Opening the Pipeline

Columbia’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers fosters community both on and off campus

Feb 25 2020 | By Jesse Adams | Photo Credit: Courtesy of the NSBE

The NSBE provides a reliable community of support for members both socially and academically.

At Columbia, students from the university chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) are coming together to bolster fellow engineers of color and open up the pipeline of rising talent. Much more than a student activities group, the organization provides a reliable community of support for members as they navigate college life, both socially and academically.

“We’ve held discussions about the realities of being black and in STEM, hosted companies from a variety of industries, and had fun events such as game night and a match-making service on Valentine’s Day,” said Kai Tinsley ’20, the chapter’s president emeritus and an industrial engineering and operations research major specializing in engineering management systems.

Current President Celeste McFarlane ’21, a chemical engineer minoring in entrepreneurship and innovation, stresses that NSBE is a place where everyone can feel accepted. “We have members who love K-Pop and who dance and who are athletes,” she said. “Despite how different we all are, somehow NSBE still unifies us.”

Along with weekly general body meetings open to the entire Columbia community, the group pursues an expansive agenda both on and off campus. Welcoming speakers including alumni, members of other chapters, and industry representatives, it hosts a variety of professional development events ranging from selecting a major to putting together the perfect résumé.

“It’s amazing how much professional guidance our alumni are willing to give,” McFarlane said. “During class registration our groupchat lights up with academic advice. People are constantly offering free tutoring and plugging job opportunities, and members are connected to so many resources.”

Being able to play my part in providing this support for other students was not only a privilege but a necessity for me. It’s honestly been the most fulfilling experience I’ve had here at Columbia so far, and the least I could do for a community that’s poured so much into me.

Kai Tinsley ’20

Columbia NSBE regularly sends members to both regional and national conferences, such as the regional gathering near Niagara Falls last November where hundreds of professional and aspiring engineers shared a weekend of fellowship and networking.

“It’s always a great time to get to know other chapters, learn about how NSBE operates on the regional level, and engage in meaningful career prep,” Tinsley said. Next month, with support from the chapter, some two dozen members will travel to San Antonio for the 46th annual national conference, a two-day event and career fair bringing together more than 14,000 engineers, educators, and industry representatives from over 250 organizations.

Paying it all forward, the organization works extensively in upper Manhattan getting youth excited about science, technology, engineering, and math, running a bustling mentorship program, and partnering with the non-profit STEM Kids NYC to tutor young minds on weekends. Inspired by formative experiences with high school NSBE groups, members are also collaborating with several nearby schools in hope of starting up new chapters of NSBE Jr for rising talent in grades six through twelve.

No matter the project, the group aims to foster a more inclusive environment on campus, across the profession, and in society at large. The first step to that better future, they’ve found, is getting involved.

“Being able to play my part in providing this support for other students was not only a privilege but a necessity for me,” Tinsley said. “It’s honestly been the most fulfilling experience I’ve had here at Columbia so far, and the least I could do for a community that’s poured so much into me.”