Black History Month: Reflections from Black uOttawa engineering students

Posted on Monday, February 7, 2022

In celebration of Black History Month, the Faculty of Engineering invited students from the new uOttawa chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to reflect on their experiences in our Faculty and to share their thoughts on the broader engineering profession.

Student Reflections

Susan Peters

Fifth-year biomedical mechanical engineering and computing technology student
Co-president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), uOttawa chapter

Headshot of young black female student

As one of the co-presidents and cofounders of NSBE’s uOttawa chapter, I run this chapter with my fellow executive team while also completing my final year in the biomedical mechanical engineering and computing technology program.

My time in the Faculty has challenged my outlook and perspective on the field of engineering. I’ve been exposed to disciplines and courses that I would not have taken or explored. I discovered that I have a very strong interest in coding and software, one that I did not know I had, which changed the entire trajectory of my career interests. Through my classes, I have had the opportunity to build many friendships and support networks. The engineering profession has many pathways to establishing an innovative and interesting career.

As a future Black woman engineer, I may have labels linked to me, such as “diversity hire”, that may blur my skills with my race and gender. My hope is that in the engineering profession, people are valued for the competencies and talents they bring to a space, not for imagery and diversity quotas.

During my early university experience, I did not engage in engineering clubs because I noticed very few Black people in these groups. Being the only Black person in a space is not always encouraging, and this deterred me from joining. I’ve experienced being in spaces as the only Black person and experienced micro-aggressions where I had to always prove myself to be considered equal. I did end up overcoming this fear and joining my first engineering club later in my academic journey, and it really reignited my love for participating in community-based initiatives.

After this experience, I wanted to create a space and community in which more Black students are encouraged to partake in the same opportunities, allowing them to build a network and friendships with people from various backgrounds (academically, professionally, and personally). NSBE is a representation of this desire to support and lift one another.

Bimpe Awotundun

Fifth-year chemical engineering student
Co-president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), uOttawa chapter

Headshot of young black female student

One word to describe my university experience is: enriching. Through my involvement in campus life and non-STEM extracurriculars, I’ve met so many people from different walks of life. Being at uOttawa has made me feel like a global citizen without leaving the continent! Seeing and hearing about other people’s lived experiences has given me a new perspective and understanding of the world. I’ve been exposed to new things and had cool and exciting opportunities.

I didn’t see opportunities or spaces like this for Black students in engineering. That’s why I co-founded the NSBE. I’m passionate about the idea of “for us, by us” because I know that the best spaces for Black students should be created by Black students.

In the short time that we’ve been an active club, I’ve learned more about leadership and community than ever before. I thought this club would introduce me to more people like me, but I was wrong. I've met so many Black people who’ve had completely different experiences than I have. The club broaden my idea of what it’s like to be a Black student in engineering. It’s shown me the beauty, richness, and complexity of the Black student population in the Faculty of Engineering, a population that we need to uplift more.

Bayza Woldemariam

Third-year biomedical mechanical engineering student
Vice-president of operations, National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), uOttawa chapter

Headshot of young black female student

I started off my university career in biomedical science but switched to engineering shortly after. I hope to pursue a career in clinical engineering, working primarily in the development of prostheses. In my free time, I enjoy sports, participating in different clubs, and volunteering, not only to make a change in my community, but also to meet new people.

Most of my time here at the Faculty of Engineering has been online, so all the contact that I have had with the Faculty has been through phone calls and emails. The first time I ever contacted the Faculty was back in the winter term of 2020, when I was switching between the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Engineering. The staff made the transition go very smoothly and I am very happy with where I am right now!

With that said, I still found it challenging to have my classes online and to not have the opportunity to interact in person with my classmates or professors. Amid all these challenges, NSBE was an opportunity for me to meet like-minded students who not only look like me, but also have the same goals that I do. I was able to create a support system that was crucial during times like these.

NSBE uOttawa is the first club of its kind at the University to cater to the needs of Black students in STEM, and being part of that first step to form a community was what drew me to this club in the first place. Together, we showcase the many diverse paths for Black success and generate opportunities for us to collectively grow, both socially and academically.

A Collaboration of NSBE uOttawa Chapter Executives

Collage of NSBE executive committee members

Executives: Susan Peters (Co-President), Bayza Woldemariam (VP Operations), Karl-William Gueyie (VP Financial Affairs), Muna Chukwujindu (VP Events), Bimpe Awontundun (Co-President), Marina Foumane (VP Administration), Lola Omowa (VP Social and Marketing)

About NSBE uOttawa

Our club is committed to building a community of Black students in STEM and to increasing the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. Our resources and services reflect our motto by providing Black students with a space to build and network, share experiences, find academic support, and access professional development exposure opportunities.

Reflections on the University and the profession

Given that the Black community represents a large portion of the minority demographic at the University of Ottawa, it is important that its members have access to all necessary resources. When it comes to higher education and professional careers, Black people are underrepresented, so there is a need for resources that allow them to have a fuller university experience.

Why Join NSBE?

There are many Black students in STEM programs at the University of Ottawa, but there aren't many clubs that represent us. As a community, this club showcases different paths for Black success, reduces Black student isolation, and gives Black students a chance to grow together. The club has also taught us that there is so much beauty and diversity in Black people. As executive members, we are challenged to step out of our space of comfort and be both leaders and friends within our community.

We want to establish a place for current and future Black students and create a strong foundation on which to build this club so that students have every opportunity to come together and support one another.

For more information on NSBE uOttawa, check out their Instagram page or contact the club by email.

(Please note that some of the responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

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