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NIU students mentor young African-Americans in STEM

August 20, 2014
NIU student Dwayne Wilson mentored SEEK students.

NIU student Dwayne Wilson mentored SEEK students.

When it comes to STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – education leaders note a substantial disparity in the participation and retention rates among African-Americans.

The low number of students of color pursuing STEM degrees, and the absence of underrepresented students obtaining those degrees, is only becoming more critical.

Members of the National Society of Black Engineers, including NIU’s chapter, are working to turn that around.

Led by engineering students dedicated to pursuing professional excellence and giving back to the community, Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) is a free, three-week program that exposes African-American children to STEM fields.

The program employs a hands-on design curriculum supplied by various educational curriculum companies and corporate sponsors. Campers work in teams, using their knowledge to solve problems and create products while discovering the underlying engineering principles involved in these processes. Each week, campers take on a new project, culminating with design presentations and physical competitions.

Held from July 7 to July 25 at Miles Davis Magnet Academy in the Englewood community of Chicago, the first-time camp engaged 150 students from third- through fifth-grades. NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology students Solomon Mason, Jessica Puckett and Dwayne Wilson served among the 25 mentors – the greatest representation from one university.

NIU student Jessica Puckett mentors a SEEK camper.

NIU student Jessica Puckett mentors a SEEK camper.

“Being a mentor to young people is one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Mason, a senior mechanical engineering major.

“I firmly believe that the success of every student is attributed to a supportive background to educate, encourage, and inspire these kids to achieve their full potential,” Mason added. “We must put our best effort to stimulate interest for students to pursue STEM and drive academic and professional success. As scientific and technological requirements grow, we need to prepare these students so they can create the next cutting-edge scientific discovery.”

NSBE’s SEEK program, established in 2007, is the largest STEM program for African-American children and mentors in the nation, operating camps in 11 cities across the country.

“The SEEK program is great for both the young students and college mentors. It give the young students an awesome opportunity for hands-on learning in the STEM fields,” said NIU NSBE President Joshua Lazenby, a junior electrical engineering major with a biomedical emphasis. “It also give the college mentors a great chance to positively impact the community and get more students excited about the STEM fields, which is part of our mission..”

Students interested in joining the NIU chapter of NSBE can email [email protected] or visit the group’s booth at the Involvement Fair, scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center.