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The 32nd annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards on Saturday gave its highest accolades to Alicia Boler Davis, one of the most accomplished engineers in the automotive industry.

Ms. Boler Davis is the sixth woman in history to receive the top Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA), for major impact in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“I’m well aware that over three decades, I’m the sixth woman to receive this award,” Boler Davis said in her rousing acceptance speech. “But I sincerely hope it doesn’t take another 32 years for six more women to get up on this stage. And I believe it won’t, because of our commitment to open doors for our younger sisters.”

Organizations like BEYA must ensure the next generation of black female engineers, and their male counterparts as well, get the education, access, and opportunity to succeed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, Boler Davis added.

The BEYA gala at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C. opened with an electrifying performance inspired by the musical, Hamilton. “History” featured Morgan State University students Fasi Adogo, a graduate broadcasting major, Gillian Brewer, and Kevin Ray.

“It celebrated our rich and multicultural lesson of innovation,” Allison Seymour said.

Seymour who was the emcee for the night started in broadcasting after graduating from historically black Hampton University. She is a morning news anchor for Fox 5 DC.

In her speech, Boler Davis paid tribute to family, mentors, friends, and colleagues.

Boler Davis is now responsible for producing 10 million cars by General Motors each year, and has brought “discipline to manufacturing,” said Jose Tomas.

Tomas, a senior vice president, GM Global Human Resources, presented the 2018 BEYA along with Linda Gooden, the 2006 Black Engineer of the Year, and a board member of General Motors.

Below are excerpts from the speech given by Alicia Boler Davis, the 2018 Black Engineer of the Year.

“I’m extremely honored to receive this award tonight. I’d like to first recognize all my fellow honorees. Although I know we have a lot more work to do, to increase the number of black students pursuing and obtaining STEM degrees, it makes me very proud and hopeful to see the impact all of you are having in your respective organizations.I’m especially inspired by all of the stories; the resilience, the tenacity, and commitment to excellence are admirable. 

“I want to thank Tyrone Taborn, in addition to being an awesome person, he continues to champion and advocate on our behalf, to make sure we are not hidden figures as we work to have a meaningful impact in the U.S., and around the globe, in the area of STEM. He has done so much for so long to support black engineers, and women of color, and to recognize their achievements.

“I want to thank the selection committee and the Council of Engineering Deans of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, who decided it was okay, to give this prestigious award to a Northwestern Wildcat.

[Applause and cheers]

“Go cats!

At GM Lansing Delta Township Assembly in Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors)

“I have many other people I owe a debt of gratitude to, of course, and I’m going to thank them as I go on. But first I want to share a quote with you that sums up how I got here and how others can get here in the future. And it’s by Helen Keller who said ‘Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.’

“That’s from a woman who knew something about overcoming obstacles to success. If someone who faced the obstacles that Helen Keller faced can approach things with hope and confidence, how can we not be? What was my excuse?

“From a very young age, I have thought anything is possible. I was fortunate to be raised with a strong faith and belief in God and to see first hand the power of prayer and God’s grace. Regardless of abilities and disabilities, background, status, anything is possible, if you believe in yourself, apply yourself, and work hard.

“This was so evident tonight as we listened to so many remarkable stories.

“So the most important people that I have to thank are my parents because they taught me that I could do anything. They expected me to dream big and to achieve great things. My mom, Deniece, and stepfather, James Arrington, are here tonight. I’m so appreciative of everything they have done and continue to do for me.

“I also have to thank my husband, Vince, and our two sons, Jesse and Dillon. They have put up with a lot of moving around the country, and Mom working long hours and still trying to keep things running smoothly, at least on most days. With lots of help from my mother, thank goodness!

“Although my mother was a good student, she decided to get married at 16 before graduating high school. My parents then moved 20 miles west of Detroit to a small working-class town. Eight years later. my parents divorced when I was five years old. My dad wasn’t in our home but he was present; always supportive, always stressing the importance of education. He was, and still is, a true believer in me. My mom raised me and my three siblings and she worked long hours to support us while getting her GED and later taking college courses.

“We didn’t have a lot growing up, but we learned to lean on each other. My siblings and I were often home alone, but we learned early on about personal responsibility and kept each other in check. They are all here tonight and I thank them for putting up with me then and continuing to be in my corner today.

“My parents always insisted that we work hard in school and above all that we make good choices. They had high expectations in everything that we did. And that’s the groundwork for success right there. And it didn’t hurt that I had a sister who was straight A student. She set a standard to follow and compete against.

“So in addition to working hard, success is a result of following your passion. Because that’s what drives you to work much harder. It makes you that much better at what you do. And that started at an early age for me.

“I loved math and science. And I loved to tinker with things. I loved to figure out how things worked. So I taught myself to rewire appliances, fixing things around the house, things I usually had a hand in breaking in the first place. My family encouraged me to be better and I had more encouragement along the way. People like my middle school teacher who quickly identified my love of, and aptitude for, math and science, and who truly encouraged me to be an engineer.

“That’s something black girls weren’t hearing a lot in those days and they still don’t hear it enough today. But organizations like this help change that with the STEM conference going on this weekend.

“I had the critical good fortune to be exposed to STEM in high school. And I even attended a summer program for minority students interested in engineering at Kettering University, paid for by General Motors. Isn’t it interesting how things come full circle?

“I took that love to Northwestern University where I decided to pursue chemical engineering. because I enjoyed chemistry and wanted a big challenge. By this time… I met some amazing black students pursuing engineering. We supported each other, had a ton of fun along the way and today they are all successful engineers and they are here tonight celebrating.

[Applause and cheers]

“That’s a special shout out to the crew.”

Boler Davis went on to thank her team at General Motors, leadership, and mentors along her manufacturing journey, who pushed her out of her comfort zone and given her great opportunities to succeed in a traditionally male-dominated environment.

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