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Dr. Lydia Thomas, who was named the 2003 Black Engineer of the Year, served as the CEO of Noblis, Inc. from 1996 to 2007. Noblis is a non-profit corporation that focuses on advanced engineering science and technology research.

Before her tenure at Noblis, Dr. Thomas held several leadership positions at The MITRE Corporation, including senior vice president, vice president, and technical director. MITRE is a non-profit organization that provides government agencies with systems engineering, research and development, and information technology support.

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Dr. Thomas believes that hard work and a bit of good fortune play a significant role in achieving success within an organization. She compares executing a vision to creating a treasure map, stating that it should be believable, aspirational, and relatable. It’s important to communicate the problem and potential solutions clearly, then let others take the lead.

As a leader, Dr. Thomas sees herself as a pyramid with her people on her shoulders. She stresses the importance of communication, working with managers, and being open to feedback. She believes that good leaders are good listeners and that trust is established through honesty.

During Dr. Thomas’s tenure at Noblis, the company focused on developing technologies that addressed pressing global problems, such as biometrics, electronic transactions, traffic congestion, patient safety, environmental sustainability, and renewable energy resources.

The Dr. Lydia W. Thomas Legacy Award has been established to recognize leaders who make significant contributions in their fields.

The 2023 award winner is How-Kai (Helga) Tong, a cyber security expert who has dedicated her career to supporting the military and intelligence community in protecting against cyber threats.

Despite facing challenges as part of an immigrant family, Tong has excelled in her field and advocates for promoting STEM education. At Peraton Inc., she performs audits to help improve security systems and is involved in mentoring programs. Tong is a guiding light for those seeking a career in cyber security and is actively working towards a more diverse workforce.

The 2024 winner is Dr. Asma Abuzaakouk, a pioneer in inclusion and diversity. Her work has significantly impacted the organizations she has worked with and paved the way for future generations of leaders.

Dr. Asma Abuzaakouk is a first-generation American pioneer in the field of inclusion and diversity. Her work for the past 20 years at MITRE has had a significant impact on federal civilian agencies. She has helped pave the way for future generations of leaders. Dr. Abuzaakouk developed the Federal Inclusivity Index Tool, which helps to advance MITRE and its sponsors’ inclusion and diversity initiatives and the White House Executive Order 14035, and The President’s Learning Management Agenda. Leaders from various sectors can now leverage their data to make more informed decisions. Using big government data, like the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM’s) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), the largest federal wide survey in the world, Asma has helped build capability for leaders to understand barreirs and root causes, strategize, plan and measure progress, and to work toward improving well-being and morale through investments in inclusion and organizational culture. Dr. Abuzaakouk also leads seminars for federal governments, industry and academia leaders, and students on the Neuroscience of Inclusion, which describes the biological benefits to inclusion and its effect on our brains, bias, and bodies.

Recently, Dr. Abuzaakouk, was awarded the Silver Presidential Award for Volunteerism, due to her commitment coaching Girls Scouts and Girls on the Run. Her commitment to promoting and demonstrating the health benefits of inclusion and STEM, for girls of all ages, is deeply important to her and has contributed to MITRE being recognized as a leader in the field. Despite her many accomplishments, Dr. Abuzaakouk remains humble to her origins and committed to her passion, to create a more inclusive and diverse federal government and mentoring and supporting the next generation of leaders. Dr. Abuzaakouk is a Principal, Social and Behavioral Scientist at the MITRE Corporation’s Enterprise Strategy and Transformation Lab, in Human and Organizational Systems. Dr. Asma Abuzaakouk received her degrees in International Politics, Conflict Analysis and Information Technology and Industrial Organizational Psychology.

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