My Coast Guard
Commentary | Feb. 25, 2022

Coast Guard personnel honored for excellence in STEM at Black Engineer of the Year Awards Global Competitiveness Conference

By The U.S. Coast Guard Office of Diversity and Inclusion and David Santos, Coast Guard Academy External Affairs

Five extraordinary leaders representing the U.S. Coast Guard were honored for their excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) during the 2022 Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Global Competitiveness Conference in Washington, D.C., Feb. 18.    

The Coast Guard’s award recipients are: 

  1. Capt. Eric Jones: Winner of the Stars & Stripes Award, currently serving as the product line manager, Surface Forces Logistics Center Long Range Enforcer Product Line.  
  2. Minh-Thu Phan: Winner of the Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award, currently serving as domain lead and project manager for the Science and Technology Innovation Center (STIC), as well as Coast Guard partnership projects with the DHS Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP) and Small Business Innovation Program (SBIR).
  3. First Class Cadet Tarran Johnson: Currently majoring in mechanical engineering at the Coast Guard Academy, Johnson received the BEYA Modern Day Technology Leader Award. 
  4. First Class Cadet Vivine Ishimwe: Winner of the Student Leadership Award, currently majoring in cyber systems at the Coast Guard Academy, and is the first female international cadet from the Republic of Rwanda to attend the Academy. 
  5. First Class Cadet Khalfani Hargrow: Winner of the Student Leadership Award, majoring in electrical engineering at the Coast Guard Academy and currently serves as the Regimental Chief of Staff, the third highest-ranking cadet at the Academy. 

Since 1986, BEYA has celebrated the STEM achievements of underrepresented professionals in the private, non-profit, and public sectors. Each year, BEYA selects winners from a talented pool of promising nominees including students, new hires, mid-career professionals, military personnel, C-suite executives, and educators. One of BEYA’s key objectives is to increase the numbers of Americans pursuing STEM-based educational and career paths by creating connections between students, educators, and STEM professionals.  

Capt. Eric Jones was awarded the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Stars & Stripes Award at the 2022 (BEYA) Global Competitiveness Conference in Washington, D.C. He is currently serving as the product line manager, Surface Forces Logistics Center Long Range Enforcer.“Our nation’s technological advantage requires a pipeline of talented STEM professionals from diverse backgrounds. It’s these diverse perspectives that help us solve our nation’s toughest challenges,” said Jones. 

According to Capt. Paul Stukus, commander, Coast Guard Surface Forces Logistics Center, Jones knows a thing or two about solving our nation’s toughest challenges. 

Stukus said he nominated Jones for the BEYA Stars & Stripes Award because just 10 days after reporting for duty, Jones undertook a herculean repair effort on the Coast Guard Cutter Healy— one of only two arctic-capable U.S. icebreakers— after a fire destroyed the cutter’s starboard propulsion motor while underway. Jones returned the cutter to operations in time for its scheduled circumnavigation of North America. Then, in September 2020, Jones once again expertly directed extensive repairs to another cutter— the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche— after it suffered a catastrophic engine room fire in the Western Pacific.  

Jones is a graduate of South Carolina State and credits his parents for inspiring him to deliver solutions, he said.  

“My parents attended South Carolina State, an HBCU (historically black college and university), and they encouraged me to pursue anything in STEM because they believed with STEM you could easily find a good job after graduation,” Jones said. 

Jones is an alumnus of the Minority Officer Recruitment Effort, the precursor to the Coast Guard College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI). CSPI is a scholarship program, open to students of all races and ethnicities, which pays up to two academic years of college tuition at Minority Serving Institutions for motivated students who want to serve their country within the U.S. Coast Guard. Jones also holds master of science degrees from George Washington University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said he credits the support of his family and talented team for his achievements in STEM.      

Minh-Thu Phan was awarded the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award at the 2022 (BEYA) Global Competitiveness Conference in Washington, D.C. She is currently serving as program manager for the Department of Homeland Security/Coast Guard Science and Technology Innovation Center.Minh-Thu Phan 

According to Wendy Chaves, chief of the Coast Guard Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) and Innovation Program, it was Phan’s winning spirit and dogged pursuit of innovation that led her to nominate Phan for BEYA’s Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award. Phan works across organizational boundaries to rapidly identify and test technologies that may enhance operators’ mission performance. Phan has driven the path of development for a handheld language translation device that will enable Coast Guard operators to communicate with stakeholders far from any connection to the Internet. Phan is also working on mobile tracking devices to mark contraband in maritime environments and the development and fielding of protective gear to keep working dogs deploying from helicopters safe. 

“No matter your position within the Coast Guard, every role offers so many opportunities for you to impact the success of our operations, save lives, protect our workforce, and impact change,” said Phan.  

This belief motivates her to “deliver the best customer service feasible, support product development, and continuously improve my own skills and knowledge,” she said.   

