Amazing growth from a student-based organization: UC Berkeley BESSA’s recent transformation
This past semester I had the wonderful pleasure to join a group of students on campus as their faculty mentor. The Black Scientists and Engineers Student Association (BESSA) started at Cal in 1968. BESSA has been around longer than the now-parent national organization, National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
Leadership from necessity
During Phylicia’s (not her real name) freshman year, she was one of roughly 5 members in BESSA. Numbers so low that the group risked not having enough active members for a leadership board, and, therefore, would forfeit being an official group per university policy. This required the few students in the group to step up and take on leadership roles; whether they saw themselves as a leader or not. Fortunately, for Phylicia, this resulted in new skill sets and an opportunity to work on growing BESSA.
Over the past three years, BESSA’s membership has grown immensely. Part of this growth has been due to proactive members reaching out to potential members, as well as the group being more proactive in participating in student-group days on campus days (e.g. Cal Day). During the 2015-2016 academic year, BESSA had over 100 members with regular attendance and participation from 30-35 of those members.
They have seemed to be building momentum which has propelled them to grow their exposure to companies and within the College of Engineering. In particular, BESSA students have been able to receive support and mentorship from Berkeley’s Engineering Student Services (ESS). When asked about what made ESS’ support so valuable, monetary support was not at the top of the list - rather, students greatly appreciated the personal support and advising. Comments that reflected well with observations by Dr. Gary May from Georgia Tech.
One of the more exciting takeaways from BESSA’s progress this year was the number of students that were able to attend the national conference. Fifteen students were able to attend the Annual NSBE conference in Boston. Funding a cross country conference for 15 people is no small feat, and was only accomplished by reaching out to industry donors in addition to support from campus.
So with all of this positive growth, what does BESSA see in their future?
Listening to the students during their general meeting and their board meeting you can’t help but notice their focus on community (both within and outside campus). While working hard to excel at Cal, they are also looking towards the engineering students of tomorrow by working with the NSBE Junior chapter at Berkeley High School. Maybe one day there will be a Berkeley High alumnus or alumna in my classroom that decided to pursue engineering after interacting with one of today’s BESSA members.