Lt. Col. Yasmeen Neal, who serves as the Army National Guard liaison to the Military Deputy, ASA (FM&C), was selected as the 2021 recipient of the Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) Stars and Stripes National Guard Bureau Award.
Neal will receive the award during the virtual BEYA Stars and Stripes STEM Conference on Feb. 12. Each year, BEYA Stars and Strips organization recognizes outstanding efforts from leaders within science, engineering and technology management.
"Yasmeen Neal is an amazing talent who has a gift and a passion to turn today's children into tomorrow's leaders of America," said Lt. Gen. Thomas Horlander, military deputy to the ASA (FM&C). "Her singular efforts as a compassionate leader and team builder are touching the lives of America's future."
For more than four years, Neal has served as a director and lead mentor with a youth development non-profit while serving in the Army National Guard.
“The overall theme for the people who mentored me has been to take care of people,” Neal said. “That is something I value, that’s who I am, and that’s why I spend the time mentoring youth in a robotics program, and with young Soldiers in the Finance & Comptroller profession. It’s exciting to share my experiences with others.”
In addition to her military mentors within Army Finance and Comptroller, Neal credits her civilian mentor, Lavon Curtis, for recognizing her passion for mentorship within STEM and pushing her to start a non-profit robotics program.
“As a mentor, mainly a cheerleader for Lt. Col. Neal, I am overwhelmed with excitement to see her receive this award,” said Curtis, a program analyst at the National Guard Bureau. “Her growth and passion in uniform and with her non-profit have been astounding. Who would have thought a simple discussion and a love for kids would bring us here?”
Curtis said that through mentorship, she has learned how to build confidence, and to prioritize respectability more than likeability as an emerging leader. She explained, “Lt. Col. Neal has had the courage, and has embodied these sentiments. There's more greatness to come.”
Neal shared that she has had different mentors in her life who have each been uniquely powerful in her development. “Mentors have the ability to challenge people in a way that facilitates individual growth through next level guidance - they push you to think beyond your potential,” she said.
The willingness to seek challenging experiences and conversations is a common theme in Neal’s leadership philosophy. To be an effective mentor, and receive good mentorship, Neal believes that Soldiers must be willing to leave their comfort zones.
“Don’t always choose people that look like you or think like you, even if you’re uncomfortable starting the conversation with someone,” she said. “You don’t want a room of leaders who all think the same. If I only talk to people who are like me and think like me, what am I really learning and what am I really contributing?
As a Finance and Comptroller officer, Neal offered two pieces of advice for Soldiers in the profession: put an emphasis on education, and accept reasonable risk.
“Educate yourself on the processes of Finance Operations, for example, what we do when we deploy—and the business of Comptrollership,” she said. “Put yourself in environments where you will learn. Be okay with not knowing everything.”
With accepting risk, Neal encouraged that Soldiers be patient and learn as much as they can before they provide input.
She added, “Mistakes are ok--it’s ok to show up and listen to your team and peers. Humble yourself, sit back, and observe until you see where you can add value. Your time will come.”