Phan is a graduate of Virginia Tech and is currently pursuing a master in business administration in security technology transition (MBA-STT) through the George Washington University. Phan is a member of the inaugural MBA-STT cohort selected by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate in 2020.    

First Class Cadet Tarran Johnson  First Class Cadet Tarran Johnson was awarded the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Modern Day Technology Leader Award at the 2022 (BEYA) Global Competitiveness Conference in Washington, D.C. Johnson is currently majoring in mechanical engineering at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Winner of the Modern Day Technology Leader Award, Johnson also believes in each member of the Coast Guard’s power to impact the success of operations and drive change. As the chair of the Academy’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter, Johnson is developing a mentoring program through the NSBE to mentor junior cadets with the goal of retaining them in engineering. 

Johnson is a mechanical engineering major at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (CGA) and is a member of a capstone project team developing a prototype three-dimensional reaction wheel for a CubeSat, a type of miniaturized research satellite. Reaction wheels are used to stabilize and orient satellites in orbit and are key for imaging, remote sensing, and communications. 

Johnson’s work could positively contribute to maritime security, ice operations, and search and rescue functions, according to Johnson’s supervisor, Lt. Andrew Ray, Charlie Company Officer at the academy.  

First Class Cadet Vivine Ishimwe was awarded the Student Leadership Award at the 2022 (BEYA) Global Competitiveness Conference in Washington, D.C. Ishimwe is currently majoring in cyber systems at the Coast Guard Academy. First Class Cadet Vivine Ishimwe  

Proving naysayers wrong fuels her excellence in STEM, Ishimwe, winner of the Student Leadership Award, said.  

“My interest in STEM started when I was 10. I told my teacher that I wanted to be a doctor and in front of the class he said women are not a good fit for science and are not smart enough to treat patients. I knew he was wrong. I started taking science classes; I joined different science clubs; participated in various science projects. Most of the time, I was the only girl. It was challenging, but I’ve enjoyed every second of my journey,” she said.  

Her performance militarily and academically has led to other Rwandan cadets being accepted at the CGA. “In the future, I want to pursue a STEM career as a software engineer,” Ishimwe said. “My ultimate goal is to continue learning, researching, and finding different ways to be more innovative.” 
 
Being an international student, Ishimwe has overcome significant challenges, such as becoming proficient enough in speaking and writing English to succeed at a U.S. based institution of higher learning and become one of the first graduates of the Academy’s new cyber systems major. 

Cyber systems majors focus on developing and applying technologies to enable Coast Guard missions; defend cyber systems, protect critical infrastructure, develop software, and secure computer networks. Ishimwe’s capstone project concerns building an image recognition software application that identifies military insignias on buildings and vehicles.   

First Class Cadet Khalfani Hargrow First Class Cadet Khalfani Hargrow was awarded the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Student Leadership Award at the 2022 (BEYA) Global Competitiveness Conference in Washington, D.C. Hargrow is currently majoring in electrical engineering at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Self-awareness drove Hargrow, also a Student Leadership Award winner, to change majors from government to electrical engineering, he said. Hargrow also currently serves as the Regimental Chief of Staff, the third highest-ranking cadet at the Academy. His academic performance has earned him a spot on the Dean’s List since the 2018 fall semester and membership in the Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society since the 2019 fall semester.   

“I applied to the Coast Guard Academy as a government major, but began to notice my passion was in physics, math, and computer coding. I sensed I needed to get into an engineering major. I switched to taking calculus 2, introduction to computing, and engineering mechanics— all courses not traditionally taken by government majors. This furthered my interest in math and engineering and ultimately led me to switch to electrical engineering at the end of my 4/c (similar to freshman) year. I love the challenge and process of solving difficult problems presented in my engineering courses and gaining a better understanding of some of the driving principles of how our world works,” Hargrow said.  

His capstone project involves machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence based on the idea that computer systems can learn from data, identify patterns, and make decisions similar to how humans do; with minimal human interaction.  

Ishimwe’s and Hargrow’s supervisor, Lt. Akaninyene Inyang, Golf Company Officer, CGA, said that in addition to their excellence in STEM, he nominated the cadets for BEYA awards because of their courage and selfless service. Ishimwe overcame barriers in a male dominated culture, emerging as the first Rwandan female to study at CGA, and Hargrow unfailingly serves as an academic mentor and the Regimental Chief of Staff, Inyang said.  

The group of cadets, who are set to graduate later this year, are poised to shape the future of engineering, science, and technology. While at the Academy they don’t have to look far for inspiration. Andre Douglas, a 2008 Academy graduate who was selected last year for the NASA Astronaut Candidate program, received the Black Engineer of the Year award in 2015.   

The Coast Guard supports employee recognition awards. One subset of current employee recognition awards the Coast Guard endorses are Office of Diversity and Inclusion-coordinated awards like BEYA. Employee-recognition awards, in general, have been correlated with increased innovation, improved human performance, and cultures of product and service excellence according to the Society for Human Resource Management. For more information about diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility awards, please email the Coast Guard’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

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