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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Community: The NSBE Connection

Kristen Virkler and Stephanie Emenyonu
Kristen Virkler, left, and Stephanie Emenyonu. Photograph by Karen Endicott.

“It’s amazing to see all the other chapters from across the nation as well as from Africa and Canada. It’s awesome to see how many black engineers there are. I’m not alone.”

That was how the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) annual convention struck Kristen Virkler ’18, who attended the four-day gathering with Stephanie Emenyonu ’16.

The engineering majors were among the thousands of people participating in the convention’s career fair, networking opportunities, workshops, and social events. “It’s a great atmosphere. It’s very encouraging,” says Virkler, who talked with several companies about an internship in either finance or aerospace engineering for her off-term.

“Seeing the strong connection between black engineers in different fields made it a worthwhile experience for me,” says Emenyonu.

Back on campus, Emenyonu and Virkler view the Dartmouth NSBE chapter as a major source of connection and mutual support. “When I was a freshman I was looking to find a community within Thayer to help me with the challenges I was having,” says Emenyonu. “The ’13s who were running NSBE at the time told me, ‘Come be a part of this; we know you’re an engineer as well.’ Bringing me into the community really helped.”

Emenyonu credits NSBE with helping her navigate through Dartmouth and Thayer School. “NSBE leaders throughout the years have given me tips and tricks, like going to office hours regularly to meet and get to know my professors. The advice the NSBE community has given me really helped me flourish and become more confident as an engineer,” she says.

She in turn has worked hard to support other black engineers. As president of the Dartmouth NSBE chapter, Emenyonu advises students about classes and cheers them on. “Engineering is hard. There are times you hear of people wanting to drop the major because of a rough term they’re going through, but if I feel you’re very capable, if I know you have the passion for it and you’re just struggling a little, of course I’m going to be encouraging,” she says.

Virkler is among the younger students Emenyonu has mentored. “NSBE offers an environment where it’s okay to say, I don’t understand it and I’m struggling,” says Virkler, who serves as treasurer of the Dartmouth NSBE chapter. NSBE, which has 13 members at the moment, has a lighter side, too, she and Emenyonu say, including dinners with professors, lab tours, and science activities with local kids.

While Emenyonu, who is returning to Thayer for her BE, says that, “Students here at Thayer are very collaborative and the faculty are extremely supportive,” she also notes, “I do think it’s important for Thayer to be diligent in hiring more faculty and staff of color. As a black woman, I think it is important that students of color see professors, researchers, staff—those with relative power in the institution—in positions they aspire to reach. There is great impact in students being able to interact with and learn from faculty and staff of color who can share their perspectives and experiences as well as be visual manifestations of achievement in the engineering field and inspiration for students of color.”

Emenyonu, who has been conducting research on breast cancer in Thayer Adjunct Professor Jack Hoopes’ lab at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, plans to continue connecting with the black community in her career. “As I’m building my passions for engineering, I definitely find that I am driven by issues that affect minority communities,” she says. “For instance, I am interested in issues that surround diseases like diabetes, which has affected me personally and people close to me. I know it’s a big problem within the African-American community. I would also like to study diseases like anemia, especially sickle-cell. When I’m doing class projects, I try to hone into these things, and that’s what drives me to do well. My hope is that one day my skills will be utilized to improve the health of minorities in the United States, specifically that of black women.”

In the meantime, Emenyonu and Virkler will continue to work with NSBE to engineer the way ahead for themselves and their peers.  

Categories: The Great Hall, Community

Tags: students

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