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The Career Achievement Award presented at the BEYA STEM Conference honors those who have made significant achievements in engineering roles in industry or government.

The selection committee considers the nominee’s body of work, its social and economic value and impact, as well as its performance as a role model and mentor for minorities in technology.

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Adedeji B. Badiru, Ph.D., dean of the graduate school of engineering and management at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Commander Desmond Walker, prospective executive officer of the USS Bainbridge, U.S. Navy, Denise Russell Fleming, vice president and CIO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, The Boeing Company, and Thomasina Russell Wright, program director at Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) are some of the past winners.

The 2024 Career Achievement award winners are Andrea Williams, operations division chief at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Carl Donahoo, lead engineer at the Joint Program Office for Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile and Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, George Coles Jr., biomechanical and microelectronics engineer at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and William Johnson Jr., senior vice president of logistics and mission support operations at Leidos.

Here’s what the 2023 winners said in their acceptance speeches at the BEYA Gala:

Lamar Garrett, a field element chief in the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command analysis center expressed his gratitude for receiving the award for career achievement.

He talked about his humble beginnings, the influence of his family and friends, and how he proved the naysayers wrong by asking God to shape his career path. He thanked his colleagues and collaborative partners who made it possible for him to empower a resilient team of engineers and scientists. He also mentioned his priority for STEM outreach and putting together a chess group.

Captain Kimberly Jones, a trailblazer in the United States Navy, shared her journey of serving on six warships, including three aircraft carriers.

She expressed her dedication to her mother, who has always been her inspiration throughout her life and career. She thanked her husband who is currently deployed and is her best friend and sounding board. She also talked about her passion for inspiring young women of color to pursue leadership roles in the Navy.

When asked what would matter at the end of his career, Wole Akinyemi, Ph.D., executive director of research and technology at Cummins, replied that the people he was able to impact during his journey would be his legacy. Wole has left a lasting impression on the many engineers he has coached and the teams he has led. These teams have delivered engine technology to on-highway vehicles and market-leading solutions for highway and marine vehicle vessel locomotives.

“When I was 10, I promised my mother I would build her a plane. She is still waiting for it. But in the meantime, I am grateful for the opportunity to lead, mentor, build, shape, guide, and influence. For many years, I attended conferences like this as a recruiter to find young Black talent for the companies I worked for. The journey from the recruiting booth to receiving this award has been long but still ongoing. All those steps were essential building blocks to the engineer I am today and my contributions. Engineering is really about solving problems. I wake up every morning excited at the opportunity to bring my knowledge, experience, and whole self to work on finding solutions that result in cutting-edge products and technologies that improve our environment and lives. So it’s a privilege to manage teams that work in research and engineering targeted at breaking boundaries and discovering new technologies.”

As a father, husband, soldier, mentor, and corporate executive, Cleophus Thomas, currently the vice president and director of operations at Jacobs’s global digital center of excellence, embodies the BEYA motto: Becoming Everything You Are.

Retired Army Colonel Thomas spent twenty-five years in the military. In addition to the many awards and decorations, he was the third Black officer to command the White House Communications Agency since 1942 under President Obama.

Thomas was responsible for thousands of service members in cybersecurity missions protecting our nation’s most precious assets.

Since he retired from the Army, Thomas has led numerous strategic programs that have directly contributed to the business growth of two Fortune 500 companies. In addition to his military service and corporate achievements, he has made a lasting impact in his community by developing equity and mentorship programs.

One of his achievements was providing scholarships to minority musicians as part of the Ian Cameron Memorial Foundation, named in honor of his son, who passed away in 2020.

“My mom always said, ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Eventually, she said, ‘You know you’ll have to start praying for yourself.’ I do now because asking God for wisdom gives me the strength and courage to navigate life. My story is one of leadership and accomplishments. I dedicate this award to the many service members and civilians who supported my 25 years in the United States Army. Every story includes disappointment, tragedy, pain, and loss, like the loss of my father, my 17-year-old son, and my mother. She would always say, ‘A little Black boy from Alabama worked for President Obama.’ She was so very proud. Finally, my family and friends helped me navigate it all. My wife, Mallory, pushed and pulled me. But, most of all, my story is written in ink called love. That’s what makes this story unique. This career achievement award is for everyone I loved and supported and who loved me back.”

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