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February brings black mechanical engineering alumnus to focus

According to a binder presentation on the third floor of the Memorial Union Building (MUB), Class of 1973 alumnus John Layman, “is the first, and still the only person identifying as black to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering from UNH.”

The presentation includes information about the graduate’s time studying at UNH, as well as his time after graduation.

Many other minority alumni are highlighted throughout its pages, including the artist whose painting graces the entrance to Dimond Library. The binder is about diverse students at UNH who have either made history or somehow impacted the world.

Layman attended UNH with a Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship and has risen through the ranks of a large engineering and construction company. In 2005, Layman received the College of Engineering and Physical Science (CEPS) Distinguished Alumnus Award.

According to a profile of Layman on the UNH CEPS website, he has founded JRL Enterprises, which involves the manufacture and renovation of many different types of global transit vehicles, including trolleys and subways. After he received his master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, he stayed in Pittsburgh and started his own company. Layman has purposely hired those who have trouble finding jobs in the United States, such as minorities and convicts, and is said to be highly involved in  the Pittsburgh community.

However, the statement does not in fact mean that Layman has been the only black student to graduate from UNH with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Educational Program Coordinator for the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, Sylvia Foster said, “‘Identifying’ means they checked the box to register as black. There are a lot of people who enroll and graduate without filling out that section.”

Foster also said, “I wish we could change the wording on the poster because the minute it went up there, I thought ‘that doesn’t sound right.’”

The binder with this information is part of the program of tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. The events and programs, including the content of the binder presentation, were not just decided by the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity.

“It’s a committee of volunteers who are willing to take a few moments out of their day each month to make the decisions about programs on campus,” Foster said.

Despite the misleading phrasing of the binder presentation, there have been black students since 1973 who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, just not any who officially registered or “identified” as black.

“Charles Clarke [for example] is a mechanical engineer and he still comes to a lot of our workshops,” Foster said

This is one more recent mechanical engineering graduate that Foster knows, though he never identified as black officially.

According to Foster, there are a few others though there still isn’t as much diversity at UNH as she would like.

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