USACE Middle East District has two honored at Black Engineer of the Year conference
By Joan F Kibler
Middle East District
WINCHESTER, Va. — Lt. Col. Anthony P. Mitchell and Tamika W. McDowell possess characteristics of excellence and leadership that will attract young people to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
For their accomplishments with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, they were recognized at the annual Black Engineer of the Year STEM conference Feb. 16-18 in Philadelphia.
Mitchell, now serving as the officer-in-charge of the Iraq Area Office for the Middle East District, received the Professional Achievement -- Government award for his leadership as the Nashville District commander.
McDowell, a project engineer in the district's Qatar Area Office, received a Modern-Day Technology Leaders award for work performed while in the Wilmington District.
Col. Jon L. Christensen, Middle East District commander, said that he is proud to have people with talent of that caliber in the district. "Both Lt. Col. Mitchell and Ms. McDowell are applying their skills and their ability to overcome obstacles to their jobs in the Middle East District at a critical time," he said.
Christensen said that the BEYA awards are set up like the Academy Awards, with the recipient having his or her professional accomplishments highlighted, followed by acceptance remarks.
"The remarks from the recipients all had consistent themes," Christensen said, "of faith and family; of values they were taught and how those values enabled them to overcome obstacles; and finally, of reaching out to young people to encourage them to pursue excellence through engineering, science and technology."
BEYA is the largest annual gathering of STEM professionals and leaders committed to increasing the percentage of underrepresented communities in the technology workforce, according to their press release. The conference recognizes industry and government leaders in three major areas:
• The Black Engineer of the Year award, which is presented to individuals in more than two dozen categories, such as career achievement, lifetime achievement, most promising engineer, outstanding technical contribution, and professional achievement.
• Special recognition awards, which were presented to 16 individuals.
• Modern-Day Technology Leaders, with more than 200 recognized.
Mitchell receives Professional Achievement award
As Nashville District commander from July 2009 through June 2011, Mitchell was responsible for water resources development and waterways operations astride the Cumberland and Tennessee River basins, covering 59,000 square miles across seven states. His position required significant community involvement and public participation as the district prepared to rehabilitate Wolf Creek Dam. Additionally, during the May 2010 flood in Nashville, Mitchell led the district team in implementing water control measures. This reduced the flooding on the Cumberland and the lower Ohio Rivers, saving millions of dollars in property damages.
Mitchell said that he represented Nashville District during the flood with pride and a sense of purpose. "I wanted the district team to know that I was there with them, weathering the storm and handling adversity. I wanted to exemplify what Martin Luther King Jr. said -- that 'the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.'"
While the environment in Iraq is considerably different from that in Nashville, there are similarities in the leadership requirements.
"What I learned during that time is that people want to be led. When you give them the vision, they will perform and excel," Mitchell said.
Mitchell's leadership, vision and communication skills make him well-suited for his job at a transitional time in Iraq, Christensen said. "Not every lieutenant colonel has this skill set, and he is using it to work with the upper levels of DoS (Department of State) and OSC-I (Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq). He is providing stability for USACE operations in an environment of constant change and uncertainty."
While he said he was humbled to be nominated and recognized before his peers, Mitchell said that the greatest pleasure comes from seeing his sons' reaction to this recognition. "My boys are so excited that I received this award, and they want to follow in my footsteps," Mitchell said.
In his acceptance remarks, Mitchell thanked BEYA for its efforts in influencing young people to pursue engineering, science and technology careers.
"One of the most important things we can do as leaders is to be role models for our children and for young adults, especially for African-Americans. When we are role models, our young people see results. They see something they can believe in. They see that hard work pays off."
Mitchell encourages people to be uncommon -- ideals that are espoused by acclaimed football coach Tony Dungy. "That's where greatness comes from. I want to encourage young people to be different, to have a dream, to make a difference. And I want my actions to reflect those ideals."
Reacting to receiving the Professional Achievement award, Mitchell said, "My wife and I had a blast (at the conference). We felt like celebrities for a short time.
