Black Engineer of the Year Awards conference honors high achievers
Awards, seminars and a middle school track focus on the future STEM workforce
Despite the major snowstorm that hit the eastern seaboard in early February, the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) event drew a big crowd. The twenty-seventh BEYA STEM Competitiveness Conference spanned three days and included tracks and programming for middle school youth, educators from K-12 through graduate school, college students and experienced professionals.
The heart of the conference is the awards ceremony that recognizes the achievements of technical professionals of color. This year more than 300 engineers, IT professionals and scientists were honored. They were named BEYA, Emerald Honors or Outstanding Achievement award winners; Modern-Day Technology Leaders; or research Trailblazers. They came from industry, academia and each branch of the military.
The 2013 Black Engineer of the Year was Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC). A long-time engineering educator, Hrabowski has led UMBC for two decades. Forty-five percent of the school’s graduates receive degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Although UMBC is a majority-white institution, half of its STEM graduates are African American. UMBC sends more African American students to PhD programs than any other majority-white university.
Stars and Stripes features the Coast Guard
Editor in chief Kate Colborn attended the conference and was honored to be the guest of retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Steven Rochon at the Stars and Stripes dinner.
Each year one military service takes the lead at the Stars and Stripes conference event, which honors uniformed and civilian engineers and scientists who do their work for the military at Army, Navy and Air Force laboratories and other military installations around the world. This year the Coast Guard was the lead service, and Admiral Rochon headed the organizing committee. The current Coast Guard commandant, Admiral Robert J. Papp, welcomed the dinner attendees; Vice Admiral Manson Brown, his second in command and the only African American admiral currently serving in the Coast Guard, was a featured speaker. The Coast Guard silent drill team, the Coast Guard band and its Capitol Cutters jazz band participated too.
The Stars and Stripes is one of the largest events honoring top active and retired African American military officers and Senior Executive Service (SES) members. This was the eighth Stars and Stripes event; attendance has grown from 200 in the first year to 1,400 in 2013. Rochon, along with a dozen other African American military and SES leaders, was a founder of the event.
Corporate sponsors of the Stars and Stripes dinner were Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and World Wide Technology. Military participation in the conference was strong. A mentoring session before the dinner paired more than 100 active duty flag officers – generals, admirals and commodores – and SES members with high school students for one-to-one conversations about STEM careers in the military and government.
Emerald Honors recognizes scientists and researchers
The “S” in STEM is “science,” and the BEYA conference devotes an evening of awards to leaders in science and research. The 2013 Scientist of the Year was Dr Corlis D. Murray, senior VP of QA, regulatory and engineering services at Abbott Laboratories. In addition to her scientific and leadership achievements, Murray started at Abbott more than twenty years ago, and was the first African American plant manager in its Ross products division. She was also the first African American and the first woman to lead corporate QA and engineering. She’s been an active participant in Abbott’s diversity efforts. And she launched a high school mentoring effort and expanded the company’s summer internship program.
Other Emerald Honorees were from IBM, Mitre Corp, Lockheed Martin, GE Healthcare, NASA, the Army and the Navy. Several STEM educators were also recognized, among them Dr Hudson V. Jackson of the Coast Guard
Academy’s civil engineering department, and Dr Treena L. Arinzeh, professor of biomedical engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
A STEM carnival for the next generation
On the second day of the conference, students from local middle schools were invited to a day of activities designed to reinforce their interest in STEM.
The students’ day started with a STEM carnival, which included robotics and structural engineering projects, sessions with flight simulators and a demonstration of the audio engineering that goes into music production, along with information on college STEM programs. Groups built catapults and suspension bridges, explored robotic Lego constructions, and participated in electronic audio mixing. They also had a chance to talk to corporate recruiters and college students about the promise of STEM careers.
Cybersecurity panel brings leaders together
A wide variety of workshops and panel discussions took place during the conference, covering STEM education practices, strategies for career development, advanced technology topics and much more.
One popular panel looked at current cybersecurity challenges in industry and government. It was moderated by Army Lt Col Deitra L. Trotter, commander of the 781st Military Intelligence Battalion and lead for the Army’s first cyber team. Participants included Jandria Alexander, principal director of the cybersecurity subdivision at the Aerospace Corp; Darrell Durst, VP of cyber solutions at Lockheed Martin; and Theodore Colbert III, VP of IT infrastructure at the Boeing Company. Their discussion was sobering, and underscored the importance of cybersecurity across the defense, civilian government and commercial sectors.
The panelists emphasized the importance of effective STEM education policies. “We need to prepare software engineers with security awareness,” Durst warned, because cyber threats will only increase as the world becomes more connected.
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