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Associated With Greatness

Diversity Advocacy + Professional Association + You = Career Success

By Molly Joss

It’s always good to make new friends. It can be one of the best parts of the college experience. Joining an engineering professional organization is a great way to meet new people and even make life-long friendships in college. And those friends can be instrumental in helping you make the most of your major and your career.

Most professional organizations have a way for undergraduates to participate in membership. Some organizations grant students access to the members-only components of their Web sites and provide them with copies of their newsletters. Others make it a point to give undergraduates every benefit professional members enjoy and more, including financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Some larger organizations even have campus-based or online memberships to make it easier for students to participate.

There are several associations for minorities and women that offer excellent membership benefits for undergraduates. They provide a network for people who have more in common than just their professional aspirations. They’re usually smaller organizations too, which make it easier to get to know key people in the organization. And you don’t have to be a member of a particular minority group or a woman to be accepted as a member of these organizations. Membership is open to any undergraduate (and sometimes graduate) student who is majoring in one of the subject areas of interest to the association, including engineering and related disciplines.

Getting Involved

Given the fact that anyone can join, it makes sense to join more than one organization for at least a year. Doing so will help you increase your chances of connecting with people who can help you advance your career plans. After a year, you can always discontinue your membership in groups you find less interesting than others.

However, do not just collect memberships. Make sure you do more than simply read association newsletters. It’s important that you become active in the organizations that you join. Volunteer for a committee so you can meet other members. Or see if you can arrange for an informational interview or two with some of the professional members. At the very least, participate in the online discussion groups. The more active you are, the more benefits you will gain from your membership.

These organizations have national and regional conferences and events that offer unparalleled employment opportunities for undergraduates, so you should plan to attend at least one regional or national event. Remember to take along copies of your resume and be prepared to talk about your studies, past experiences, goals and ambitions.
Finally, check with your department head or advisor to see if you can get extra credit for participation in these groups. Some universities offer formal and informal perks to students who join professional organizations.

Following is a listing of some of the engineering professional associations that can help you achieve career success while still in school or while just starting out in your professional career.

National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering

The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) wants to make it easier for African American, American Indian, and Latino men and women to establish technology, math, engineering and science-related careers. It’s not a professional organization for people, but it is one of the biggest private sources of scholarships for minorities in engineering. Scholarship amounts start at $2,500 and some full scholarships are awarded. The Council can also help with summer internships, research projects,career workshops and more.

NACME also has a free program for helping students find engineering internships. You can sign up online. While you’re there, check out the scholarship information and sign up for the free newsletter. The Council keeps in touch with scholarship alumni, so send NACME an email if you’re looking for a contact at a company, in a particular discipline, or want some networking suggestions.

NACME, Inc.
3 West 35th Street
New York, NY 10001-2204
(212) 279-2626
www.nacme.org

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers

A group of engineers employed by the city of Los Angeles founded the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers in 1974. They wanted to start an organization to serve as role models for Hispanics that would eventually be nationwide. They met their goal; today the SHPE has 43 professional and more than a 100 student chapters.

While the organization is very active on college campuses in California and other Western states, it has chapters at many colleges all over the country. If your college or university has a large engineering program, the chances are good that there is a chapter already active on your campus or in a city nearby.

Engineering, math, physical applied and computer science majors are welcome to join, and memberships for students run from August 31 to September 1. A year’s membership for undergraduates is $5. If you choose to be affiliated with a chapter there might be additional fees to belong that particular chapter.

Giving engineering students a way to connect with engineering professionals is an important part of SHPE’s mission. So don’t be shy. Investigate all the networking opportunities, and ask for help if you don’t see what you want.

The SHPE has the standard benefits that professional organizations offer, including a newsletter, Web site with job postings, internships and scholarships. However, it also offers training opportunities and career planning services. One of the biggest career-related perks, though, is its annual conference, the National Technical & Career Conference (NTCC), which is the largest such event for Hispanic engineers in the country.

Last year more than 5,000 students, professionals and corporate representatives attended. The entire focus of the conference is on career advancement. Companies come to recruit the best and brightest. Students learn about internships and starting job opportunities. The 2006 NTCC will be held January 4-8, 2006 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

SHPE holds other conferences including regional student chapter events and the National Institute for Leadership Advancement (NILA) event for newly elected student and professional chapter presidents. At NILA, participants focus on improving personal management and strategic planning skills. More information on all these events is on the SHPE Web site.

