Name change doesn’t alter mission, just makes it more inclusive – Science, Engineering, Communications, Mathematics Enrichment teacher training program

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.

SECME Executive Director Guy Vickers knows
his board of directors raised some eyeb\rows last year when it voted to
change the name of the organization.

For twenty years, the acronym SECME had stood for “Southeastern
Council for Minorities in Engineering.” Last year, after hours of
debate, the organization’s official name became “Science, Engineering,
Communications, Mathematics Enrichment.”

So was the action a symbolic white flag in the face of the virulence
of the national debate on affirmative action? Did it signal a retreat
from the organization’s original mission – to increase the numbers of
underrepresented minorities in engineering fields?

“Absolutely not,” Vickers says, eyebrows flying together with an
almost audible snap. “If that had been the case – and I told the board
this – I would have resigned on the spot.”

Actually, a range of factors prompted the name change. First of all, there was the organization’s phenomenal growth.

“We were expanding to many new areas who just didn’t feel they were part of the family,” Vickers said.

The District of Columbia and Maryland weren’t much of a stretch. But
once SECME crossed the Sabine River into Texas – well, that was another
matter entirely.

“The superintendent at Houston Independent School District asked
about that very directly. He let us know they were not a part of the
Southeast,” said Vickers.

In addition, with SECME’s expansion across K-12 programs, the group had begun to outgrow the “minority” part of the name.

“We had begun impacting entire school populations – Blacks, whites,
Asians, everyone,” Vickers explained, as he took a break from his
duties overseeing the student mousetrap car competition at the
University of Virginia.

“Our mission is still targeting underrepresented minorities and
that’s our primary mission,” he continued. “Our school systems have to
have at least 30 percent underrepresented minority children. Now, SECME
kids work in teams, and if there’s a SECME team that does not include
any under-represented minorities on it, then we do have a problem with
that. But most importantly, we haven’t been afraid to become inclusive.”

Lastly, Vickers said he was becoming more and more concerned about the fund-raising issue.

“As I said to the board, when we started, most of our funding was
for minorities in engineering. Well, that’s shifting now. The emphasis
is less toward engineering specifically and more toward science,
mathematics, engineering and technology fields,” he noted.

By way of an example, Vickers cited designer Tommy Hilfiger, a
“homeboy” from Vickers’s old upstate New York neighborhood. Hilfiger’s
donation of $10,000 to the organization this year, according to
Vickers, represented both a way of giving back to his market as well as
a long-range investment in technological training for people who might
eventually come to work for him.

“Of course,” Vickers added, “I would be less than candid with you if
I said the debate over affirmative action played no role. Particularly
with federal grants, there’s lots of changes going on.”

But Vickers does not consider the vote a retreat, but rather a
pre-emptive strike. And he firmly maintains change has its positive
side.

“Maybe I’m sticking my neck out by saying this, but when I first
came on board in 1989, I had a few teachers come to me and express
their concerns about having Asians involved in the program, Hispanics
involved in the program. And I was very clear about my position,” he
explained. “I’d say, ‘I hope you’re not telling me that you’re telling
our youngsters that the only way for them to succeed is to shut out
competition, because that’s not the real world.’

“We have to teach our children that they can win regardless of who’s
in the ring,” he continued. “That they can learn to work together,
communicate and win.”

Vickers doesn’t like the word “multiculturalism.” He prefers “diversity.”

“My view is that we have to teach our kids to value themselves, but
also to value and appreciate diversity. Just look at where technology
and the global society are taking us. Sixty percent of Exxon’s jobs are
going to be overseas,” he noted.

The SECME model, which stresses rendering difference irrelevant
through teamwork, is a model that can turn today’s tuned-out kids into
winners.

Then, in another of his characteristic lightning-quick shifts,
Vickers pointed suddenly at two children walking past his perch on the
steps of University of Virginia’s Memorial Gym.

“See that?” he said, indicating two boys, approximately age 10, one
Asian, one African American, heads close together, deep in
conversation. “That’s what SECME’s all about.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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