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Akera Otto is a Black Engineering student in his fifth year of Mechanical Engineering and the President of the McMaster’s Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Akera shares more about NSBEMac, a group he’s been an executive of for three years, and Black History Month in his spotlight.
My advice for current and future Black engineering students would be to challenge yourself.
When I first joined NSBEMac as a general member, I did not think that I could be in the position I am now. I was thrilled when my application came back and I got in, but I also saw it as an opportunity to push myself from where I was at that time.
With help from my peers, and my upperclassmen who were on the team before me, I was able to learn many things and grow as an exec, as a student and as a professional. I think this applies not only to being an exec on a club but in life as well.
Don’t be afraid to try something you haven’t done before, apply yourself as much as possible, and you will find that the path you’ve walked on is one of success.
My current goals for NSBEMac are to expand the group’s network and make our chapter reach as many people in our community as it can.
I want to bring in new connections for our chapter and tap in to the greater worldwide NSBE organization. Whether it’s through collaborative events for our members, scholarships, competitions, or academic support, I want to create a space for all Black STEM students, regardless of level or even place of study.
NSBEMac maintains a close relationship with our fellow Black-focused student groups affiliated with the Black Student Success Centre, which celebrated its one-year anniversary this month. We offer fun, sociable events along with our academic and professional development sessions to help Black students relieve stress from midterms and exams.
With help from our Professors and Teaching Assistants in the McMaster Engineering community, we are also able to give course bonuses to students that attend our major events.
Most importantly, it gives our members a chance to socialize with each other and make new connections, which can be major when you come to University and you’re one of few if not the only person in a classroom that looks like yourself.
We have collaborated with other Engineering identity-based clubs on campus such as McMaster Women in Engineering, EngiQueers and the newly established McMaster AISES. In January, NSBEMac partnered with these three clubs to host the second annual IDEA Conference, a paneled discussion style event surrounding the topic of Fostering Safe Spaces to Maintain Diversity in STEM, right here at Mac.
NSBEMac is also partnered with Ontario-based STEM youth programs meant to teach the next generation about STEM concepts and prepare them for university level study. For example, NSBEMac AdVentures, a collaboration between our club and the McMaster-based Venture Academy organization which aims to teach Engineering-related topics to students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. We promote the activities of organizations like Venture, Black Boys Code, and more to our general members so that they can get involved with the community and help us inspire the Black leaders in STEM of the future.
And of course, we have our generous sponsor companies who continue to support us every year. Thanks to them, NSBEMac is able to provide our student members with networking events and opportunities to talk with employers about what they’re looking for in applicants. The best example of this is our annual employer meet-and-greet campus recruitment event called ‘The HUNT’. This semester was the first time since 2020 the event was held in person. NSBEMac is grateful to all of our sponsors as well as the Faculty of Engineering and Engineering Co-op & Career Services at McMaster for making all of this possible.
All of this goes back to NSBEMac’s mission statement, “to increase the number of responsible Black Engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community”.
Black History Month is a time to shine a light on the individuals, the stories and the moments that have brought Black People to where we are now.
It’s a time to gather together and share those stories with one another and remind ourselves of our origins – how the men and women of African descent that came before us, struggled, persevered and overcame in order for people who look like us to have an opportunity to come to a university like McMaster and pursue our passions.
It’s a reminder to keep pushing forward in spite of the challenges and the difficulties we as a people face today. That way, like the Black historical figures we admire, we can be that inspiration for those who will be here after us so that they can do the same.
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Photo credits: Emmanuel Amike and Sachi Chan
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