By Kevin Brown, PE
One of the most enjoyable and rewarding things in my life has been my time as a mentor. Outside of my parents and late grandmother, I never had a mentor who I felt I could reach out to until I entered the workforce. In his song ‘Evolution,’ one of my favorite hip hop artists, Joyner Lucas, said, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m learning as I’m growing.” This lyric really speaks to me. Throughout high school and college – and even at some points of my career – I felt like I did not have a goal, but as I progressed through life, I was constantly learning. I am continuing to learn to this day. My own track in life has lead me to see the importance of mentoring younger people. I believe that the youth are going to run into their own challenges, so why not provide insight on the challenges using my own experience so they can easily maneuver through those challenges while tackling new ones? In my mind, for them, I should be trying to be the person that I needed at that point in my life.
I believe outreach and mentorship are key when we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. Over the past few years – and especially after 2020 – I have noticed companies and organizations placing an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion through mandatory trainings; new hiring and promotion requirements; and developing or updating their diversity statements. I applaud all of that, but how do we truly achieve diversity and inclusion within our organizations when our industry itself is not diverse? How do we diversify our industry? I think we have to understand some of the reasons why our industry is not diverse, and then do some outreach and mentoring to open pathways for others.
If we think about our nation’s history and how Black people were at a disadvantage because of slavery and segregation – and then again with modified forms of slavery and segregation through redlining, mass incarceration, and the war on drugs, which was meant to disrupt and vilify Black communities – it is not hard to see how we still feel the effects of that today. Because of this, Black people started out behind. Behind on education, behind on financial literacy, and behind on creating and sustaining generational wealth. This is why outreach and mentorship are important when we speak on diversity and inclusion because, just like generational wealth is a cycle where wealth is passed down and used to generate more wealth, these disadvantages get passed down too. We need to be able to step in, educate, motivate, and guide. We perform outreach because a lot of underrepresented schools lack the capacity to be able to educate students on technical career paths and we can open their eyes to a world they may not have known existed. We mentor and guide because after a student decides they want to pursue a career in science or engineering, they will be faced with many challenges and obstacles. These challenges are typical of someone on the path to a STEM-related career, as well as those that are a byproduct of that cycle of disadvantages. Without a mentor or guidance, these challenges are often so great that they derail their goals. I believe that through outreach and mentorship, we can get a more diverse group of people entering the pipeline for STEM careers.
Now one could say, “C’mon Kev, Black people aren’t the only ones disadvantaged and deal with these obstacles you are speaking about.” And I would agree. But I would add that our nation’s history increased our chances of not being able to have access to a good education system, our nation’s history increased our chances of not being able to benefit from generational wealth, our nation’s history increased our chances of growing up in a broken family, our nation’s history increased our chances of being the victims and perpetrators of gun violence, our nation’s history increased our chances of being discriminated against today, and thus, our nation’s history plays a role in many of us not making into the pipeline. The intent is to not make anyone feel guilt or pity, the intent is to bring awareness to a topic we all find hard to talk about. I understand that Black people are not the only group of people we talk about when we discuss diversity and I understand that there are many groups that are underrepresented in our industry, but this essay focuses on the Black race because, I, a Black man, have faced some of these challenges and overcome some of these obstacles. Even though I haven’t faced the challenges other groups face, I do firmly believe that outreach and mentorship are transferrable. While the approach may be different, it can, and should be applied to other underrepresented groups.
When it comes to outreach and mentorship, I do not believe we should solely focus on the underrepresented, I simply believe we should diversify our outreach efforts. I understand that it may be challenging because it is outside of the comfort zone of some or is difficult to connect to, but we in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry literally solve challenges every day. What I plan on doing is continue to diversify my outreach and mentorship efforts and challenge others in the industry to do the same. I think this is how we collectively achieve diversity within our companies and organizations. An outreach program – the ACE Mentor Program of Greater Philadelphia specifically – is the reason that I have the career I have today, and it has been important to me to continue mentoring through this organization. I have mentored many students over the years, and my employer has hired two of my previous high school mentees. They are now full-time employees with us. I am living proof that outreach and mentorship work. I would like to see more people in the industry who are invested in diversity and inclusion to support these programs.
Kevin Brown, PE, is a transportation construction manager at Urban Engineers. He was recently named the 2021 Delaware Valley Young Engineer of the Year by the Engineer’s Club of Philadelphia.
Urban Engineers is showing its commitment to outreach and mentorship through its annual donation to the Kevin Brown, Jr. Scholarship with the ACE Mentor Program, the annual Edward M. D’Alba Leadership Award Scholarship, and by encouraging and highlighting staff who donate their time. Learn more about the firm’s diversity initiatives here. If you would like an engineer to speak with your student or professional group, visit our contact page.