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.