The Black Engineer of the Year Awards’ (BEYA) 31st annual STEM Conference drew major corporations and organizations that are keen on recruiting Black engineers and with more than 10,000 registered participants – a record number – there were plenty to choose from.

BEYA – which, according to a sign at the conference, could also stand for Becoming Everything You Are – is annually held in D.C., and offers support and leadership to Blacks in STEM fields. It brings in STEM students and professionals to explore academic and professional opportunities.

Thousands of students and professionals gathered at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in D.C. to network during the Black Engineer of the Year Awards conference. (Photo by Rob Roberts)

Thousands of students and professionals gathered at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in D.C. to network during the Black Engineer of the Year Awards conference. (Photo by Rob Roberts)

Eugene DeLoatch, BEYA co-founder and dean emeritus and professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, received the organization’s 2017 Black Engineer of the Year Award. The award honors outstanding leaders in STEM fields who work to close the racial digital divide.

DeLoatch said he countered the perception that Black students couldn’t become engineers and arguably produced more of them than anyone else in higher education. He said he created a precollege transition program that helped prepare students for the school’s engineering program and developed creative courses that focused on teaching introductory subjects.

DeLoatch spent 24 years teaching at Howard University in D.C. before arriving at Morgan. As a testament to DeLoatch’s legacy, two of his former students from Howard – Albert Spencer Jr., chief engineer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service, and John H. James Jr., executive director of the Missile Defense Industry for DoD – thanked him in their remarks at the awards’ gala on Feb. 11. Spencer received a career achievement in government award while James presented the award for outstanding technical contribution in government.

DeLoatch went on to become the first Black president of the American Society of Engineering Education. He currently chairs the Council of Engineering Deans of HBCUs.

“We have so much work to do and we have so much more material to work with,” DeLoatch said in his acceptance speech. “Why don’t we just call it quits talking about these kids in the inner city that they cannot do it?”

STEM jobs are growing faster than any other sector in the United States. The estimated size of the STEM workforce in the U.S. is expected to swell to more than 9 million jobs by 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

White and Asian men comprise the bulk of those jobs, though the emerging workforce is mostly women and underrepresented minorities, according to a report from {Wired}, a digital technology publication.

Mike Jorgensen, a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin, said he’s been going to the conference for eight years, and that its career fair is the perfect place to recruit top talent for internships and jobs. However, there was steep competition with other major corporations at the career fair, including The Boeing Company, Airbnb, and Chrysler Group.

Diversity has become a crucial priority at Lockheed Martin and the company fielded nearly two-dozen representatives at the conference.  “We’re hiring a lot of people at this event because there’s a lot of extremely intelligent young people,” Jorgensen said. “I don’t think there’s a slouch amongst them.”

Safir Monroe, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Howard University, stopped by Lockheed Martin’s table to inquire about working in mechanical design after graduation. The 20-year-old said he designs different mechanical systems. In the future, Monroe hopes to design robotics and improve manufacturing processes, while doing some web development on the side.

Monroe has been going to the conference for four years and said it has always been well organized and professional. He said his time at an HBCU taught him that if he fails to succeed in his career, that race has nothing to do with it – it’s all about his work ethic and network.  “I don’t have to have a second thought in my mind that I’m limited in my skin,” Monroe said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army teamed up with BEYA this year to build awareness about the career opportunities it offers in STEM fields and dispel the notion that everyone in the Army is thrown into combat. “The military needs a lot of great minds and STEM majors are a place where we can find them and diversity is a big piece of this,” said Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, a professor of military science at Bowie State University, who also develops leaders within the school’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

ROTC cadets Jackie Berry and his twin brother Eric, 19, are sophomores at Bowie who may be poised to carry on that torch.

The Army ROTC awarded both of them with $68,300 scholarships at the conference. Eric is focusing on network security while Jackie is studying for a career in database management or electrical engineering.  They were also at the conference to recruit high school and college students for the ROTC and say their time at Bowie has shown them what leadership is all about.

“Because Bowie State doesn’t have the student body size as one of these big universities, lectures are more engaging and more tailored to our students,” Jackie said. “So if a student does not understand something, he or she doesn’t fall behind.”