History Legacy: Fred Cooper

Fred Cooper is a proud Purdue Electrical Engineering alumnus and one of the two visionaries (along with Ed Barnette) who founded the Black Society of Engineers.  In the late 1960s, four out of five black freshmen in Purdue’s engineering school were dropping out. The BSE was born to stop that trend and enhance black engineering student success.  Fred, who attended Purdue on a full football scholarship, was a 3-year starter for the Boilermakers and was elected defensive captain his senior year.  He served as BSE president for two years (1972-74) and graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.

“There were about 15 of us who started the society,” Cooper says. “Our No. 1 objective was to make sure everyone who enrolled in the engineering program graduated. It wasn’t ’if’ you were having problems in class, it was ’which ones.’ People were often afraid to ask for help, so we set up study sessions in the evenings for students to get help and study together.”

After successfully meeting the challenges of his obligations to Purdue’s rigorous engineering curriculum and its Big Ten football program, he was picked by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round of the NFL draft. Fred recalls the satisfaction that came from managing his hard work in class and on the team, but also from helping his fellow engineering students.

After Barnette and Cooper graduated, new chapter officers of the Black Society of Engineers included six young men recruited from Chicago. Edward Coleman, Brian Harris, Tony Harris, Stanley Kirtley (deceased), John Logan Jr. (deceased), and George Smith would later become known as the “Chicago Six” and the founders of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

After graduating from Purdue, Fred spent 2 years in professional football. After initially getting drafted by the Detroit Lions, he spent a year playing for the Hamilton Tigercats in the Canadian football league. Fred started his corporate career with the Bell System in Chicago. During his 25 year tenure with the Bell System he held various functional positions throughout the company including positions in engineering, product marketing, project management, manufacturing planning, technical sales support, international market development, and product management.  He also had P&L responsibility for Lucent Technologies’ $100M base station software development business. Currently, Fred works as a commercial real estate consultant at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices where he helps clients meet their Return On Investment (ROI) objectives by investing in commercial real estate. His areas of expertise are sales and buyer representation, as well as landlord and tenant representation. His services are focused on the multi-family, office, retail, and industrial asset classes.

Fred has continued to be a beacon of encouragement to students that they can play big time intercollegiate athletics and succeed in engineering.



History Legacy: Ed Barnette

Edward E. Barnette, Jr. was a Purdue Industrial Engineering alumnus and one of the two visionaries (along with Fred Cooper) who in 1971 founded the Black Society of Engineers (BSE). As a senior in Industrial Engineering at the time, Ed felt strongly that he and other seniors had a responsibility to provide assistance and guidance to incoming black engineering freshmen, as at that time, 80 percent of the black freshmen entering the engineering program dropped out after the first year.  Ed Barnette and Fred Cooper, with the guidance of Arthur Bond, developed the concept of the Black Society of Engineers (BSE) to help improve the recruitment and retention of black engineering students.

Ed became the founding President of the BSE. The Society met at what was then called the “Black House”, now known at the Black Cultural Center at Purdue. Engineering students were expected to meet in the library daily to complete their homework and/or prepare for exams together. No one stood alone and everyone looked out for each other.  The Society became the strongest and most cohesive academic group on campus for black engineering students.The activities of the members of the Black Society of Engineers resulted in increased retention and increased enrollment. The Black Society of Engineers was eventually renamed to the Society of Black Engineers.  The Purdue student organization became a national standard and catalyzed the formation of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) in 1975.

Ed Barnette and Fred Cooper graduated and became corporate supporters of the students at Purdue. Ed became a senior corporate executive with the Digital Equipment Corporation. In his senior management role, he was always mindful of his continued responsibility to inspire and mentor the younger black engineers he preceded. Fittingly, Mr. Barnette was NSBE’s first recipient of the Golden Torch Award for outstanding academic, industry, and community achievements. Ed passed away in 1991, but is remembered as a beloved husband, father, fraternity brother (Kappa Alpha Psi), and friend to many. He personified “positive impact” and his early vision enabled us to see a brighter day for many engineers at Purdue and nationally.



History Legacy: Marion Williamson Blalock

Marion Williamson Blalock is the founding director of the Purdue University Minority Engineering Program and retired as MEP director in August of 2008 after serving over 34 years. Marion’s contributions to the Purdue College of Engineering span three decades and have had a monumental impact on national and local educational programs. As a mentor, mother, confidant, and businesswoman, Ms. Blalock invested her strength in the students that she served without reservation. She is well-known around the country for developing, implementing, and assessing programs and services to increase the outreach, recruitment, retention, and graduation of students from URM backgrounds pursuing engineering degrees.

