People stand in room
Chancellor Gary S. May, Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Renetta Garrison Tull and chief strategy officer for DEI Ebony Lewis with members of the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at UC Davis (Ahmed Eltayeb/UC Davis)

Blog: Get Involved, Be You and Represent with Pride

UC Davis undergraduate student reflects on the 50th annual convention of the National Society of Black Engineers

Just moments after breakfast with our National Society of Black Engineers chapter at the University of California, Davis, NSBE alumni and several campus leaders — Chancellor Gary S. May, Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Renetta Garrison Tull and chief strategy officer for DEI Ebony Lewis — third-year computer engineering student Jacob Petros exclaimed to two NSBE members and me, “I got it! I got the internship with Honeywell! They called in to meet with them at the hotel lobby and said that I got it. They’re even offering to cover housing, which was exactly what I was praying for!” 

As we each congratulated Jacob on the exciting news, the jubilant expressions on the faces of each of the attendees spoke to the excitement and honor of being able to attend NSBE’s 50th Annual Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. The lessons of representation, commitment and discipline were ones we held firmly as we departed for Davis the next day.

Arnauld Fomben
Arnauld Fomben (Ahmed Eltayeb/UC Davis)

Bonjour! My name is Arnauld Fomben. I am a fourth-year managerial economics major and a communication minor. I am the treasurer of the NSBE chapter at UC Davis, as well as the head of recruitment for the Managerial Economics Society. I was born and raised in Douala, Cameroon, and migrated to the U.S. in 2009 with my family. Growing up in the diverse city of Pittsburg, California, truly set the basis for being comfortable in my own skin and welcoming of other cultures. 

With a commitment to a better future, my parents instilled strong values of education into my two siblings and me at a very young age. My eldest sister, Gwladys Keubon, graduated from UC Davis with a chemical engineering degree, and my older brother, Gilles Djomani, graduated with a physics degree from UCLA and pursued his Ph.D. in computer engineering at Cornell University. Needless to say, I have some big shoes to fill.

Embracing Excellence: My NSBE Onset

Both of my siblings were active in NSBE, and my involvement in the organization began as a “NSBE Jr.” in 2019 when I was in high school. My sister encouraged me to attend the 45th Annual Convention in Detroit, Michigan. There, I saw first-hand the glamor of a NSBE convention: huge career fairs, networking events, workshops and more than 14,500 attendees from all backgrounds. 

Attending UC Davis seemed sensible to me. Davis is close to home, has a great university town culture and I had an organization that I knew would challenge me to be better in NSBE. Since high school, I’ve always had a love and understanding for economics, and with guidance from a mentor and economics professor, Dr. David Simon, throughout my time at Diablo Valley College, my interest grew exponentially. 

When I transferred to UC Davis, I committed to a B.S. in managerial economics because I’ve always had an affinity for STEM and had the intention of contributing to the NSBE chapter that inspired me earlier in my development.

The Value of Mentorship and Representation

As I wave over at this 6’4’’ light-skinned African American gentleman wearing a Google-printed t-shirt, grabbing his attention, I mouth the words, “Hey, can I talk to you?” The gentleman, who is on the phone, responds to me with a few quick nods and a thumbs up, then raises his index finger up to indicate that I give him a moment to finish his conversation. 

As I waited for my opportunity to talk with the Google employee at the NSBE career fair, I couldn’t help but notice the gold chains and sleeves of tattoos on the gentleman. A flood of judgment ran through my mind as I thought to myself, “Wait a minute, this guy works at Google? Wow, you don’t see that every day. Maybe works in a lower ranked role.” 

However, as I spoke to the man, the feelings of regret immediately brushed over me. The man exuded gallantry, wisdom and sheer intelligence. Donovan Thomas, who earned a Ph.D. in material science and engineering and two master’s degrees in material science and optical engineering from Norfolk State University, worked for four years at Intel as a module and integration engineer and now nearly two years as a technical program manager at Google. 

