 10,000 Black engineering graduates, NSBE has had to make significant changes to its approach and do outreach with younger students. Children as young as third grade are now being exposed to NBSE, which Nerrise says was a necessity. "And we might even need to go all the way down to like, kindergarten," she says, "because we found that if the kids weren't exposed early, Black and brown students typically were at a disadvantage of catching up in mathematics and science."
Nerrise also wants to see change at corporate leadership levels. "I think those companies bear a lot more responsibility to ensure representation, not only in hiring but also the development of those employees," she said. While recruiting practices have improved, there is still a lack of representation in management, she said.
NSBE's Board of Corporate Affiliates includes Goldman Sachs, Google and Merck.
NSBE also has partnered with INROADS, a non-profit organization that creates pathways for ethnically diverse high school and college students, to publish a DEI corporate index based on experiences from members of NSBE who have interned at major companies. Nerrise hopes that this report will hold companies that claim to meet their DEI goals accountable.
From March 23-March 27, NSBE will host its 48th annual convention in Anaheim, California. A virtual option is available also, but Nerrise said in-person attendance is going to be high and feel like "taking over the city. It's like thousands of Black engineers everywhere, all of the hotels are booked full," she said.
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