National Society of Black Engineers at Syracuse University: Building a Better Future

Under the leadership of Brianna Gillfillian ‘24, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at Syracuse University has experienced a resurgence. By organizing interactive events to bolster participation, NSBE has rebuilt a community of aspiring engineers post-pandemic. It may come as a surprise that Gillfillian never planned on becoming president. However, when she saw the leadership struggle to keep the organization together, she knew she had to do something. 

“I saw ways we could impact numbers and participation,” Gilfillian says. “I wanted to be a part of the change that brought NSBE back to where they were before the pandemic. I thought I might as well give it a shot.” 

Founded in 1974 at Purdue University, NSBE is an organization dedicated to developing culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically and positively impact the community. The organization is open to all students and welcomes both engineering and non-engineering students. “Historically, the club was used to provide a space for Black engineers, who take up less than 4% of the industry,” Gillfillian says. “NSBE has been on a mission to increase the percentage of Black engineers over time.” 

As Gillfillian attended meetings during her freshman year, she felt a sense of belonging to the club. It provided a safe space where older engineering students supported and mentored her, guiding her on her engineering journey. She would eventually serve as the membership and mentorship chair in her sophomore year, and in her junior year, she became the president of the club, a position she still holds to this day. With a hardworking e-board, Gilfillian wanted to restore the University’s NSBE chapter back to its former glory.  

The pandemic impacted the club as they suffered from low participation, and Gillfillian knew the organization had to take action fast. She and the e-board organized interactive events such as NSBE Junior, a high school student outreach program aimed at inspiring young engineers to pursue STEM. NSBE Junior also provided volunteer opportunities for Syracuse students by allowing them to work with high schoolers, making it great for members passionate about teaching and working with the local youth. 

“NSBE also has weekly study sessions called ‘I-Study.’ It’s basically tutoring with club members where students can ask us for help in academic areas they may struggle in,” Gillfillian says. “We also have a mentorship program that pairs younger students with older students so they can have a point of contact as they navigate the college.”  

One of their biggest events, and also Gillfillian’s favorite, is the Black Excellence Gala, an event that commemorates student leaders and academic excellence. For the gala, they collaborate with the Black Honor Society and present awards to recognize the efforts of individuals within the student body. Students apply, get interviewed and the NSBE executive board votes on which student receives an award.  

“To spice things up, we also have a People’s Choice Award where people are allowed to nominate Black-owned businesses, Black organizations and Black letter Greek organizations for different awards to acknowledge businesses or organizations doing well outside of academia,” Gillfillian says. 

The student organization also participates in NSBE’s national and regional conferences, as well as AfroTech, the largest Black tech conference that attracts over 20,000 Black tech innovators for career and networking opportunities. However, a certain level of commitment to NSBE is required to attend these conferences. This is one way the leadership ensures that people who attend these conferences are genuinely involved with the group. 

“Every single student who had the opportunity to attend AfroTech’s conference last year was able to secure both full-time jobs and summer internships,” Gillfillian says. “It’s great for students to advance their careers and grow professionally.”  

Gillfillian is a highly involved college community member, holding four positions within student organizations and 10 leadership roles that are University-wide. Despite the busy schedule that comes with being a student organization president and a member of groups like the Kappa Lambda Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., she manages to balance her various roles and wouldn’t trade her role for anything else. Additionally, she greatly values the sense of community that the student organization provides. “I love the family-like structure. We’re a very tight-knit group and everyone is chill and close. We call ourselves NSBabes – it’s always a good time.”  

With NSBE Junior, the Black Excellence Gala, and AfroTech, among other events, the organization is thriving more than ever. Even as Gillfillian graduates from the University next year, she believes the club will continue to be a safe space that motivates future innovators.  

“NSBE is the best club to be. It’s great for ambitious young Black engineers and creates a lot of opportunities. People have gotten jobs, internships, made friends, developed their professional skills, and had a lot of fun while doing it.” 

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