She transformed Purdue’s Minority Engineering Program into a national model that has been replicated at major universities throughout the nation.  She has mentored thousands of minority students here at Purdue and across the country, and has helped over 2,300 students of color graduate with their engineering degrees. Many of her students have gone on to stellar careers in engineering, education, and business.

In recognition of Marion Blalock and her many contributions to the University, the College of Engineering, and the Minority Engineering Program, 7 donors led the way in establishing the “Marion Blalock Endowment” to support recruitment and retention programs in MEP. Her legacy lives on through this endowment and continues to support the critical outreach efforts.  In 2016, 61 attendees to the Summer Engineering Workshops received scholarship support through the Blalock Endowment.

Marion’s legacy is also that of a national leader who served as a member of the steering committee which developed the structure and vision of the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates (NAMEPA). She served in various roles within the leadership within this organization including President in 1983 – 1984. Beyond this service, she has also advised other organizations, most notably as a founding national advisor to the National Society of Black Engineers. At the 2016 NAMEPA National Conference, Marion was honored with the Legacy Champion Award as a pillar of NAMEPA community who has had an extraordinary impact locally and nationally through her dedicated service in fulfilling the NAMEPA mission.

If you would like to contribute to the Marion Blalock Endowment and support academically excellent and diverse undergraduate engineering students, please go to the following link: http://bit.ly/blalockendowment. One of the pillars of Marion’s legacy at Purdue is the Summer Engineering Workshops. Find out more and sign up students for an incredible engineering discovery and learning experience as designed by Ms. Blalock at this link.

Come Celebrate with Us: Black History Month 2017

February has been designated as Black History Month by every president since Gerald Ford in 1976. In his official recognition of Black History Month, he urged the nation to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout history.” Carter Woodson, a Harvard grad and activist, was intrinsic in the founding of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History which began celebrating and promoting Negro History Week in 1926. After an overwhelming and nationwide acceptance of the celebration week, Woodson pushed for the week to be changed to a whole month-long celebration, stating that the accomplishments of black Americans should be celebrated throughout the whole year and that one week was not long enough to celebrate. Therefore, in 1976, Negro History Week was nationally recognized as Black History Month.

In 1894, David Robert Lewis became the first black graduate from Purdue University with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. Between Lewis’ graduation in 1894 and the 1970s, not much progress had been made in percentage of black students in the engineering program. Because of this, Edward Barnett and Fred Cooper approached the dean of engineering in 1971 with ideas to help and support black engineers and in 1975 the National Society of Black Engineers was officially founded in universities across the nation. In 1974, the Minority Engineering Program was created at Purdue with Marion Blalock as the head of the program. With more programs created specifically for black engineering students, retention and enrollment rates have risen in the engineering program.

Celebrate the accomplishments and progress of black engineers at and from Purdue with us this month!

Student Feature: Flor Albornoz

Flor Albornoz
Hometown: Lima, Peru
Major: Electrical Engineering
Year: Senior

What does it mean to be a minority studying Engineering at Purdue?

It means to defeat the stereotype that Hispanics can’t achieve higher education and pave the way for younger generations to be role models.

Why did you choose to study engineering here at Purdue?

I chose engineering because it is a challenging major focuses on improving people’s day to day lives through technology. Moreover, the competitive engineering program allows me gain the skills to make a difference in our community.

Do you have advice for a prospective Hispanic student looking at Purdue? What do you wish you would have known?

I wish I would have known that it was O.K. I was not the same as my peers. For a couple of years, I tried to behave like my peers and I even stayed away from Hispanic culture because it wasn’t the norm. Little did I know, what drives me to achieve my major is seeing Hispanic students work hard to achieving goals that in our communities might seem impossible. Being culturally different is an advantage, not disadvantage. Purdue will push the boundaries of your comfort zone whether that is academically or personally. That’s a good thing because it means you are growing as a person and making yourself stronger. Imposter syndrome might be easy to fall into, but know that you deserve to be in this institution as much as your peers. Your success, drive and knowledge is what allowed you to be at Purdue. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What is something you would have done different during your first year? (If this is your first year, what would you have done differently before coming to Purdue?)

I would have done things at my own pace and seek for help in classes rather than pretend I understood all the material. I remember my peers would get the material very fast and put little to no effort on first year engineering classes while it would take me 10 times the effort they put to get close the same results. I tried very hard to not be seen as the minority student who was a slow learner so I let myself be influenced by that.