Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the NNPA
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the NNPA

The American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), a national organization with a 50-year history of educating young people on the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, recently left an indelible mark on the Indianapolis youth during their 42nd annual conference.

Held at the Marriott Downtown, more than 600 energy leaders attended the four-day conference, which opened powerful discussions on the field’s emerging policies, career options, entrepreneurial involvement, and social responsibility.

Among the event’s key activities — the AABE Youth Forum — featuring 25 aspiring engineers from Pike High school, proved most exciting.

In addition to meeting energy professionals, the students received advice on creating and maintaining a successful career in STEM. Several companies, including Southern California Edison, American Petroleum Institute (API), British Petroleum (BP), and the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), entertained questions and offered advice to attendees.

Tyrone Mitchell, a Diversity and Inclusion Manager at BP, said that internships prove very important once students enter college.

“Please be focused on getting internships. Getting that experience cannot only benefit you in the workplace, but you will also know what industry you like and don’t like,” Mitchell said. “I was able to get an internship with BP, and I chose to come on to BP because of the experience they gave me. So, it made the transition easier for me.”

David Ford, a mechanical engineer at Southern California Edison agreed with Mitchell’s assessment of internships, but also admonished students to gain focus as a means of successfully navigating college.

“There’s a lot of things you’re going to deal with in college. Focus on the most important things you need to do every day,” said Ford. “During your first year in college it’s really important that you get a discipline down, because if you don’t you can easily blow it.”

At the end of the session, students received a surprise visit from Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., a civil rights leader, and President and CEO of NNPA.

“There are tremendous career opportunities in the energy sector for African Americans,” Chavis said. “The future is going to be determined by how well humanity utilizes science to solve our problems, and I encourage young people in the Black community to get involved with STEM programs at a young age. One thing I intend to do with NNPA is to raise more public awareness about the opportunities in the energy sector for Black Americans.”

Chavis, who has a background in chemistry, said that he thinks the educational system doesn’t prepare millennials of any race for the world of the future.

“The world of the future is going to be much more of a global economy. It’s going to be more science- and data-based, and more coding. Some schools don’t even teach these things, while other schools do. There are inequities in the educational system, and some are racial inequities. At the NNPA, I’m trying to challenge some of these racial inequities when it comes to education and career opportunities.”

Chavis was the editor of his high school newspaper and said that his science background has improved his skills as both a reader and writer.

“Developing an appetite at a young age to read, write, and to be a journalist is so important. I encourage young writers and journalists to use their pens to promote social change, and ensure our communities are treated fairly.”

Paula Glover, CEO of AABE, said that opportunities abound in the energy industry for students of all majors.

“If you look across college majors, you may have students who are history majors who work in public policy. Two of our executives were music majors, and they went on to law school; they work in our industry in either environmental policy, environmental law, or health and safety.”

Demi Vaughn is a senior at Ball State University, and can be reached at dmvaughn@bsu.edu

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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