For the first time, a group of Indiana University students traveled to the Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) STEM Conference, held this year in Washington, DC, in February, 2020. The BEYA conference provided a unique opportunity for IU students within the Groups Scholars Program, the 21st Century Scholars Program, and the Hudson & Holland Scholars Program, all academic programs administered by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs to network with professionals in engineering fields and meet students from outside of the Midwest.
“It was nice to get out of Bloomington,” Joy Morounfolu, junior, said. “With a lot of conferences, you only get people from the Midwest. At BEYA, we talked to people from all over the country.”
Morounfolu was initially on the fence about attending the BEYA conference but changed her mind when awarded the BEYA Student Community Award for founding the Hezekiah Foundation, named after her grandfather, in July 2019. According to Morounfolu, the foundation’s one-year goal was to raise $1,500 by July 2020 to buy water for Flint, Michigan, but after reaching that goal increased it to $2,000. Attending the conference allowed Morounfolu the opportunity to network and communicate with potential donors.
“I am in pre-med, but I feel like you don’t have to be ‘in health’ to help people,” Morounfolu said. “I have always been told that I like putting others before myself and helping others in any way I can.”
For others, this conference was a chance to learn about STEM fields and research in an environment that not only catered to their interest but provided a sense of knowledge and community.
Hikam Mohamed, sophomore, was initially overwhelmed at the beginning of the conference but found comfort once the sessions began. Dividing into smaller groups made attendees more comfortable and created an environment where interaction with the panel and asking questions easy. Although Hikam said he initially thought the sessions seemed fast-paced, he found they were conducted with the right amount of time to listen to the panel and ask questions.
“My most memorable moment was during the Xtreme Resumes session,” Hikam said. “The session helped me to understand what recruiters are looking for and how to tweak your resume using keywords and phrases. I understood that most employers are using a search engine that looks for keywords. I came to comprehend that my experiences and the work I have done in life were good enough.”
Additionally, this conference provided incredible support for the students, helping them prepare for and connect with companies.
“This is a prime opportunity for students to connect with companies,” Kim Jenkins, coordinator of STEM Initiatives and academic advisor for the Groups Scholars Program, said. “Companies offered a lot of on-site interviews, and hired many students for internships or co-ops or even full-time positions.” Jenkins also noted that in addition to conducting various workshops, representatives from multiple companies were intermingling with students within the sessions, award ceremonies, and hallways.
“I also liked how this conference provided a lot of support for the students,” Mimi Attenoukon, Hudson & Holland Scholars Program STEM coordinator, said. “Having a person on staff both during and after the conference helping students connect to opportunities was beneficial. This person provided students with resume support. And this was a conference that expected students to be prepared, asking students to have thirty copies of their resume on hand. They were serious about connecting students with job opportunities, giving students helpful feedback on their resumes so that they would be more attractive to employers and recruiters. I love that they will continue to work with students even after the conference.”
While the BEYA Conference provided members of the Groups Scholars Program, 21st Century Scholars Program, and Hudson & Holland Scholars Program with a unique experience, both Jenkins and Attenoukon remarked on how funding for travel was one of the biggest challenges to overcome.
“I want to give a shout-out to Pat Donahue,” Attenoukon said. “The BEYA conference covered the majority of the cost. We just had to figure a way to get ourselves from Bloomington to DC. We needed a sizable sum of money, and it can be daunting at figuring out who to ask. He got the word out to different units on campus, advocating and asking for money on our behalf. He helped us figure out who to go to for funding.”
Additionally, Jenkins would like to acknowledge the multitude of sponsors who played a critical role in their ability to participate in the conference: Office of Engaged Learning, Walter Center for Career Achievement, Kelley School of Business MSIS program, IU School of Public Health-Bloomington Office of Student Diversity & Inclusion, and the Groups Scholars Program.
When asked about attending the BEYA conference in 2021, Jenkins said they hope to participate in BEYA 2021, but have their sights set on the Women of Color (WOC) STEM Conference in October. This conference is hosted by the Career Communications Group to promote achievement in STEM careers, providing another avenue in which scholars can meet their networking goals, develop soft skills, and find potential internship opportunities. In response to COVID-19, this year’s WOC STEM Conference is offered as a virtual experience, affording more students opportunities that can enrich, inspire, connect, and support professional and personal growth.