The conversation with Dr. Thomas was the most memorable and enlightening that I had at the convention because of the level of time, patience and insightful advice he gave me on life after graduation. As I gave my well-rehearsed elevator pitch and asked about positions I was looking for in the company, I presented my resume to Dr. Thomas. Because I represented myself well and embodied confidence, over the next 15-20 minutes, Dr. Thomas picked apart my resume with constructive criticism, even showing me his resume and assigning me a simple task he called “homework” to look for entry-level roles that I found on Google Careers that piqued my interest. 

“Hey, did you do your homework?!” Dr. Thomas asked me after I returned the next day with my list before helping me tailor my resume to fit the roles I identified interest in.

people outside
From left: Martha Flores, Emmanuel Agubata, Jacob Petros, Yaw Mireku, Elijah Yeboah, Tijesuni Oyeyemi, Arnauld Fomben, Hildana Gebrearegawi and Bledine Messa Ngunte (Courtesy of Arnauld Fomben); Convention attendees not pictured: Oshione Nash-Haruna, Ahmed Eltayeb, Makai Jones and Hagos Worrede.

I have had a lot of guidance in my life from family, friends, mentors and organizations of all backgrounds. Out of the many lessons I’ve learned from them is to get involved, be yourself and represent yourself well. When I misjudged Dr. Thomas, doubting his position and ranking at Google by his appearance on a casual dress day, I realized why getting involved and learning to bust stereotypes is crucial. 

Ignorance and bigotry thrive in exclusion. Had I not gotten involved in NSBE and gone on the trip, I would have never known that people could be so dynamic because I have not been exposed to that in Pittsburg, where those with sleeves of tattoos were often gang-affiliated. 

Perception is one of the most fundamental things in human psychology. People may judge you by your appearance, but Dr. Thomas proves that one should never compromise who they are, instead focusing on representing their character and values. 

There was a values exchange that led to the guidance Dr. Thomas gave me at the convention. Jacob Petros experienced the same thing with his own success. Getting involved in NSBE at UC Davis and sharing his lovable personality got him three next-day interviews at the convention when the majority of attendees struggled to get even one. Jacob is undoubtedly qualified, with a great GPA and extracurriculars. 

As our experiences on each end of the spectrum demonstrate, the ability to communicate one’s character and values can determine an opportunity opening or closing. So, I encourage all students to take the first step to get involved at UC Davis, meet new people and learn new lessons! This will help to develop character, communication and leadership skills, and you never know where it will take you. 

Pride and Honor: Trailblazing with NSBE

As a minority, I’m usually the only African American in my lecture halls, but my Cameroonian lineage and Bamileke tribe have reminded me to have honor and represent myself with pride.

Through my leadership roles at UC Davis, I present in front of over 800 students quarterly. I’ve earned these roles by getting out of my comfort zone and proving to my boards that I can represent the organizations honorably, the same way I did at my late brother’s funeral just a year ago. I was the only one to give a speech at the funeral, per my mother’s request, because she believed I would represent my brother, Gilles Djomani Fomben (August 31, 1998 – April 13, 2023), and the family best. 

In these moments, I’ve gained lessons of honor that I pray stay firm with me throughout my life. 

As graduation approaches, I reflect on my journey with NSBE, from hosting campus events to working alongside our president, Oshione Nash-Haruna, vice president, Tijesuni Oyeyemi, and secretary, Xaviera Azodoh, to sponsor 13 members to attend the NSBE convention. I am excited to see what's next for the chapter. I look forward to meeting new members and growing an organization that will last for generations. 

I'm thrilled to represent UC Davis and NSBE at the Yolo Juneteenth Celebration on June 2. Please join me for the #AggieBlackExcellence segment as we honor black history, grow in equity and offer opportunities to the future leaders of our community.

Remember, as you navigate your path, that the journey will have its challenges. So, keep your head up, take care of your mental health, get out of your comfort zone, and understand that you represent someone at UC Davis, whether yourself and/or someone else, so do so with pride.

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