The awards gala featured pomp and circumstance, as industry legends and rising stars accepted accolades and made inspirational speeches in Washington, D.C. on February 11.
The award winners, however, were not film or entertainment celebrities. They were engineers honored for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) achievements at the 2017 Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) Awards gala – an annual event many call "the Oscars of the STEM industry."
Akin to the Academy Awards to be presented in Hollywood later this month, BEYA Award recipients were applauded for a myriad of professional categories, including career achievement, community service, outstanding technical contribution, professional achievement, technical sales and marketing, research leadership, affirmative action, educational leadership, entrepreneur leadership, most promising engineer, senior investigator, and senior technology fellow in addition to the most promising engineer and most promising scientist.
In all, 41 awardees – including Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) engineer Dwayne Nelson – walked the proverbial red carpet.
Nelson, known for his extraordinary success in mentoring middle to high school students, received the 2017 BEYA Award for Community Service.
"His career already embodies outstanding civil service and the Navy keeps him busy," Naval Surface Warfare Center Commander Rear Adm. Tom Druggan told the gala audience at the 31st BEYA STEM Global Competiveness Conference.
“He's advancing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers and improving the lives of those around him,” said Druggan as he introduced the NSWC Dahlgren Division engineer. “The Navy is proud. I know his family is proud."
At that point, Druggan presented Nelson with the BEYA Community Service Award.
"This award has inspired and challenged me to contribute more towards empowering our youth and others to serve our community while encouraging interest in highly rewarding science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields," said Nelson.
"Giving back and empowering people to reach their full potential is vital to stimulating enthusiasm about STEM. Every step, no matter how large or small, helps strengthen the arduous efforts in sustaining monumental, long-term, positive change within our communities."
The NSWCDD commanding officer’s letter to Career Communications Group nominating Nelson for a BEYA award put the spotlight on the civilian engineer’s ability to determine where others are in need and his quick action to craft a solution.
“This skill set is not only invaluable in his work role, but in his role as a Big Brother with Rappahannock Big Brothers and Big Sisters where he participates in weekly one-on-one mentoring programs offering guidance, support, and encouragement to children at a local elementary school,” according to the letter.
Nelson applies the same problem solving skills in his leadership role with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) where his contributions impact students and future engineers of all ages.
"I would like to thank Rear Adm. Tom Druggan, the Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division for supporting me throughout my career," said Nelson. "The endless encouragement and invaluable learning have changed me forever."
Meanwhile, Nelson has been changing the lives of middle and high school students forever.
As part of NSBE's Pre-College Initiative program at a local middle school, Nelson inspires students to attend college in pursuit of STEM degrees by helping them discover how engineering and technology relates to the world around them.
“He helps them to realize the excitement that comes with academic excellence, leadership, technical development, and teamwork,” the nomination letter states.
Nelson led the NSBE Potomac River Professional Chapter’s engagement in more than 70 programs promoting technical excellence among young professionals in addition to the chapter’s impact in the community through educational programs for middle and high school students.
“Through his hundreds of hours of technical outreach community help, principally focused on the advancement of STEM among minority community members, he has developed partnerships with local schools and agencies to give back to the community,” the letter continues.
“For example, Mr. Nelson's leadership and passion for the community led to a partnership with the local King George Family YMCA to host a 5K run-walk fundraiser with a goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle while using STEM principles to assist in improving participant's health and wellness.”
He also participated in A Walk for Education, Habitat for Humanity, United Way Day of Caring, Adopt-a-Highway, Back to School Supply Drives, and Collegiate Mentorship Programs. The engineer also established an annual STEM Innovators Scholarship to assist graduating high school seniors in paying for their education so they can also succeed professionally and positively impact their community.
As the Deputy Information Officer for two NSWCDD technical departments, Nelson supervises a mixed government and contractor team in the administration and compliant operation of multiple mixed domains and networks, comprising more than 2,000 individual seats that support multiple, geographically dispersed locations.
“Working with Dwayne is a real pleasure – he simply makes everyone's lives better,” said Ed Hudson, NSWCDD Cyber Technologies and Software Systems Division head. “As an information technology professional, he enables the success of his co-workers, customers and peers by streamlining, automating, and simplifying what can be very expansive compliance requirements.”
The BEYA conference and awards gala – hosted by Career Communications Group’s U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technology Magazine, Lockheed Martin, and the Council of Engineering Deans at Historically Black Colleges and Universities – is a talent-rich environment for recruitment, networking and professional development.
The conference's prestigious awards ceremony provided employers with the unique opportunity to acknowledge and share the achievements of minorities who are leaders in the fields of math, science, engineering, and information technology.
The purpose of the BEYA STEM Conference is to shed light on the underrepresentation of all minorities in the STEM industry, and to honor the successful modern-day minority inventors, technical innovators, gifted scientists, budding engineers, and high-level managers and executives whose careers are "Going Beyond the Limits" in private industry, government agencies, and the military, and who are living proof of the benefits of opening doors to opportunity.
The three-day February conference attracted several thousand attendees, including students, college administrators, recruiters, engineering and IT professionals, scientists, and high-level decision-makers from the corporate, government, and military communities, in an effort to broaden diversity in this country's technical and scientific workforces.
Nelson holds bachelor’s degrees in applied mathematics from Morris College in Sumter, S.C., and in computer and electrical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. Nelson also holds a master’s degree in engineering management from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.