Carl Mack can't help attracting a following. As a mechanical engineer for the King County, Wash., wastewater utility, starting in the late 1980s, he stewed that minorities rarely won internships. So, Mack took over the program, "and the students came," he says.
Mack's recent turn as National Society of Black Engineers executive director has produced the same result: NSBE membership has tripled since he arrived, in 2005, and the free summer engineering camps he has launched have drawn more than 9,500 minority middle and elementary-school students, as young as third-graders.
Last year, the camps were in a record 10 U.S. cities, with some camps at 700 participants.
"I don't know anyone else who is motivating black youth during their impressionable development and turning them on to STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] studies," says Bob Goldman, executive vice president of ARCADIS. "He's not only done this, but he has done it on a grand scale."
Mack sees STEM training as the path to the middle class for low-income minority students. Participants in the three-week Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) use design concepts to solve problems and create products while gaining knowledge of the underlying technical principles.
Tasks have ranged from building a car that runs on distilled water to developing a perfume from basic chemicals.
"I watched these kids do phenomenal things," says Mack.
SEEK's success draws heavily on kids' bonds with NSBE-member college-student mentors and on the required engagement of parents.
"The college students could offer big brother-big sister style conversations about life to these young students in very powerful ways," says Richard D. Rosen, a former Battelle vice president who was heavily involved in SEEK's national expansion.
The success has attracted other corporate sponsors such as CH2M Hill, GE, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy. A program last summer in Jackson, Miss., drew 360 girls and, as an observer, Gov. Phil Bryant (R).
"I knew what NSBE, under Carl's leadership, could do to reach kids," says Rosen, who now runs a company he founded to help communities, corporations, and philanthropies establish and execute STEM strategies. He says he is a lifetime member of NSBE.
Mack stepped down from NSBE last October, but SEEK will continue on its "solid foundation," says its director Franklin Moore.