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Inc.
5400 E. Olympic Blvd., Suite 210
Los Angeles, CA 90022
www.shpe.org

National Society of Black Engineers

The National Society of Black Engineers got its start at Purdue University in 1971 when two engineering students decided that there was a need for an organization to encourage black students to enter, and remain in, engineering-related majors. Today the NSBE has more than 15,000 members in the NSBE, and more than 8,000 people attended last year’s annual conference. There are also more than 300 student chapters and 75 professional chapters located around the United States.

Membership is open to engineering, math, physical applied and computer science majors; graduate students may join as well. The annual dues are $10 (additional chapter dues may be charged) and expire at the end of July no matter when you join, so to get the most out of your annual dues you should sign up in August or September. If there is no chapter on your campus or you decide not to join the chapter, you can join as a member-at-large and have all the other benefits of membership.

The NSBE offers its student members valuable benefits, including free Kaplan test preparation classes at its conferences, tutoring and professional development opportunities. Scholarship, financial aid, internships and other employment opportunities are a big focus of the group, as well. One of the ways it makes all of these opportunities available is through its events, including the regional conferences (more than 20) and a career fair at its national convention. The 2006 convention will be held in Pittsburgh from March 29-April 2.

National Society of Black Engineers
1454 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 549-2207
www.nsbe.org

American Indian Science and Engineering Society

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society has several scholarship programs for undergraduate students who wish to major in engineering and science-related subject areas. Annual dues are $25, and it holds two small conferences each year. The organization has seven regions, with the largest located in the Northwest area of the United States. There aren’t many chapters, but don’t let that stop you from joining if you find the other benefits appealing. Membership is open to anyone who wants to participate.

It also offers an excellent undergraduate summer internship program that includes 10-week work opportunities at several federal agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Science Foundation and NASA. To qualify students must have at least a 3.0 average, be a full-time undergraduate student, and be a U.S. citizen or legal resident. You don’t have to be an AISES member, but it’s probably a good idea to be a member when you apply.

AISES provides internship participants with round-trip airfare or mileage, spending money and dormitory lodgings. Since most internship programs don’t give interns any financial aid, this is great opportunity. The deadline for applying to participate the CIA program is October 15 and February 15 for all other agencies. Details and an application form are on the AISES Web site.

American Indian Science and Engineering Society
P.O. Box 9828
Albuquerque, NM 87119-9828
(505) 765-1052
www.aises.org

Society of Women Engineers

The Society of Women Engineers was founded in 1950, which makes it one of the most established professional organizations for engineers. Its mission is a big one: “Stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, demonstrate the value of diversity.”
There are more than 300 college student chapters (SWE calls them sections), and more than 100 professional ones. Annual dues for college students are $20. SWE holds regional and national conferences and events in the fall of each year. Students may attend any of the events. You can also attend Kaplan test preparation classes at the annual event at a discounted rate.

The generous and comprehensive scholarship program, which last year awarded $250,000 in grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, is open to all women enrolled in undergraduate engineering or computer science degree programs. Women enrolled in ABET accredited engineering programs are also eligible. Application information is available online, and applications must be completed by February 1, 2006 for the 2006-2007 academic year.

Society of Women Engineers
230 East Ohio Street, Suite 400
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 596-5223
www.swe.org

Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network

SWE isn’t the only professional organization for women interested in an engineering or computer science major or career. The Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network is a small group with about 600 people, but it has a national conference and an international mentoring program. Annual dues are $15.

There are also programs for women in engineering and applied science majors that are sponsored by a particular college and are primarily (or solely) for the benefit of women at that school. The Women in Engineering program at the University of Colorado at Boulder is one such group. This group provides peer mentoring, tutoring and other academic support activities for its members. Arizona State University has a similar program called Women in Applied Science and Engineering.

Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network
550 Stadium Mall Drive
West Lafayette, IN 47907
(765) 494-5387
www.wepan.org

Involvement Equals Benefits

Professional organizations offer an established and structured way to ease your transition from academia to a successful career. For less than the cost of the average college workbook, you can join one or more of these organizations and start finding out about scholarships, summer jobs and internships. You can also begin the process of learning more about career options and post-graduate job opportunities. Plus, many of the members of these organizations have been where you are and are eager to help.

If your college or university doesn’t have a student chapter of one of the professional organizations detailed in this article, then consider starting your own. Starting such a group is a wonderful way to show that you have initiative and support your profession. The groups are always eager to add another chapter, and they offer training and support for people who are interested.

Molly Joss is an IT veteran who writes about career and job issues, among other topics of note.

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