It’s a hot day in Santa Cruz where I meet the NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) Vice-President, Sidney Robinson, at the skatepark. For me, it’s been a short day of classes and work, but for Robinson, he’s been up since 5 AM and has no intentions of slowing down.
He tells me that in just that day (a wonderful Tuesday btw), he’s gotten in a workout at our local climbing gym, practiced his trombone, finished up some homework, attended classes, AND went grocery shopping. Now he’s sitting across from me on his skateboard, enthusiastically telling me about NSBE.
I’m not quite sure how he manages to fit in an interview with me in his incredibly busy schedule, but I will not complain.
Please—let me introduce our first human feature of Her Campus UCSC: Sidney Robinson. Robinson is a fourth-year student here at UCSC, majoring in Computer Science, minoring in Jazz and Improv.
The combination of the two must seem startling to me, because he laughs and adds on, “I’ve always loved music, and adding that into my academic life seemed like a good idea at the time.”
I ask him if it’s still a good idea, and he grins, stating, “I first got into the music department at UCSC through the Large Jazz Band led by Charles Hamilton when I was just a freshman. His knowledge of jazz and general guidance of life inspired me to take music more seriously.”
As we settle into our conversation I start off easy and ask him how he chose UCSC. Robinson says, “I actually ended up here by accident. I am a first generation student, so I didn’t really understand the college-choosing process. UCSC was a good cross section of relaxed (I like the trees), interesting (lots of weirdos here), and far enough from home for me. I am thankful for Black Academy and the African American Resource Center as once I did get here they did a great job of helping me find and forge community—specifically through NSBE. So, shout out to them.”
For our readers who aren’t aware, UCSC hosts Black Academy prior to the start of the school year to guide and support Black students as they acclimate to the college environment, while also giving Black students the opportunity to get to know one another. It was actually through Black Academy that Robinson met a fellow Black engineer that was in NSBE.
Robinson is affiliated with many organizations on campus, but the one he takes most seriously is NSBE. According to Robinson, NSBE is, “a professional development organization whose specific aims are giving Black people opportunities and building community.” For him, this organization gave him guidance in navigating an *intentionally* confusing industry, and now he has the opportunity to give back to the same organization that helped him through his role as the Vice-President.
Currently, the UCSC chapter of NSBE hosts bi-weekly meetings where members can ask about the industry or hold dialogues about classes and professional development. The overarching NSBE organization puts on an annual conference for NSBE chapter members to network with Black recruiters and hear from Black professionals in the industry.
As our conversation focuses on NSBE, Robinson’s words become enthralling while explaining what NSBE has done for him. “Being in large lecture halls where the minimum class size is 200+ is already hard, but trying to succeed as a Black Engineer when you’ve never seen one—which was the reality for me and a lot of other people—is near impossible. NSBE gave me a space to be me and showed me that it is possible to do the things I want to do. Through NSBE I now have a full-time career leaving college as a Software Engineer. As a first gen student, I owe my success in tech to NSBE. Being a Black Engineer is an extremely small circle within an already small circle. Having people who understand and support you is what NSBE is all about.”
While NSBE is an amazing organization on campus at UCSC, I know that this caring attitude isn’t carried over to how UCSC generally treats their Black students. I mention this to Robinson and he shrugs adding, “I can’t say all the things I want to say and a lot of people reading wouldn’t understand anyway. It’s hard, unforgiving, and you often have to think about things you peers have never even considered. Leveraging my resources and making diverse friends are the only reasons I didn’t drop out. UCSC offers a particular type of performative activism. Don’t be fooled. The scenery is great, the food is okay, and you gotta keep your head on a swivel at most times, but it was a cool experience.”
As we part, Robinson wants to remind his fellow Black folks in STEM and engineering, “If you find your community and be kind, you will be successful. I promise.”