REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- When the goal is building a diverse workforce of scientists and engineers, one of the best places to start is with graduating college students.
But, with efficiency in mind, recruiters from both private industry and government organizations need ways to quickly introduce their job opportunities to a wide range of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)-educated students from higher educational institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Enter the Black Engineer of the Year Awards STEM Global Competitiveness Conference (also known as the Becoming Everything You Are conference).
For 35 years, BEYA has been a leading venue for introducing the nation’s minority STEM-educated students to the workplace. During that time, several government agencies – including the Army Materiel Command – have partnered with BEYA to connect with the most recent graduates in science and technology fields. This year, the BEYA STEM Global Competitiveness Conference is set for Feb. 11-13 and will be virtual.
“It is important to be visible, vocal and involved in BEYA from an AMC perspective,” said Max Wyche, AMC’s deputy chief of staff for Human Resources.
“We will be available to recruit through a virtual booth, where we will provide information on outstanding career opportunities nationwide. We will also interview, mentor and extend on-the-spot letters of intent-to-hire to participants.”
The BEYA conference promotes recruiting, networking and professional development for STEM college students and young professionals. It promotes awareness of STEM careers, recognizes STEM accomplishments, promotes diversity and inclusion, offers educational and developmental opportunities, and provides recruiting and hiring opportunities for defense industry partners, corporations and federal/military organizations in the market for engineers, scientists, mathematicians and information technologists. The conference mission is to inspire next-generation scientists and engineers.
AMC’s lead in the BEYA conference is one of its major subordinate commands -- the Communications-Electronics Command. CECOM is setting up the virtual booth and coordinating with AMC Headquarters and the other nine AMC major subordinate commands to ensure a strong recruiting, mentoring and hiring presence. AMC commander Gen. Ed Daly has charged senior leadership AMC-wide to make BEYA a priority element in building their diverse workforce.
“My guidance to AMC commanders is to be involved with mentorship, recruiting and hiring through BEYA,” Daly said.
“The key here is that this is a full court press both in terms of recruiting and also mentoring. We need to ensure due diligence in reaching out to BEYA attendees and hold ourselves accountable to hire some great men and women through BEYA. This is a huge opportunity for AMC to match skill sets with hiring opportunities.”
AMC’s involvement in BEYA began about six years ago, said Paula Taylor, director of AMC’s Office of Diversity and Leadership.
“We started with two big tables at BEYA where we met students on a person-to-person basis,” Taylor said. “Now, AMC is one of the premiere hiring organizations there. We have improved tremendously. Likewise, all of the Department of Defense is now there. BEYA has grown into a career fair involving thousands of organizations and attracting 8,000 to 10,000 top-notch students.”
AMC is part of an Army recruiting and mentoring line-up that includes the Training and Doctrine Command, Futures Command, Test and Evaluation command, Cyber Command, Corps of Engineers, Central Command, Pacific Command and Army Staff. In addition, the Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard will have a presence along with corporations and industry.
“Our senior leadership – and specifically Gen. Daly – see this as not only an opportunity to recruit STEM-educated students and young professionals to be part of our workforce but to also become our future leaders. We want to bring them into our workforce and educate, train and prepare them to be future leaders,” Taylor said.
Many of these young professionals are brought into the AMC enterprise through entry level positions at AMC’s major subordinate commands. This year, there are 173 Pathway Internship positions available within the AMC enterprise along with journeyman entry level positions.
“We are looking for qualified candidates to fill these jobs and we know we can find them at BEYA,” Taylor said. “But, BEYA is also an opportunity to mentor these candidates through the many leadership sessions that will be held virtually during the three-day event.”
The Government/Military Leadership Track includes sessions on COVID and the Future of Healthcare, National Perspective on Global Energy, Cybersecurity and Sustaining Veteran-Owned and Small Businesses During COVID-19. There are also sessions on Time Management for Professionals, Improving Study Skills, Creating and Building Productive Connections, and Social Media Branding for Tomorrow’s New Professional.
This year, the conference’s awards program will recognize seven AMC employees through these categories: Student Leadership-Graduate Level Award: Sgt. First Class Robert Nicholson, Army Contracting Command; Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award: Sudan Abdur-Rahman, Joint Munitions Command and George Grant, Communications Electronics Command; and Modern-Day Technology Leader: Keithley Crooks, Dante Milledge, Kevin Ledbetter and Joseph Hill, Communications Electronics Command.
“These employees are critical to building AMC diversity and they represent our best and brightest,” Taylor said. “CECOM has had the most significant role with BEYA in terms of recruiting and hiring for the AMC enterprise because they require a large number of software engineers to meet their mission.”
Despite juggling a challenging career as a contracting Soldier, Student Leadership awardee Nicholson managed to achieve high academic achievements in the pursuit of multiple STEM-related degrees while also serving as a role model for other Soldiers.
“I have a broad background as a former analytical chemist, biological research assistant, and for advocating for STEM careers as a mentor and foster dad. My life experiences until now have provided me with a unique perspective of practical applications in the ‘science behind the Soldier,’ enhancing my contributions and impact to the overall Army STEM mission,” said Nicholson, who works as contracting officer in support of U.S. Forces Korea at Camp Henry.
Although BEYA is an acronym for Black Engineer of the Year, Nicholson prefers its commonly known tagline – “Becoming Everything You Are.”
“BEYA is the culmination of everything I am passionate about, particularly, science, diversity and inclusion and military service,” he said. “It is really natural for me to relate to the vision of the BEYA STEM conference, further supported by my extensive experiences in the military in the medical community, special operations and now acquisitions. The more diverse the representation, the greater the efficacy for problem solving. That’s what the military is all about – the diversity in people. That’s the military’s strength.”
Student mentoring is also important to Science Spectrum Trailblazer awardee Abdur-Rahman, who is now a team lead quality assurance engineer for tank ammunition at JMC. He is receiving the award for his involvement in repurposing JMC plants to build face masks for the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also being recognized for his mentoring of other minority engineers and his volunteer work as president of the Quad City National Society of Black Engineers in Moline, Illinois.
“It is important to help young people obtain access to resources they need to pursue STEM careers, and to expose them to the types of science and technology careers that are open to them,” he said. “I like to help anyone who is looking for a job in a STEM field. I am glad to represent JMC at BEYA, and to help young people develop their careers and discover career opportunities.”
Modern-Day Technology Leader awardee Milledge is being recognized for work he did for CECOM on a software acquisition process that has resulted in more efficient process and millions of dollars in savings.
“I’ve always had a desire to make things work better and I’ve always found technology interesting,” Milledge said. “To be successful as an Army engineer, you have to be persistent. Most engineers are full of good new ideas and better ways of doing things. Just remember that often change comes slowly. Whether a young engineer chooses a private sector or civil service job, wherever they find themselves they should never stop searching out challenges and pursuing work they find interesting.”
Ledbetter, another awardee working for CECOM, said the award is a testament to those employees who have supported the STEM projects he has led, and his commitment to providing them with the best environment and resources to do their jobs.
“My goal is to improve and inspire others. I believe in and I am committed to doing my very best for the Army and I am always trying to be a better version of myself,” Ledbetter said.
Included in the long list of presenters at this year’s BEYA are two former AMC commanders – retired Gen. Johnnie Wilson and retired Gen. Dennis Via.
“I appreciate the time and commitment AMC has put into this program every year,” Wilson said. “BEYA is a crown jewel of any STEM recruiting effort. Each year, students move through the program and take the first steps to being successful in their chosen career. AMC has helped with their journey by providing mentors and counseling these students. Because of AMC and other organizations, the Army now, from start to finish, dominates this BEYA conference.”