Pittsburgh’s largest conference of 2012 kicks off at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on March 29, as nearly 8,500 professional engineers and engineering students gather for the National Society of Black Engineers convention. With representatives of more than 250 corporate, government, academic and institutional exhibitors, the four-day event is expected to generate $12.4 million in direct spending.

The society, known as NSBE, is unique in that it is student-founded and student-run – from planning to budgeting to administration. The conference also features one of the nation’s largest technical diversity career fairs, which will be held Thursday, March 29, and Friday, March 30, from noon to 5 p.m.

NSBE Executive Director Carl Mack told Essential Public Radio that students’ role across the organization helps to keep the focus on getting African American kids interested in engineering. NSBE chapters at universities including Pitt and Carnegie Mellon help with outreach to students from third grade on. Those efforts are important in bringing greater diversity to the science professions. According to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. workforce but just 5 percent of its engineers.

Doris Carson Williams, board chair of VisitPittsburgh and president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania, said she’s pleased that the NSBE conference has returned to Pittsburgh after six years in other locales. Click on the YouTube video below to find out why Carson Williams thinks NSBE chose Pittsburgh, and why they won’ t be disappointed.

Regional corporate and institutional sponsors and supporters of the conference include Alcoa, Bayer Corporation, Eaton Corporation, UPMC, United States Steel Corporation and Vibrant Pittsburgh.