The National Technical Association (NTA) is the oldest African American technical organization in the United States. Since 1925, NTA has developed a remarkable legacy in the areas of education, research, engineering, science and technology for minorities, women, and youth pursuing technical careers. It was incorporated in 1926.
The NTA was created to encourage and inspire women, minorities and youth to enter and excel in the fields of math, science and technology. It encouraged professional development through conferences, scientific journals and/or competitions. In its over 90-year history, NTA has garnered a diverse membership, crossing all disciplines in science, math, technology, etc.; from educators, scientists, doctors and astronauts, to award-winning inventors. It was the only minority technical organization until the mid-1970’s. It laid the foundation for the many new minority organizations that would follow in its footsteps. It developed the NTA Journal, the first minority technical publication, to provide the minority technical voice during a time when it was very difficult for African Americans to get their work published.
Because it was the only minority professional organization for so long, NTA has always been multi-discipline. New minority organizations organized along technical disciplines and cultural lines; however, they developed the mission, goals and objectives, and programs similar to those of NTA.
NTA is and always has been about rising above the impossible, taking on new challenges, helping others along the way as mentors and role models, and making a difference in the world. NTA Chapters, primarily located along the East Coast and Mid-West, develop and run programs that allow minority youth to experience the fun of science at an early age, and provide awareness of the variety of science and engineering career opportunities. It has programs for college students and professional development.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, NTA was the go-to organization to obtain information about the status of the African American technical community and to obtain advice on technical matters affecting African Americans. The NTA leadership and members were national and international experts in their disciplines and civil rights activists that encouraged the development of Black technical talent. The Nation’s needs for technical talent grew and expanded into new disciplines during WWII. This environment led to the development of big science and unparalleled technical development. NTA’s members worked to help educate more and more minorities to qualify to take advantage of these opportunities.
In 1934, the first School of Architecture and Engineering was started at Howard University, an HBCU. Then NTA President, John Lankford, the first licensed African American architect in DC, helped establish the Department of Architecture at Howard University and later helped save it from closing by persuading Howard’s Board of Trustees that architects were very important for community development. He was so persuasive that the Trustees decided to establish the School of Engineering and Architecture. He served as advisor to the U.S. Department of Interior and assisted the U.S. Navy during WWII at its Capitol Hill facility. NTA President, James C. Evans, was a special assistant to President Harry S. Truman and helped integrate the military after the War. NTA members worked on the Manhattan District Project to develop the atomic bomb which ended WWII and led to the development of the Atomic Energy Commission, forerunner to the U.S. Department of Energy. Several of them went on to work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Savannah River Plant and Argonne National Laboratory.
During the 1950’s and 60’s at the advent of the sputnik era, NTA members played a pivotal role in space exploration: Katherine Johnson calculated John Glenn’s orbital trajectory; GuionBluford became the first African American astronaut to go into space; Julian Earls became NASA Glenn Center Director; Astronaut Melvin Leland became NASA HQ Assistant Administrator for Education; others led space program research and became NASA managers.
Today, NTA membership consists of leaders in a diverse array of technical disciplines including engineering, computer science, energy, space, environment, and nanoscience. NTA continues to remain true to its mission to encourage underrepresented minority youth to pursue technical careers and seeks pathways to help them fully develop their talent and have productive careers in STEM. It continues to play a vital role in STEM minority development. NTA has initiated the dialogue among the various minority technical organizations to leverage their influence on the diversification of the STEM workforce. This effort started in the 1970’s as soon as new organizations appeared and had little success. However, in recent years, organizations have come to realize that they are not each other’s competitors, rather they are better working together. There is power in numbers and collaborations magnify the results of programs and leads to greater success. The Coalition of Hispanics, African and Native Americans for the Next Generation of Engineers and Scientists (CHANGES) was formed in 2012. Not only is NTA promoting the idea that the organizations work together, but also to establish ongoing working relationships with other STEM stakeholders in government, industry, academia and other sectors of the community.