Black students look at options in engineering


Domonic Thompson strolled through the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday and dreamed about what it would be like to become an engineer.

The 14-year-old student at Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore was among the 500 students at an engineering job fair that is part of the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference.

"I saw that it takes a lot to be an engineer -- you have to go to a lot of school," he said. "I also saw other black engineers and scientists, and that was important to see that they have done what you want to do."

The conference, sponsored by the Council of Engineering Deans of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Mobil Corp. and U.S. Black Engineer magazine, highlights science and engineering achievements by black professionals.

Tonight, biologist William Wiley, director of the Batelle Memorial Institute's Pacific Northwest Division, will receive the Black Engineer of the Year award. A dozen other prominent black engineers also will receive awards at the conference, which will continue through the weekend at the Sheraton Inner Harbor.

The job fair is designed to introduce high school students to the diverse field of engineering. Nearly 5 percent -- or 42,000 -- of the nation's 1.7 million engineers are black, said Tyrone Taborn, publisher of U.S. Black Engineer magazine.

More blacks are becoming engineers today because of increasing educational and employment opportunities, said Robert Willis, the equal employment officer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He heads a local nonprofit organization called the Mathematical, Engineering, Science Achievement Program, which provides mentors for inner city students interested in careers in science.

"Students are more prepared," Mr. Willis said. "Through the program, we are encouraging them to take the necessary math courses and get good grades."

Rod Carter, a mentor with Project Raise, a local nonprofit educational program, praised the engineering job fair.

"African American students need to be aware of the different opportunities in science and math," he said. "We built the pyramids and then we lapsed behind. . . .

"But it is important to see the scientists from all across the U.S. telling their stories to the kids. They know that someone helped them, and they want to give back."

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