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Student engineers tackle real-world technical challenges

The most challenging technical problems facing engineers and scientists today don’t have an easy answer. But proposing an approach is a critical first step to moving toward research and development, according to Northeastern graduate student Sarah Brown.

Brown is the special projects coordinator in the National Programs Committee of the
National Society of Black Engineers
. She is also a member of Northeastern’s chapter of the NSBE, known on campus as the Black Engineering Student Society. Founded in 1974, BESS is dedicated to recognizing underrepresented minorities in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields and helping them prepare for their future careers.

Northeastern’s chapter was recently named Chapter of the Year for 2011–2012 in its size category. It was also recognized as the chapter with the highest percentage of members maintaining a GPA greater than 3.0 out of more than 250 chapters nationally.

“Our mission is to increase the number of culturally responsible Black engineers that excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact our community,” Brown said.

BESS provides a host of opportunities for students to build their scholarship, which includes facing real-world challenges professional engineers tackle every day. One such opportunity arose this winter through the second annual Technical Challenge Competition sponsored by Draper Laboratory, a nonprofit engineering organization based in Cambridge, Mass.

Brown also serves on the NSBE involvement committee at Draper, where she is a research fellow. Students from more than 75 universities in the region were invited to submit 500-word proposals describing their innovative solutions to a technical engineering-design problem that aligns with various technology areas pursued at Draper. Finalists presented their proposals at a regional conference. All three winners hailed from Northeastern’s chapter.

Mechanical engineering major Oliver Maurice earned first place for his solution to the challenge that involved investigating how biocompatible medical devices and other technologies implanted in the human body can be tested and reach the market more quickly. “I let my imagination run wild, taking inspiration from a variety of places in my life to formulate some innovative ideas,” he said.

Samantha Kendrick, president of Northeastern’s NSBE chapter, earned second place for her approach to creating an end-to-end recycling system for both residential and business settings. The experience was one of many provided by her affiliation with the student group that has allowed her to become a more successful student engineer.

“Being a member of BESS and NSBE has set me up professionally for any future endeavor I take on,” Kendrick said. “They both create a camaraderie for minority engineers and have a plan to ensure that each member flourishes and succeeds.”

Third-place winner Idriys Harris, a master’s candidate in computer and electrical engineering, agreed, calling the group his “second family.