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Don Nelson, National Society of Black Engineers

July 27, 2016

Don NelsonQ: Can you briefly describe NSBE and its mission?
A: The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was founded at Purdue University in 1975 by six African-American engineering students. Today, with more than 31,000 members around the world, NSBE is one of the largest student-governed organizations based in the United States. NSBE’s Annual Convention, which had more than 11,000 attendees this year, is the nation’s premier event for black and other underrepresented minority students and professionals in engineering and other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. NSBE’s mission is “to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”

Q: Why do you feel military service should be considered a viable postsecondary option?
A: For many underrepresented minority students, costs are a significant barrier to a quality higher education. The military provides a great alternative to a civilian postsecondary institution, enabling young people to be fully employed in service to the nation while they receive exceptional on-the-job training and pursue their degrees. In many cases, military education and training leads to the bonus of a security clearance, a valuable asset in the job market.

Q: How has your partnership with the Army made a difference to your organization?
A: For more than 40 years, NSBE has aimed to fulfill its mission through education and professional development. As an NSBE Board of Corporate Affiliates (BCA) partner, and through its continuing commitment to diversity, the United States Army has enabled NSBE to benefit communities of color across our nation. Through our valued partnership with the United States Army, we have empowered our pre-collegiate and collegiate members to obtain academic excellence, become global leaders and achieve professional success through military careers.

Q: As a leader in your community, why do you feel it is important to support the Army?
A: Support of our military is support for our democracy, because our military defends our freedom. The Army needs all Americans to help it meet its challenges, which are often the same challenges facing the nation as a whole.

Q: What were you surprised to learn about the Army through your involvement?
A: The knowledge I’ve gained through NSBE’s partnership with United States Army has been immeasurable. I was surprised to learn how much the Army invests in causes important to NSBE, such as through financial support of other nonprofit organizations, for example. I was impressed by the Army’s initiatives to increase retention of minorities in high-ranking positions and its work to meet the challenge of obesity in America, which has had a big effect on Army recruitment rates. It was also surprising to learn how many military and civilian careers are available that do not involve combat.

Q: What advice do you have for students who are interested in a career in a STEM-related field?
A: Learn what you love early, and find ways to pursue it in a STEM career. Keep your options open locally, nationally and globally. Learn a new language — two is better, and three is the charm. Look to a higher power, family, friends, mentors and coaches to make it through. Don’t ever give up, because a setback is a setup for a comeback. There are remarkable rewards for those who endure. And, of course, consider the great STEM career options available in the United States Army.