For almost four decades, the BEYA STEM Conference has attracted top professionals and students from across America. Career Achievement Award winners have significant accomplishments in engineering positions in industry or government. They have also made a social impact as role models and mentors for minorities in STEM. Here are the 2023 winners:
Lamar Garrett is a field element chief in the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command analysis center. He has empowered a resilient team of engineers and scientists that support the army’s analytic effort. Since 2005, he has also provided challenging opportunities and mentoring to interns in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Additionally, Mr. Garrett prioritizes STEM outreach and puts together a chess group.
“First, giving honor to God and my lovely wife, Cheryl. I’m honored and humbled to be the recipient of this highly coveted award. Receiving an award for career achievement makes me reflect upon the past. I’m reminded of my upbringing and the influence of my family and friends. I recall being teased for my biblical beliefs and practical approach to life. I proved the naysayers wrong by asking God to shape my career path. As so often happens, this took time. Fortunately, I was blessed with leadership traits to help develop my on-tap potential by fostering noble ideals that translated concepts into achievable objectives: Engineer. Leader and mentor. So I thank God, my colleagues, and my collaborative partners who made this possible.”
Captain Kimberly Jones is a trailblazer in the United States Navy. She made history as the first African American woman to serve as a reactor officer on a U.S. aircraft carrier. She is currently serving on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. She is also the only African American woman to serve as an officer in charge at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. She is the sixth African American woman to serve as the commanding officer of a U.S. naval warship. Her peers have recognized her achievements as milestones and inspired young women of color to pursue leadership roles in the navy.
“Twenty-three years ago, when I signed up for the Navy, I did not know it would take me to serve on six warships, including three aircraft carriers; from the western Pacific to my backyard in the mid-Atlantic region. I did not know I would still be on this journey, this ride, and the stage this evening. I dedicate this award to my mother, Deborah. She has been my inspiration throughout my life and career. She has always told me that it was more than okay to be myself—aka a little bit different, chart my path and strive for excellence. I was in awe when she earned her second college degree long after I graduated to become a registered nurse. I don’t know if I’ve ever told her that drive and accomplishment gave me renewed focus that sustains me to this day. Finally, to my husband, who is currently deployed, thank you. You are my best friend and my sounding board.”
When Wole Akinyemi, Ph.D. executive director of research and technology at Cummins, was asked what would matter at the end of his career, he said: people I have been able to impact during my journey. Wole has undoubtedly made his mark with the many engineers he has coached and the teams he’s led over the years. Those 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 interim, I’m thankful I’ve had 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 it’s still ongoing. All those steps were essential building blocks to the engineer I am today and the contributions I have made. Engineering, at its core, 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 vice president and director of operations at the global digital center of excellence at Jacobs) epitomizes 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 Barack Obama. Thomas was responsible for thousands of service members in cyber security missions protecting our nation’s most precious assets. Since he retired from the Army, Thomas has led numerous strategic programs to contribute directly to the business growth of two Fortune 500 companies. In addition to his military service and corporate achievements, he has made an enduring difference in his community by developing equity and mentorship programs. One of his capstones was providing scholarships to minority musicians as a 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 State 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 was working 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.”