Karl W. Reid, Ed.D. was named executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) on June 2, 2014, marking his return to the organization that gave him his first major leadership experience, 31 years earlier. For the past 17 years, he has been a leading advocate for increasing college access and opportunity for low-income and minority youth. Dr. Reid came to NSBE from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), where he oversaw new program development, research and capacity building for the organization’s 37 historically black colleges and universities and held the title of senior vice president for research, innovation and member college engagement. Before his service at UNCF, he worked in positions of increasing responsibility to increase diversity at his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which he left as associate dean of undergraduate education and director of the Office of Minority Education. While working at MIT, Dr. Reid earned his Doctor of Education degree at Harvard University. His thesis explored the interrelationship of race, identity and academic achievement. Dr. Reid was born in the Bronx, N.Y., and grew up in Roosevelt, N.Y., a mostly working-class, African-American community on Long Island.
|The high value his parents placed on education, and his admission to a well-resourced, mostly white high school near Roosevelt, put him on a track to follow his older brother to MIT, where he did his undergraduate and master’s work in materials science and engineering and was a Tau Beta Pi Scholar. He credits his membership in the NSBE chapter at MIT with giving a vital boost to his self-confidence and leadership skills. He joined the Society during his freshman year, was elected chapter vice president during his junior year and served as NSBE national chair for 1984–85.After graduating from MIT, Dr. Reid worked in the computer industry for 12 years, in product management, marketing, sales and consulting. In 1991, five years into a successful career in sales and marketing with IBM Corporation, Dr. Reid read Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities,” a seminal book about educational disparities in the U.S., which sparked his passion for bringing about positive change through education of African Americans. Dr. Reid is now supporting NSBE’s National Executive Board and the Society’s 31,000 members in reaching the main goal of NSBE’s 10-year Strategic Plan: to move black students and professionals from underrepresentation to overrepresentation in engineering in the U.S., by producing 10,000 Black Engineers annually in the country, by 2025. Dr. Reid is a member of the DC STEM Network Advisory Council and the American Society of Civil Engineers’ “Dream Big” IMAX Movie Technical Advisory Council, and was recently named one of the “Top 100 Executives in America” by Uptown Professional magazine.
Q: Please tell us about yourself and the path that led you to the National Society of Black Engineers (NBSE).
Reid: I was born in the Bronx, N.Y., and grew up in Roosevelt, N.Y., a mostly working-class, African-American community on Long Island. The high value my parents placed on education, and my admission to a well-resourced, mostly white high school near Roosevelt, put me on a track to follow my older brother to MIT, where I earned my undergraduate and master’s degrees in materials science and engineering and was a Tau Beta Pi Scholar. I credit my membership in the NSBE chapter at MIT with giving a vital boost to my self-confidence and leadership skills. I joined the Society during my freshman year, was elected chapter vice president during my junior year and served as NSBE national chair for 1984–85.
Everything has come full circle, as I was named executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) on June 2, 2014, marking my return to the organization that gave me my first major leadership experience.
Q: First, tell us about NSBE as an organization and then tell us about its SEEK program (the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids).
Reid: NSBE was founded on the campus of Purdue University by six Black engineering undergraduates and their faculty advisor, in 1975. The main goal of the Society then, as now, was to redress the underrepresentation of Black students and professionals in the field of engineering largely by improving the success of these student across the country. Today, NSBE has more than 31,700 members and more than 300 chapters in the U.S. and abroad, for collegiates, pre-collegiates and professionals. NSBE remains student-governed and is one of the largest such organizations based in the United States.
The Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) program is one means by which NSBE works to increase the representation of Black students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. This three-week program is designed to expose Black children to STEM fields as early as the 3rd grade. The program utilizes NSBE collegiate members as student mentors. The majority of the mentors are Black students majoring in STEM fields.
Q: Can you please share with us the key SEEK components?
Reid: SEEK introduces STEM vocabulary and key principles of math and science to 3rd through 5th graders. Select locations have also served students in grades 6 through 12. Each week, students are tasked to work in teams to accomplish a predetermined project under the guidance of their mentors. The students implement the engineering design process to maximize the effectiveness of their prototypes, while learning STEM terms and discovering the math and science principles underlying the project design. Each week culminates with competitions among the student teams to determine the most effective project.
Q: Next, can you elaborate on the success and impact of SEEK?
Reid: SEEK was established by NSBE in 2007 with a grant from the Battelle Memorial Institute. Its inaugural program was at a middle school in Washington, D.C., and hosted only 150 students. It has since expanded to 17 sites in 16 cities across the United States and has served more than 15,000 students. SEEK students also have been proven to score significantly higher on math, science and vocabulary assessments and are more excited about STEM and STEM careers after completing the program.
Q: Lastly, in your view, how can we increase the number of African Americans in engineering and other STEM disciplines?
Reid: The percentage of African Americans among U.S. engineering bachelor’s degree recipients has been declining for more than a decade and was only 3.5 percent in 2014. NSBE was established to help increase the number of Black engineers. Recently, the Society launched its Vision 2025, with an ambitious goal to produce 10,000 African-American bachelor’s degree recipients in engineering annually, by 2025, up from the current number of 3,501. We just launched our “Be 1 of 10,000” campaign, with an outreach to African-American middle and high schoolers across the country. NSBE’s goal is to have 150,000 7th grade and older students envision themselves as engineers and pledge to achieve academic excellence in subjects such as algebra, chemistry and physics, which are at the base of an engineering education. NSBE will then provide online and other resources to help those students achieve their goals.