“It’s been 25 years of inspiration,” Ted Childs, a retired diversity executive at IBM Corporation, said Feb. 19 at the 25th annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards in the Washington, D.C.

The Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA), produced by Career Communications Group, showcases African-American talent in science, technology, engineering and math and provides students with pathways to lucrative technical careers.

“It’s an opportunity to connect at a high level of intelligence and capital with business people who are interested in science, mathematics and engineering and who never get an opportunity to recognize or connect with one another,” said David Steward, founder and chairman of St. Louis-based Worldwide Technology Inc., who attended the event. “It shows the intellectual capital in the Black community and the leadership in the Black community and the value we bring to this society and this country and the world.”

Over the past two decades, BEYA has put Black minds together with major employers such as IBM Corp., Booz Allen Hamilton, Raytheon Co., Boeing, Northrop Grumman, NASA, the National Security Agency and the U.S. Navy Recruiting Command to promote job opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The theme of the 2011 BEYA STEM Conference was “Listen, Learn, Lead.” Throughout the three-day event, students and professionals presented panel discussions and events focusing on career development, diversity and science, technology, engineering and math education. ?

More than 100 companies and organizations supporting the rise of young Blacks into technical careers were on display at the BEYA Job Fair, one of several recruitment, recognition and retention events held at the conference.

The Black Engineer of the Year Award, along with others presented during the ceremony on Saturday, recognizes “true pioneers who have achieved exceptional career gains in government and industry, who have already merited lifetime achievement recognition, and who have energized their companies and their communities alike.” ?

BEYA’s top award, the 2011 Black Engineer of the Year, was presented to Lloyd Howell, executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton. Twenty other category award winners, including Boeing Senior Vice President Wanda Denson-Low, were also recognized for innovation, career advancement and diversity programs. “Boeing considers diversity to be a strategic advantage in attracting the best talent available and enabling innovation by bringing together different viewpoints,” said Norma Clayton, vice president Learning, Training and Development for Boeing. “Many Boeing people have received BEYA awards over the years, and the awards are a terrific confirmation that we are on the right track.”

In Howell’s acceptance speech, he said he felt honored to be selected as the 25th Black Engineer of the Year. “I wake up everyday excited to make a difference,” he said. ?Howell, a Philadelphia native, praised the BEYA culture and shared a little-known story: He was one of the young athletes in Jim Ellis’ all African-American swim team, depicted in the 2007 film Pride starring Terrence Howard. Howell lauded the inspiration of Ellis’ quiet struggle against racism and bureaucracy.?

Howell serves as volunteer assistant coach for DC Heat, a youth basketball team. On behalf of Booz Allen Hamilton, he has supported the United Negro College Fund and Lincoln University.

His involvement with UNCF is not unusual in this community. BEYA has a history of persuading employers to recognize the strength of engineering departments at historically Black colleges and universities.

The HBCU Engineering Deans’ Roundtable has fostered cooperation between hiring officers and even a new industry-academic partnership: AMIE (Advancing Minorities Interest in Engineering). Scholarships, internships, donation of laboratory equipment and loans of professionals for faculty positions have all come out of the connection.

BEYA is the brainchild of Career Communications Group CEO Tyrone Taborn, who also publishes a number of diversity titles including US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine.

“Tyrone’s vision is inextricably linked to democracy and America’s economic system, and our responsibility to it is realized not just for Black America, Hispanic America or Native America but for America,” Ted Childs said.?

BEYA’s first event was held February 1987 at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

“The timing of the event was not accidental,” said Eugene M. DeLoatch, veteran dean of the School of Engineering at Morgan State and longtime chairman of the Council of Engineering Deans of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “It was planned to coincide with observance of National Engineers Week and to serve historically as a fitting tribute to those close to Black History Month.”

Bill Granville was a high-ranking oil executive when he attended BEYA in 1987. He filed a positive report with Mobil. Mobil’s CEO, seeing that diversity and inclusion made business sense, wrote a letter to other Fortune 500 CEO’s, telling them he had discovered a talent development program he thought they should support.

The rest, as they say, is history. Top defense contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., has co-hosted BEYA for more than a decade, and corporate attendance reaches to the executive levels of management.

“You see these major corporations get excited – Raytheon, Lockheed, Boeing – these major players and their CEO’s,” David Steward said. “And they are there to recognize the significant contributions these African-American engineers and leaders not only make to business, but to society.”

In the mid-1980s, when BEYA was initiated, Black representation among the nation’s 1.6 million engineers was only 2 percent – 32,000 men and women. By the turn of the millennium, many baby boomers were heading towards retirement and there was a need for younger professionals to take their place in the workforce.

“Demand for qualified STEM professionals has grown considerably in the past 25 years, and it will only continue to expand,” said Taborn. “Our advancements come from intrepid engineers and technologists, from business executives bold enough to take chances.”

And BEYA has become an important hub for these intrepid engineers and bold executives to connect with one another. “It’s exciting to be around,” Steward said. “It’s contagious.”

– Additional reporting by Garland L. Thompson