By: Amy Raley
In the late 1960s, four out of five black freshmen in Purdue’s engineering school were dropping out. Two undergraduate black students stepped up to stop the trend. The late Edward Barnette (IDE ’72) and Fred Cooper (BSEE ’74) approached engineering dean John Hancock with the idea of starting the Black Society of Engineers (BSE). The dean agreed and assigned Purdue’s one black engineering faculty member, Arthur Bond, to be the group’s advisor. In 1971, the BSE was born, and Barnette was its first president.
Cooper, who attended Purdue on a full football scholarship, served as BSE president for two years (1972-74) and was co-captain of the football team his senior year.
After successfully meeting the challenges of his obligations to Purdue’s rigorous engineering curriculum and its Big Ten football program, he was picked by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round of the NFL draft. He remembers the satisfaction that came from managing his hard work in class and on the team, but also from helping his fellow engineering students.
“There were about 15 of us who started the society,” Cooper says. “Our No. 1 objective was to make sure everyone who enrolled in the engineering program graduated. It wasn’t ’if’ you were having problems in class, it was ’which ones.’ People were often afraid to ask for help, so we set up study sessions in the evenings for students to get help and study together.”