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NEWS | Feb. 16, 2023

Guard Member, Civilian Recognized for Promoting STEM

By Air Force Master Sgt. Erich B. Smith National Guard Bureau

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – A science, technology, engineering and mathematics awards ceremony honoring African American contributions to STEM fields recently recognized an Army National Guard cybersecurity chief and the adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard.

Among other Defense Department employees and uniformed military personnel recognized at the 37th Annual Black Engineers of the Year Awards, Shonda Polite and Army Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr. took home their respective honors for raising awareness of STEM fields among high school and college students.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, presented one of the awards to Harris, touting his efforts to propel the Ohio Guard forward while inspiring young people to pursue technological endeavors.

"Throughout his career, [Harris] has really led from the front and not led but also served as a mentor throughout his organization," said Hokanson, who thanked the major general for the "promotion of the STEM programs within your state."

Polite, a Navy veteran who received her award earlier as part of a BEYA conference, said diversity and inclusion are more than just about "policies, programs and headcounts."

"The DOD employs a group of individuals with technical skills that outpace our competitors by respecting the needs, perspectives and potential of all our team members," she said, adding that "diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees."

Polite likened the conference's theme, "Becoming Everything You Are," to that of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

"I aspire to become a senior leader in the civilian workplace and I have built bridges with those in positions to help mentor and coach me to stay on the right path and meet this long-term goal," she said.

She added that this kind of recognition is paramount to helping others like her stay on that path.

"There was a special energy [at the awards ceremony] among people who feel seen, respected and valued for their work," Polite said.

The awards, however, were more than just about recognition, said Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, who attended the event.

"What this does is it highlights our need to continue to diversify, and it promotes the diversity that we have seen in some of the technical officer career fields," said Whitehead.

He said BEYA was an opportune time for service members to mentor the hundreds of high school and college students – a key event at the conference. Last year, Whitehead saw how the Guam National Guard administered Starbase, a DOD STEM program that seeks to inspire young people to pursue technology-based disciplines.

"It was interesting to find out they were teaching young kids 3D printing, and they're all over it. It's in their DNA," said Whitehead. "So what you'll find is there are probably a lot more young Americans that are actually engaged in STEM more than they realize."

In closing the ceremony, Gen. Randy George, vice chief of staff of the Army, handed Hokanson a statue – symbolizing the NGB's hosting of next year's BEYA conference.

"On behalf of the men and women of the 54 states, territories and D.C., we accept the baton," said the general, referring to the over 450,000 Guard members worldwide. "We are proud to continue to be a part of the 37-year tradition of recognizing and supporting African Americans in technology."



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