Prompted by the deadly shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr., six engineers met recently to brainstorm about how they can help Ferguson’s youth thrive.
The National Society of Black Engineers, St. Louis Chapter, had a lively conversation about the complexities of the shooting incident. They asked youth about the role that hiring parity in municipal government, lack of economic development, current educational structure and absence of political support for youth science programs may have played in the unrest.
NSBE’s Pre-College Initiative has run a youth program in Ferguson for eight years.
“The Pre-College Initiative program prepares underrepresented students to successfully matriculate through college and ultimately join the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce,” said Ron Moore, PCI director.
Penny Harris-Smith – now a project manager at KAI Design & Build – said she was part of NSBE’s College program more years ago than she’d like to admit.
Today, the NSBE mentor helps PCI students get excited about engineering.
“I can’t stress how important it is to help kids identify the skills they have and how they can translate them into a positive future,” Harris-Smith said.
“It was my middle school counselor who helped me identify that I’d be a good engineer. My abstract reasoning was off the charts, and she took the time to call me out of class; I thought I was in trouble or something.
Instead, the counselor told her she might be a good engineer. “I latched on to that,” Harris-Smith said.
Since its beginning in 1999, more than 1,000 students have graduated from the PCI program. NSBE hopes to recruit even more students to the program.
“We are committed to not only continue but to redouble our efforts,” said Terrence Freeman, professor/engineering science coordinator for St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley.
“We are also challenging all institutions and businesses to stay in Ferguson, and not just stay, but build. We have a remarkable opportunity to stay and fight and redirect the community.”
PCI is located at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley, 3400 Pershall Rd. in Ferguson.
“Our Pre-College Initiative program location is open, safe and we look forward to forming partnerships with businesses, national and local leaders who are willing to invest in and build on our model,” Freeman said.
Through the program, sixth- through 12th-grade students are encouraged to attend college and pursue technical degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Participants discover firsthand how engineering and technology works. They learn skills in leadership and teamwork, in addition to the motivation to strive for academic excellence and technical development.
“Last year, students in the PCI program won first place in a national competition for designing wind turbines, which are similar to windmills and generate energy,” Moore said.
Some of the rigorous, hands-on science lessons students learn include how to build solar panels, develop AutoCAD physics and write computer programs. Students also leave knowing how to write a resume and deliver an oral presentation.
Students interested in applying to the PCI program – and businesses or groups interested in learning more about collaborating with NSBE and supporting the PCI program – should visit www.nsbe-stl.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.