By Khari Arnold
Special to NNPA from Howard University News Service
WASHINGTON – If you love the sexy, sleekness of the Chevrolet Corvette, the elegance and luxury of the Cadillac Escalade, the cool truck/SUV look of the Chevrolet Avalanche or the pure brawn of the Hummer H2, you can thank Edward Welburn Jr.
Welburn is not exactly a household name, but for more than 20 years the Howard University graduate and one of the top executives for General Motors, has been overseeing the design of many of the world’s top cars and winning awards and accolades, including from President Barack Obama.
For that work, Welburn, vice president for General Motors Global Design, was honored this past weekend as the Engineer of the Year by engineers from the automobile, space, science and technology industries at the 29th annual BEYA STEM Conference in Washington.
The conference is dedicated to building diversity in the STEM (Science, Technology. Engineering and Mathematics) fields, an issue Welburn has led on during his 43-years in the automotive industry.
Welburn said while he has received many honors, BEYA’s was truly special.
“It’s still sinking in,” he said. “To be recognized for something you love to do, and have fun doing, it’s kind of cool. It’s real cool.”
To honor his alma mater and to aid increased diversity and curriculum development in the STEM field, Welburn presented a $110,000 check to Howard University on behalf of General Motors.
“In achieving my goals, one of the defining chapters in my life was the time I spent at Howard University,” Welburn said. “There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think about the instructors and professors and the guidance that I received from them and what I learned.”
LaWanda Peace, the assistant dean of Howard’s College of Engineering, Architecture and Computer Sciences, said Welburn’s contribution by example and his donation can point more Howard students to STEM careers.
“It’s really important to get our young Black people into the STEM area,” Peace said. “STEM is where it is now. It really is.”
Peace added: “Back in 1972, when we first started trying to get young, Black people into engineering, it probably wasn’t even 3 percent of the workforce that was Black at that time.”
When Welburn was 11, he wrote General Motors asking for information on how to become a car designer. Eleven years later, he joined General Motors as an associate designer in the Advanced Design Studios.
Welburn, who also interned at the company the summer before he graduated, would go on to become the first African-American designer at General Motors. In Weburn’s current position, every car that General Motors develops globally is created under his design direction.
Welburn, the highest-ranked African-American in the automotive industry, said he wants to see more African-Americans and other people of color to follow on his path.
“I just want to see Black folks do well,” Welburn said. “I want to see them succeed. Car design was what I wanted, and I know there are people out there who have the same dreams, whether it’s car design or whatever it is that they’re interested in. We need to do everything we can to open doors and help them realize their dreams.”
Welburn concluded: “I know from my many years designing automobiles for General Motors is that having a diverse workforce has huge benefits in developing a design for a car.”