DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Sipex Sun, project engineer and general engineer for Dugway's Test Support Division, was honored Feb. 25 as one of 10 Asian American Engineers of the Year for 2017 during a gala event in Bellevue, Wash.
Twenty Asian Americans were recognized for their contributions in various categories. Sun was the only engineer to represent the Department of Defense. He has been a Civil Service employee at Dugway, for the Army, since 2002.
The Asian American Engineer of the Year (AAEOY) award is held during National Engineers Week. It is the only national, annual award program to pay tribute to Asian engineers, scientists and corporate leaders each year.
A resident of Roy, 120 miles from Dugway, Sun commutes four days a week, twice each day, to his Dugway office. He and his wife have one 16-year-old son. Sun's devotion to engineering excellence led to his being nominated; various coworkers urged upper management to recommend him for the honor.
Sun's dogged determination found in his work ethic didn't come easily or cheaply. Born in 1966 in Cambodia, as the oldest child of eight, he finished 3rd grade when revolution broke out. After the communist dictator Pol Pot and his brutal Khmer Rouge followers took power in 1975, Sun was taken from his parents. Reunited with his family when North Vietnam overthrew Pol Pot in 1979, Sun and his family walked -- through mine fields -- to a refugee camp in Thailand.
After two years in Thailand, the family was sponsored to the U.S. and settled in Logan, Utah. Mathematics is emphasized in Cambodia, Sun said, but newly arrived in America at 15 he had barely a 4th grade education. Placed in an English as a Second Language class, he began to speak it better. His grades improved.
Noting Sun's math skills, his high school adviser suggested computer science, mathematics or engineering. Sun chose engineering, perhaps because it is a science that builds things, and he'd seen so much destruction.
He graduated from Logan High School in 1985, earning his U.S. citizenship in 1988 after a major business refused to hire him as a summer intern without citizenship.
In 1990 Sun became the first Cambodian to graduate from Utah State University, earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
He worked in a variety of jobs related to engineering until hired in 2002 by Dugway. Sun's worked on a wide variety of fixtures and instrumentation: SMARTMAN, to challenge gas masks and respirators with chemical or biological agents; SWATCH test of fabric and other materials for suits, gloves, etc. He's designed test fixtures to challenge detectors and related defenses against chemical and biological agents and JACK RABBIT II, to release chlorine gas to learn how a tanker carful might affect the area around it.
Sun's expertise, communication abilities across multiple levels and innovation were emphasized in recommendations from management, coworkers and command for this award, among his other attributes.
He remains active in his community, working with fellow newly arrived and long-established Cambodians, actively supports Cambodian community gatherings in northern Utah, and cares for his aging father (his mother passed away in 2001). Sun also travels to Cambodia to provide financial support and engineering advice on well digging for clean water, construction, crop irrigation and plumbing.
Quiet and modest, Sun agreed that his life had come far from the notoriously brutal "Killing Fields" of the Pol Pot regime.
"From the farm to technology," he said, adding "I like to design something new, something challenging; always something new."