Diversity in medtech is rising, but there is still room for improvement. The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is working to eliminate healthcare disparities and close gaps in care delivery to Black communities.
The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is a U.S.-based, student-governed organization founded in 1975 to support and promote technical professionals in engineering and technology in collegiate and pre-collegiate students. Mechanical engineering is the most common major of its members, followed by computer sciences, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering and civil engineering.
NSBE has more than 790 chapters and over 20,000 active members in the U.S. Its Healthcare Innovation Special Interest Group (HISIG) has over 3,300 members across all healthcare sectors, with 300 members in the medical device industry. Theodore Nicholson, treasurer and board member of the NSBE healthcare group, is manager of research technology development at the Marcus Autism Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Nicholson specializes in medical device diagnostics that use cloud-based architecture and is a strong proponent of STEM education and inclusivity initiatives for underrepresented individuals. He has more than 10 years of experience, post-Ph.D., in chemistry, chemical polymers, software development, medical device development and biomedical engineering for commercial applications.
Nicholson recently told Medical Design & Outsourcing how NSBE intends to expand its influence in medtech.
MDO: What opportunities is NSBE looking for in the medical device industry?
Theodore Nicholson: NSBE, through its Healthcare Innovation Special Interest Group (HISIG), is looking for industry, academic and government partners who are working to eliminate healthcare disparities and close gaps in care delivery to Black communities. We seek to collaborate on programs that increase technology development and improve outcomes. We welcome partners who want to co-create innovation ecosystems within healthcare hubs to engage with the Black community directly. NSBE is seeking organizations that are ready to initiate or continue to foster change in creating more equitable, diverse and inclusive environments. These organizations should seek to improve technology, train future engineers and broaden their available opportunities.
MDO: How can the medical device industry begin to diversify its leadership?
Nicholson: The medical device industry should identify gaps within its leadership. Which skills is it looking for in the individuals in those roles? After determining those needs, fill them by seeking candidates from areas that have larger groups of diverse engineering leaders. This can be done by partnering with professional associations, working with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and going directly to communities that are typically underrepresented. To NSBE’s HISIG, the solution is straightforward, but unless the industry expands and shifts to think beyond what has been done in the past, change will be slow and arduous. It is up to the medical device industry to prioritize inclusion and diversity within its leadership, to add board members from underrepresented communities and to stay engaged with capital investment in the battle against systemic racism.
MDO: What kinds of things are you doing to promote diversity and what are your plans for the future?
Nicholson: NSBE was founded in 1975 by six African American engineering undergraduates and their faculty advisor at Purdue University, who saw the need for a national organization to address the low retention rate of Black engineering students across the country. Now an international organization, NSBE, in the U.S., remains committed to increasing engineering diversity, strengthening Black communities and expanding economic prosperity by ending the underrepresentation of Blacks/African Americans in our field. NSBE’s main 10-year strategic goal is to lead the U.S. to produce 10,000 (“10K”) new Black engineers annually by 2025, up from only 3,501 in 2014. Our programs and events are aligned with this goal. They target students and professionals of all ages to boost their interest, proficiency and expertise in STEM to enhance their academic excellence, professional success and positive impact on the community. NSBE’s work has contributed to the recent upward trend in engineering education of African Americans. More than 5,600 Black students obtained bachelor’s degrees in engineering last year.
A sample of current NSBE programs and initiatives follows:
- Integrated Pipeline Programs (IPPs) — Initiatives developed with NSBE organizational partners to significantly increase the number of Black students who are qualified and available to fill technical positions. IPPs increase STEM awareness, access, engagement and inclusion through internships, scholarships, mentoring and professional development seminars; provide grants to universities to scale-up successful academic support programs; engage with and support pre-collegiate students to encourage their interest in engineering careers; and support technical professional programming for NSBE professionals.
- NSBE Student Retention Program — An umbrella covering three different programs designed to support NSBE undergraduates: skill development workshops, study halls and academic mentorship. The program, based on proven educational research, is designed to increase the number of Black students who remain in STEM majors for their sophomore year and go on to earn their degrees.
- NSBE Jr. — A program that gives students in grades 3 through 12 the opportunity to join one of more than 270 chapters in the U.S. and abroad; bond, learn and compete with their peers; and experience programming designed to help them discover firsthand the excitement of STEM and how engineering and technology relate to the world around them.
- NSBE Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) — The nation’s largest summer engineering program geared toward African American and other elementary school students from groups underrepresented in STEM; a free, three-week program, SEEK provides students in grades 3–5 with hands-on, team-based engineering design activities led by engineering role models, many of whom are collegiate members of NSBE.
- NSBE Special Interest Groups (SIGs) — Signature programs presented by the NSBE professionals organization to promote technical excellence among graduate student and technical professional members. SIGs provide a platform for members to explore and discuss particular areas of focus and interest: aerospace, energy, entrepreneurship, environmental engineering, healthcare innovation, information technology, intellectual property, process improvement, public policy, transportation, and women in science and engineering.