An Interview with Dr. Dewey Brigham
by Tracy Williams
It would take more than an era of professional and civil ups and downs to deter the Colorado Association of Black Professional Engineers and Scientist (CABPES) from achieving its goals.
Established 40 years ago, CABPES continues with their mission to encourage African Americans and other underrepresented youth to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. By doing so, the number of minority STEM professionals will increase to a level that better represents this country’s minority population, all while assisting the industry in meeting the growing demand for diverse STEM professionals.
Over the years, CABPES has grown to become one of the leading STEM nonprofit organizations in the state of Colorado. The evolution that CABPES enjoys includes diversity and inclusion of individuals from all races, nationalities, ethnicities, gender, and sexual orientation. Recently, CABPES expanded its STEM programs to expose students of color to all the disciplines in the engineering profession.
We wanted to know more about CABPES and what continues to drive the organization. And, from a leadership perspective, we wanted to know what changes have been seen, where the organization fits today within the communities it serves, and what the future holds for this wonderful, fruit bearing organization.
We began our interview with Dewey F. Brigham, Jr., PhD, who began his affiliation with CABPES in 1986. In 1995, he became president, executive director and architect of the scope of achievement the CABPES organization maintains today.
Here’s a small snapshot into our recent chat:
Why the need for CABPES?
In those early days, Black engineers and scientists found themselves isolated in firms because they were often the only Black person in the company. Founded by a group of African-American engineers around 1979, CABPES was initially started to provide a social, networking environment, where professionals of color could identify with role models and mentors that looked like them and came from similar social backgrounds.
Why is CABPES still relevant today?
The demographics that CABPES serves (approximately 200 students annually) are known to struggle when it comes to learning math and science. Studies show students of color, including young ladies, do not perform well while in STEM classes compared to White students. CABPES is an organization that recognizes the students’ struggles because many of the CABPES volunteers come from similar backgrounds. CABPES volunteers work to build students’ self-confidence and self-esteem while helping them become proficient in math and science.
The CABPES JETS Program…can you tell me more about it and its purpose to STEM students?
For decades, studies have shown that African Americans and females tend to shy away from STEM education and careers. The Junior Engineers Tomorrow’s Scientists (JETS) Program is designed to change that paradigm. The purpose of the JETS program is to encourage African Americans, females, and other minority students to pursue STEM education and careers by exposing the students to hands-on STEM projects, field trips, and STEM subject matter that are taught by professional engineers that look like the students.
The CABPES website shows many activities STEM students have participated in around the county. Are there any upcoming activities locally you’d like to tell us about?
A new component of the JETS program is to prepare our students to participate in STEM competitions throughout Colorado and the United States. This year, a cohort of JETS students will participate in the Future City Competition to be held at Colorado School of Mines on January 18, 2020. This year’s theme is Clean Water: Tap into Tomorrow. The students will design a city with a clean water supply system that is resilient and sustainable for 100 years. In January 2020, the official JETS program will kick off. The students will spend five months learning about oil and gas exploration, drilling, production, and marketing.
Forest City (now Brookfield Properties Development) has been a valued supporter of CABPES. Would you share, from your perspective, how their support has added value to the goals and objectives of CABPES being met?
Community support is the reason CABPES has been around for 39 years and counting. Brookfield Properties not only provides financial support to CABPES, but they also provide in-kind services such as marketing and introducing the CABPES STEM programs to the community at-large. Through their support, CABPES has been successful introducing students, parents, and schools to the CABPES afterschool STEM programs.
Tell us more about you, Dr. Brigham…for instance, congratulations on recently receiving your PhD! What made you pursue that at this time?
There is a lot that went into the decision for me to pursue a PhD. I always knew I wanted a PhD but did not know what I would study at the doctoral level. After 45 years of working in the consulting engineering and construction industry, I knew I did not want to remain in that field after retirement. I am a servant leader and wanted to help students of color excel in the field of engineering. I did not have STEM role models and mentors growing up. I wanted to be the difference-maker for the generation of students coming behind me. As an African-American male, nonprofit leader, I noticed that the nonprofit sector is no different than the private sector when it comes to African-American males being in leadership positions. I decided to study this phenomenon at the doctoral level and write my dissertation on the lack of African-American males in leadership positions in the nonprofit sector. The title of my dissertation is “Mentoring Relationships in the Careers of African American Professional Male Nonprofit Leaders.”
What are your plans for CABPES in the short-term?
CABPES short-term plan is to double the number of students we expose to STEM education and careers in the Denver Public Schools, Aurora Public Schools, and Cherry Creek Schools. CABPES needs to recruit more volunteers to serve our current students and the increase of students we want to serve. To achieve these short-term goals, CABPES is looking for a strategic marketing partner to help us inform the schools about our programs. CABPES needs a strategic marketing partner to help us recruit more volunteers from STEM companies throughout metropolitan Denver.
What is your most vivid, gratifying accomplishment with CABPES?
My most gratifying accomplishment with CABPES is that we have been successful in preparing and encouraging minority students to pursue STEM education and careers for almost 40 years. CABPES began preparing minority students to study engineering, and the sciences before the term science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) were created.
Tell us what has been your career trajectory?
My career trajectory has been remarkable but challenging. I was fortunate to work for one of the best consulting engineering firms in the world for over 33 years. I have been blessed to be able to introduce thousands of students to the engineering profession through my work in CABPES. I was successful in obtaining a PhD at the age of 66. I have a great family, including four grandchildren.
If you could pass the baton to anyone, who would it be?
As the executive director of CABPES, I wear a lot of hats. My goal is to develop a cohort of young engineers that are passionate about giving back to the community in terms of STEM. Currently, CABPES has several young engineers who enjoy giving back. The question becomes, how much time are they willing to commit to such a demanding cause? I am confident; we will find the talent needed to keep CABPES around for another forty years.
CABPES is known for hosting an annual banquet. Can you share the details?
This year we are honored to host our 39th Annual Student Banquet. It will be held on Saturday, May 9, 2020 at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum located at 7711 E. Academy Blvd., Denver, CO 80230 from 6:00-9:00PM. This is a special occasion to honor our students and volunteers for their hard work in learning and teaching the students about the world of engineering and the sciences. The students will have the opportunity to showcase their hands-on engineering projects to typically over 400 guests. The proceeds from the banquet will allow CABPES to provide scholarships to our graduating seniors as they head off to college.
Brookfield Properties is proud to sponsor the CABPES awards banquet and celebrate the achievements of Dr. Brigham. To learn more about the CABPES organization, or to access its treasure of community resources, or to enroll your child in its program, please visit www.cabpes.org, or contact their offices at 303-329-6251.