"On the more serious side, it was gratifying to be recognized, and I must admit that I was surprised that my leadership (at Great Lakes and Ohio River Division) believed I was deserving of this award. As I watched engineers from private sector companies and the Armed Forces receiving their awards, I realized we -- the Corps of Engineers -- have project engineers and quality assurance representatives who are at that same caliber as the award recipients. We need to do a better job of taking the time to recognize them."
Mitchell holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Prairie View A&M University and a master's in engineering from the University of Texas. His year-long tour in Iraq ends in July, and his next assignment is at USACE headquarters.
McDowell receives Modern-Day Technology Leader award
McDowell is the only engineer from USACE recognized at the conference for her accomplishments in engineering technology.
"The individuals recognized as Modern-Day Technology Leaders are redefining our world every day," according to US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine. "These engineers and technologists have not only brought us to where we are, but they represent where we are going."
In three years with USACE, McDowell is pursuing her dream to establish a career in the construction industry. Before joining the Qatar Area Office as a project engineer in December 2011, she served as an office engineer and contract administrator for the Special Operations Command Resident Office at Fort Bragg, N.C., under the Wilmington District.
"Tamika came on board as a new federal employee, and based on her private industry experiences in office engineering, she was able to quickly learn and apply our USACE change management and contract administration processes," said Vernon Crudup, resident engineer, Military Construction, Qatar Area Office. McDowell had worked for Crudup in the office at Fort Bragg.
"She took on these responsibilities in one of the most demanding construction field offices within the Wilmington District, managing more than 10 MILCON projects and more than 25 OMA (operations and maintenance-Army) task orders annually for a demanding customer," Crudup said. "Normally, these functions are performed by a GS-12 position, but Tamika took them on as a GS-11. It was one of the toughest assignments that could be given, and she performed exceedingly well."
McDowell's responsibilities included interpreting contract documents and determining the feasibility of contract changes before, during and after construction. She also performed technical and cost analyses of the contractor's change proposals for the preparation of pre-negotiation and post-negotiation documents, and she negotiated with contractors.
Her team was focused on streamlining office engineering functions to manage more than $200 million in workload in the resident office at Fort Bragg. She said that she made use of technology, and particularly the Resident Management System, to perform those functions. Her nomination said that she exceeded the milestones set to accomplish construction modifications by 25 percent.
Now with the Middle East District, McDowell said she is using those skills to help improve RMS data quality. RMS provides the method for USACE resident engineers and field staff to plan, schedule and control all aspects of construction.
"It's imperative to have this system in place and being used properly, and that's what I'm here to help with," McDowell said. "RMS is the single-source database for construction information, such as award documents, submittals, progress payments, schedules, modifications and close out. And RMS is intuitive -- hands on is the best way to use this system.
"With the rate of turnover in these overseas offices, RMS can help create a seamless transition as people change," McDowell said. "It captures all relevant construction information."
McDowell said that she was elated when she learned that she had received this recognition. "It is a major honor just to be nominated, and as a result, I have a renewed consciousness that I am helping to forge the way for other people of color, especially women, in the construction industry. My goal is to be a positive role model for young people."
McDowell holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Spelman College and a bachelor's in civil engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Other USACE winners
Other individuals from USACE were recognized in the BEYA awards:
• Henry A. Dulaney, Vicksburg District, received an award for Career Achievement -- Government
• And Cedric V. Bazemore, Japan District, was honored as the Most Promising Engineer -- Government.
The 26th BEYA STEM conference was hosted by the Council of Engineering Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Lockheed Martin Corporation, and US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine.
"Fewer young people are selecting STEM study paths as the global demand for technological workers increases," said BEYA Chairman Tyrone Taborn. "To keep engineering and scientific jobs in the United States and ensure America maintains her leadership, we need to inspire a new generation of Americans to pursue STEM careers. One way to do so is to spotlight successful role models already in these fields."
Mitchell and McDowell are shining role models for engineering and technology -- and for USACE.