A program that’s been instrumental in the academic success and professional development of hundreds of minority students in the University of Kansas School of Engineering celebrates a milestone this weekend.
The School of Engineering will commemorate the 40th anniversary of minority engineering programs in a special ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Spahr Engineering Classroom in Eaton Hall.
The celebration will honor the Diversity and Women’s Engineering Program’s roots and its impact on the lives of graduates and current students. Special recognition is planned for Florence Boldridge, the woman who has served as program director for the past 28 years and is credited with expanding the program’s reach while guiding hundreds of minority engineering students through their time on campus to a successful career after graduation.
A handful of African-American students, including Gene Kendall, Willie Nunnery and Floyd Temple, helped launch the program in 1971. At that time, the effort was geared exclusively toward African-American students and went by the acronym SCoRMEBE, which stands for the Student Council for Recruiting, Motivating and Educating Black Engineers. Don Green and Floyd Preston, chemical and petroleum engineering professors at the time, helped oversee the program in its early years.
Kendall earned his degree in engineering physics in 1971 and a master’s of engineering in 1972. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2007 after a career of nearly 40 years, which saw him rise to the rank of rear admiral. He said minority enrollment during his time at KU was extremely low and there was essentially no support system to foster minority success.
“There were only two African-American students in the School of Engineering, me and (SCoRMEBE co-founder) Willie Nunnery,” Kendall said. “So we resolved to do something about it. We figured we’d try to establish a program to get more young engineers on campus. We didn’t know how to do it, but to actively recruit.”
All these years later, Kendall is proud that a program with such humble beginnings remains such a strong part of the School of Engineering.
“I’m not only amazed, I feel like if it wasn’t for the other stuff I messed up, helping start this program might’ve got me into heaven,” he said. “To say I’m pleased is a quite an understatement. When I came back to campus years later and saw that it survived, I was pleased and amazed.”
Boldridge is the program’s fourth director, serving since 1983. During her tenure, the program expanded to include Hispanic, American Indian and female engineering students and has undergone several name changes to ensure all groups are represented.
Jamie Hines is one of the estimated 600 students who have utilized the program since its inception in 1971. She graduated from KU in 2008 with a degree in electrical engineering and now works on the transmission line design team for Stanley Consultants in Denver, Colo.
“Not many women or minorities are in the engineering field, so KU’s Diversity and Women’s program assured you that you aren’t overlooked,” Hines said. “For me, it was an ‘I’m not alone feeling,’ that I can succeed and have examples of people that have succeeded.”
Hines said she formed a bond with Boldridge early in her college career and the program director proved to be a driving force to her success. “Florence is very important to the school because she is like mother hen to the students in the minority and diversity programs,” Hines said. “She encouraged me to do well and handle business. It was like she had more faith in me than I had in myself at times, and I didn’t want to let her down or disappoint her.”
Saturday’s event will bring together a wide array of recent and longtime alumni, current students and others instrumental to the success of the program over the years.
“We are extremely proud of all those who have played a part in making this such a strong program the past 40 years,” said Dean of Engineering Stuart Bell. “This celebration marks a time to reflect on the accomplishments of an outstanding group of students, faculty and staff — while ensuring the program remains strong and continues to provide support for the promising next generation of engineers.”