“I’ve come to realize that although talent is evenly distributed amongst the human race, opportunity is generally not”– Seun Odukomaiya, Managing Partner KBSO Consulting
Acknowledging the disparity in opportunity for women and minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is easy. While it varies across occupational clusters, the majority of STEM workers in the U.S. are white (69%) and male (65%). Seun Odukomaiya and Kelley Bieghler of KBSO Consulting felt North Central offered them the opportunity to move the knowledge of those statistics into action for change by expanding opportunities for female students and students of color in STEM fields. In honor of their commitment, two seniors, Lemyiah Jewell and Xavier Gibbons, from the NCHS class of 2021 who are pursuing a career in STEM will each be awarded a $15,000 scholarship toward college tuition, renewable annually for up to four years.
KBSO has spent the last several years participating in MEP designs for school construction projects around Washington Township. In this work, they saw the diversity of their KBSO staff reflected in MSDWT students and staff and knew their $120,000 investment would be well placed. “These projects have given us at KBSO an opportunity to grow our company and highlight our abilities. We are extremely grateful for our partnership. When we considered our goal of providing opportunity for well qualified diverse students, MSD Washington Township seemed a natural fit given the alignment of our shared commitments to diversity and inclusion and the district’s history of academic excellence.” -Kelley Bieghler, Managing Partner KBSO Consulting
Kelley, a native of Terre Haute, Indiana and graduate of University of Evansville and Seun, born on the Ivory Coast in Africa and graduate of Purdue University met while working at an engineering firm together. The two realized there was a void in offerings of Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Technology Engineering firms that they wanted to fill. They were driven to create a responsive, compassionate, and innovative company that valued diversity and inclusion. In 2015 they started KBSO Consulting with the mantra of “we can do better.”
When speaking to NC alumni, it is amazing to see them light up when sharing which MSDWT teachers and staff that helped foster their passions into purpose. Similarly, it was the influence of educators that guided both Kelley and Seun to engineering. When Kelley was in high school she was good in math and science, but did not have a clear understanding of how to apply that to a career. “None of my interests seemed to fit together into a professional path, but luckily, I had a few inspirational teachers. It was odd for the time, but my chemistry, physics, and calculus teachers were all female, and I was fortunate that they took an interest in me. It was my chemistry teacher who suggested that I consider studying engineering in college.” It was a daunting choice as she was one of only two females in her engineering class.
While Seun was always naturally driven to math and science, STEM was never an emphasis in his K-12 education. Rather, it was his experiences while at Purdue that he really began to understand how much impact STEM had on the world and how big of an impact he might be able to have with a career in science and technology. “When I was a junior at Purdue University, I had a professor, Bill Hutzel, who really took an interest in me and my abilities. He was truly instrumental in helping me develop a deep and passionate understanding of energy, sustainability, and the built environment. Professor Hutzel had spent some time in industry prior to becoming a professor, working within the building design field. He spoke about it passionately and it became infectious for me. Up until that point in my college education, I never really knew that this particular field of building design existed. Nor did I really understand the impact that buildings have on the world’s energy reserves. Under his mentorship, I began to really understand how big of an impact can be made in the world by way of sustainable building design. The impact on the world’s energy reserves, the impact on human thermal comfort, the impact on indoor environmental quality, and the impact on human mental health and productivity. Professor Hutzel encouraged me to pursue a graduate education at Purdue and to spend that time concentrating on Sustainable Building Energy Systems. Looking back, that experience was probably the single most instrumental period of my life as it pertains to my development and understanding of the building design world. I really credit Professor Hutzel with finding me, encouraging me, mentoring me, and convincing me to pursue a graduate education.”
Within the academic setting, both found the encouragement and support they needed to focus on becoming good engineers. In application however, the under representation became more glaring. It has become more obvious to both that women and minorities are woefully underrepresented in STEM. Seun shares that “as a community, we have a responsibility to play a role in changing that reality. This is something that Kelley and I feel very strongly about. Kelley, as a woman; and myself, as a black man have a responsibility to inspire young people that look like us to understand that they can be anything they chose to be, and they can achieve anything they dare to dream. It is our hope that this inspiration will lead to more women and more minorities choosing to explore education paths and careers in STEM. Our dream is that we can play an active role in initiating more women and minorities into STEM, and even more so into the world of building systems design.”
We can do better is clearly more than just a saying for KBSO, but lived application. Their partnership in Washington Township is not just making a difference in our physical spaces, but in advancing opportunities for women and minorities pursuing STEM.