Professor honored for creating opportunities
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Percy Pierre’s career beginnings were lonely.
In 1968, he was the nation’s first black doctoral electrical engineer, working at the Rand Corp.
“I felt good about having made it,” Pierre said. “But I felt that there was something wrong being the only one.”
That impulse evolved into a drive to open the doors to engineering careers for minorities that has spanned more than 30 years. On May 4, Pierre, an MSU professor of electrical and computer engineering, is to be honored as one of the founders of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering Inc. (NACME) at a lavish 30th anniversary gala in New York City.
The gala celebrates a long journey from Pierre’s lone status as a black engineer, to creating opportunities for thousands of minorities. He has been central on several fronts to spark young minorities’ interest in engineering with a program that is sustainable. The success has been impressive.
NACME is the nation’s largest private source of scholarships for minorities in engineering. Over its 30 years, NACME has provided more than $100 million to nearly 18,000 black, American Indian and Hispanic students at 160 colleges and universities. This is nearly 15 percent of all minority engineering graduates since 1980.
The success lies in leveraging resources from industry – such as General Electric; foundations, such as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; government and higher education to create an enduring web to make education possible. Early initiatives, many led by Pierre, snowballed as success created more demand.
Pierre was part of founding two of the organizations that have morphed into the current NACME – the National Academy of Engineering’s National Advisory Committee on Minorities in Engineering and the National Scholarship Fund for Minority Engineering Students. He was an active participant in the third, the Minority Engineering Education Effort.
“I’m most proud of the strategy we used to build institutions that could tap into a broad network of resources,” Pierre said. “And especially proud that this thing we started 30 years ago is still going strong.”
Pierre said that in the early years, careers in engineering were all but invisible to most minority students, who weren’t seeing engineers in their church pews or neighborhoods. The second hurdle was building more strength in math and science programs in high schools to prepare students for college engineering paths.
“Percy Pierre is a distinguished educator and public servant,” said NACME president and CEO John Brooks Slaughter, who has known Pierre for more than 30 years. “He helped lay the foundation for what eventually became NACME and continues to serve as an inspiration to minority students and the engineering community.”
Today’s hurdles are different – from diminished support for affirmative action to changes in family support structures to the continuing need to garner sponsors to support programs.
“You can always take money and give it to one student, but if we ran out of money the project would end,” Pierre said. “Instead, we created an institute to raise money for scholarships from industry. It’s about leveraging a lot of resources to build something that would last.”
Pierre earned his doctoral degree in electrical engineering at The Johns Hopkins University. His extensive career has included acting as assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition for the Pentagon, being president of Prairie View A & M University in Texas, and serving as vice president of research and graduate studies at Michigan State University. Most recently, he directs the Sloan engineering program at MSU.
NACME 30th Anniversary Gala 2004
an event to benefit
The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc.
Park Avenue at 49th Street, New York City
Tuesday, May 4, 2004
6:30 p.m. - Cocktail Reception and Silent Auction
7:30 p.m. - Awards Dinner
Black Tie Optional
Special Performances by:
The Newark Boys Chorus
Exxon Mobil Corporation, Lee R. Raymond, Chairman & CEO
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Ralph E. Gomory, President
Percy A. Pierre, NACME Co-Founder and Engineering Educator