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The sky is just the beginning – not limit for AFRL scientists, engineer honored with BEYA awards at 2021 STEM conference

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – Three Air Force Research Laboratory science and engineering professionals, including two scientists and an engineer received national recognition at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards STEM conference held virtually Feb. 11-13.

Recognized were scientists Dr. Nydeia Bolden-Frazier and Dr. Candice Hatcher-Solis and engineer 1st Lt. Samuel Nyamekye.

Bolden-Frazier, a research scientist from AFRL’s Munitions Directorate at Eglin AFB, received the BEYA Professional Achievement in Government award; Hatcher-Solis, a research biological scientist from AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing, received the BEYA Most Promising Scientist in Government Award; and receiving the BEYA Most Promising Engineer in Government award was 1st Lt. Samuel Nyamekye, from AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate.

A digital twin of the traditional in-person event was held this year in light of the global pandemic and provided a new experience for attendees. The event’s theme, “Stand up! Step up! Make the Change” was chosen as a call to action for all participants, including K-12 and college students, professionals, executive leadership, educators, military leaders and veterans, and more.

Each of the awardees expressed a feeling of pride and inspiration for being recognized for their work during the 2021 BEYA STEM conference.

“I spend a lot of time focused on the warfighters and trying to come up with ways that we can make their job easier,” said Bolden-Frazier. “Realizing that my work is recognized as an accomplishment and as an achievement makes me very proud and inspires me to continue to work hard every day,” she said.

Hatcher-Solis shared that sentiment saying, “I’m very honored to be a BEYA award recipient, so I will love to use this platform provided by BEYA to be an inspiration for others.”

Nyamekye added that, “I think this award not only recognizes my hard work, but also the hard work of our amazing team.”

Each of the AFRL awardees shared what they feel that AFRL has provided them as a minority in the STEM community.

“AFRL is constantly looking for ways to make our environment much more diverse and inclusive,” said Bolden-Frazier. “AFRL also encourages and really supports a mentoring program, and is definitely a very comfortable place for a minority to work and it creates an environment for me to thrive in.”
 
The honorees spoke of the abundant opportunities available at AFRL that allow everyone to expand their horizons in their chosen field of expertise.

“In particular, I’m able to be a team-lead operating as a principal investigator directing research for my lab,” said Hatcher-Solis. “I’ve also had the opportunity to be involved with their Centers of Excellence and so I’ve been able to collaborate with the top scientists in academia.”

“As a minority, especially coming from Africa, you know I had all my education in Africa, it’s not easy coming from a different country,” said Nyamekye. “I am grateful to AFRL for this opportunity.”

Participation in STEM outreach programs is something the awardees have enjoyed as well. Hatcher-Solis serves as the vice-chair of Air Force Women in Science and Engineering, and said, “We promote diversity and inclusion and professional development for women in the Air Force. I’m also a mentor for younger people interested in careers in the Air Force.”

“I have enjoyed my time in AFRL and I’ve had an opportunity to lead my division’s outreach program and I led this cause for three years, so we had the opportunity to educate the broader S&E community at AFRL on what hypersonics is and what we do in the hypersonic world,” said Nyamekye.

Each of AFRL’s honorees offered positive outlooks in providing advice for up-and-coming engineers and scientists.

“Be very comfortable and confident in your knowledge and skills, and look for ways in which you can showcase them,” said Bolden-Frazier. “Seek out internship opportunities as early and as frequently as possible.”

“Stick with it. If this is your passion and something that you really want to do, you can do it,” said Hatcher-Solis.

“Some people say that the sky is the limit,” said Nyamekye. “I say that the sky is the beginning, because if I, coming from Ghana to America, if I’m able to get this opportunity to work at AFRL, anybody who puts their mind to it and stays focused and determined can also achieve whatever he or she has set out to do.”