Marines gathered in the Steel City for the National Society of Black Engineers 38th Annual Convention, establishing a gateway into the NSBE community and strengthening the Corps’ connection with the American people.
Although the partnership between the two organizations is relatively young, the Corps’ presence during the convention, March 28-April 1, was powerfully felt and appreciated.
“Any time you have a chance to work with people who have such a profound impact on our daily lives – it’s a great thing,” said Dr. Carl B. Mack, NSBE Executive Director. “Although the relationship is definitely in its infancy, the Marines have stepped up in huge ways to assist us in leading these young people in things like our Summer Engineering Experience for Kids. They’ve proven they want to help us influence this generation to pursue excellence.”
The Marine Corps will partner with NSBE’s SEEK camp in San Diego this summer, to help expose African American kids to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs.
“We’ve found something good here,” said Maj. Gen. Melvin Spiese, Deputy Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force; and Commanding General, 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade. “The SEEK camp this summer will be a perfect chance to further entrench ourselves in this community.”
Master Sgt. Erica James, Marine Forces Reserve equal opportunity advisor, said she was humbled and honored to be a part of the NSBE event and to have the chance to inspire future leaders.
“I am amazed every time I speak to our young people,” James said. “I want them to know that not only are they speaking, but I am listening and hearing. Sometimes that makes the difference. No one should ever feel they are not good enough. They should be continuously empowered with confidence in what they have to offer.”
Throughout the week, attendees had several opportunities to engage with Marines. These included the Pre-College Initiative Graduating Senior Awards Banquet where Marines opened the floor for high school seniors to discuss leadership opportunities and service as important attributes in success; a Marine Corps booth at the NSBE career fair; and during Maj. Gen. Spiese’s participation with a board of panelists discussing the importance of diversity and inclusion within business strategy. Overall, all Marines had one theme in mind – professional development and leadership.
Jayme Hawthorne, NSBE’s Region V Fall Regional Conference Chair, was enthusiastic to have such a positive interaction with the Marines in attendance.
“The Marines being present here means more to me than any monetary donation ever could,” Hawthorne expressed. “Just the fact that they’ve come to spend time reaching out to us lets me know that they care about us, our futures and our best interests.”
Marines also shared information about Marine Corps values and character. In fact, a Marine no longer in uniform even stepped up to share her story of success.
Ernesta Gerstenlauer, Deltak Program Director, has been out of the Marine Corps for 12 years and said she has carried the lessons she learned into every area of her life.
“The Corps gave me the discipline and focus to finish my education, and I couldn’t have completed all the things I have accomplished if I hadn’t been a Marine,” Gerstenlauer said. “It sounds cheesy but in every aspect of my life, I attribute the level of dedication I have to the Corps. It’s been most rewarding.”
Gerstenlauer also said the Marine Corps taught her to put everything in the proper perspective and to step back and look at every situation critically and objectively and never to give up on the worthwhile tasks she begins.
Daily tasks in the engineering world may often seem insurmountable with many challenges to overcome, but James said the only limit to a person’s accomplishments is their ability to imagine, and that should be limitless.
“It’s a privilege to speak to the fact that there is no dream that cannot come to fruition if they try and are given an opportunity,” she said. “Often times, it just takes someone letting them know they can achieve the impossible instead of telling them something is too impossible to achieve.”
Maj. Gen Spiese was the senior Marine in attendance at this year’s NSBE conference. As he engaged students at the PCI Graduating Seniors Awards Banquet, he focused on the goal of continuing to excel.
“The most important message I’d like to pass on is for them to continue to excel,” Maj. Gen Spiese said. “Every one of them has chosen an extremely difficult path in the things they’re pursuing for their futures. They need to stay on that path of challenging themselves. In doing that, they prove that they have what it takes to succeed. These are the kind of young people we’d like to lead our Marines.”