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Ken Holley, winner of the 2016 Black Engineer of the Year Award for Community Service, was honored for the many ways he gave back to the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) community. Among his achievements at Sandia National Laboratories, Holley founded the Black Leadership Committee, an employee resource group, in 1985.

Holley retired in 2016, but last month, Prairie View A&M University lauded the Black Leadership Committee for the critical role it had played in creating the Securing Top Academic Research & Talent for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (S.T.A.R.T. HBCU) initiative.

In the statement, Rahni Johnson, a technical business development specialist at Sandia National Laboratories, said the engineering and science laboratory along with members of the Black Leadership Committee, presented S.T.A.R.T. HBCU as a solution to some of the challenges that Black Americans face at Sandia when it comes to recruiting and retention.

“We presented this to Susan because she is the Chief Research Officer, and Academic Partnerships is housed in her division. Many of us are alumni of these schools and have recruited for a long time. We wanted to see a relationship that included but was more than recruiting.” said Johnson, a PVAMU alumna who is also the program lead for S.T.A.R.T. HBCU.

The Black Leadership Committee promotes cultural awareness at the Sandia National Laboratories, maintains a relationship between the local Black community and Sandia, and executes programs to support Sandia’s Black on-roll population.

“This was truly a bottom-up initiative,” said Susan Seestrom, Sandia National Laboratory Associate Laboratories Director for Advanced Science Technology and Chief Research Officer. “The BLC said we have the contacts, and this is what we want to do. I’m looking forward to the results of the research partnerships.”

S.T.A.R.T. HBCU fosters specific academic partnerships to increase research collaborations and expose diverse groups of talented students to the lasting impact they can have by working at a national laboratory. The four universities currently in the START HBCU Program include Florida A&M University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Prairie View A&M University. The universities will meet with SNL monthly to assess needs and projects. They will also meet quarterly to ensure the continued networking and support that each university brings.

Magesh Rajan, vice president for research & innovation at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), said the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding provides the university with the opportunity to provide students with significant next steps as they move through the S.T.A.R.T. HBCU pipeline.

“This partnership will provide PVAMU faculty with more opportunities for research collaborations with the Sandia research community,” Rajan said in a statement. We have identified opportunities for possible collaborations with the other universities in the program to conduct research projects that will address some of the grand global challenges. It is more important than ever, in our current climate, to align the efforts of the most brilliant experts to develop research projects and build a pipeline of students prepared and skilled to pursue research as a career path.”

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