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Celebrating Black History Month

In celebration of Black History Month, we're spotlighting several outstanding employees who perform excellent work for our company. Their work is inspiring and compelling. These are their stories.

Excelling Apprentice

Ashley Wilber is forging the next generation of Norfolk Ship Repair welders
Forging the Next Generation of Norfolk Ship Repair Welders
Ashley Wilber

Ashley Wilber wanted to reinvent herself.

For years, she had worked a series of low-paying menial jobs. Her latest was driving for an armored car company, collecting money from cash-deposit boxes at ATMs. It was dull, uninspiring work and the pay was lousy.

However, a day spent hanging out with her cousin convinced Wilber to make a change. She noticed her cousin was able to afford nice things, and displayed the professional confidence of someone secure in his career.

“I asked him what he was doing with his life and he told me about his job at the Norfolk shipyard,” said Wilber, 29. “He had completed the BAE Systems apprenticeship program and recommended I check it out. Even though I’m from Norfolk, I had never been in the shipyard. I knew it was there, but that was all I knew.”

Wilber looked into the Norfolk Ship Repair Apprentice Program and decided to take a chance. She applied, was accepted, and graduated in 2010 at the top of her class. In four short years, she has risen from apprentice welder to welding instructor.

Q&A with Ashley Wilber

Describe your job as a welding instructor.

Basically, I’m in charge of the welding school here. I’m responsible for the welding instruction and certification of BAE Systems employees, apprentices, and subcontractors. My workday starts at 6:30 a.m. and I open the school at 7:15 a.m. I finish my day around 5 p.m.

How many students do you teach?

I currently have 18 apprentices, with six graduating this spring.

What are the biggest challenges about your job?

Finding the best way to teach each person. Everyone learns differently, so you have to figure out how to connect most effectively. I find that hands-on instruction works best, so I often put on my gloves and weld shield and demonstrate how to perform a particular weld.

What part of the curriculum is the most challenging for students?

I would have to say aluminum welding. Aluminum has a low melting point and is much lighter and less dense than steel. The rate of heat transfer is greater than steel, so you must have patience because it requires a lot of practice.

What was it like when you went through the apprentice program?

It took some adjusting. I had never been in a shipyard before. I had never worked in the elements – the rain, cold, and heat. Even when I drove an armored car, I was still enclosed in a vehicle. But I’m glad I stuck it out. I love my career and have the opportunity to advance and go far. Also, I can relate to what my students are going through. I know what it’s like to juggle school, work, life, and family.

What are you career goals with BAE Systems?

I want to continue to grow and be an asset to the company. I eventually would like to get into project management.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

I’m taking what I learned from my instructor and on-the-job experiences and teaching up-and-coming apprentices how to be successful in this demanding industry.

What are your hobbies?

Spending time with my family. I also love to play basketball and shoot hoops in pick-up games at a local gym. My favorite player is Kevin Durant and my favorite team is the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

African-American Executives Share Leadership Perspectives
Leadership Series: African American Leadership – Drawing Strength from Hard-Won Progress
Al Crews, vice president and chief counsel, and Jesse Ingram, president of African Americans Committed to Excellence (AACE) group discuss mentorship between African Americans in the workplace

As a BAE Systems executive, Al Crews devotes his workdays to the normal challenges and requirements of his rank. However, as an African-American executive, Crews also feels an additional sense of duty and pride – living up to the struggles and sacrifices made by those in the Civil Rights Movement.

As African-American leaders, we stand on the shoulders of giants. I take that to heart and know that the next generation of African-American leaders will stand on our shoulders. That’s why it’s so important for us to go all out and keep striving for excellence.

Al Crews, vice president and chief counsel, Intelligence & Security, and acting vice president and chief counsel, Support Solutions

To celebrate Black History Month, BAE Systems’ Multicultural Network and the African Americans Committed to Excellence (AACE) employee resource group held a special Leadership Series Forum.

Titled “African American Leadership – Drawing Strength from Hard-Won Progress,” the panel discussion was a webcast showcasing a trio of accomplished leaders within the company:

•    Al Crews, vice president and chief counsel, Intelligence & Security, and acting vice president and chief counsel, Support Solutions

•    Lorraine Winslow, director of Finance, Enterprise Shared Services

•    Ron Davis, director of Cybersecurity Program Integration for Inc.

The webcast, which lasted an hour, was moderated by Jesse Ingram, AACE president and a senior systems engineer for Maritime & Defense Solutions. Questions covered topics such as mentorship, whether African-American executives should “sponsor” African-American employees with leadership potential, dealing with stereotypes of African-Americans, and why Black History Month is still relevant in today’s “postracial” society. 

“I see education as the biggest key to advancement,” said Winslow. “For example, I have an undergraduate degree in political science yet I’ve spent my whole career in finance. I never took an accounting class in college, so I knew I would need a postgraduate degree that covered finance. You always have to be willing to learn and expand your skill set.”

“I’ve watched people like President Obama and Colin Powell and reflected on the immense challenges they’ve faced, and the focus and concentration they’ve had to exert,” said Davis. “No matter what you do in life, perseverance is crucial, whether you’re in school or completing a long, difficult project. You have to be willing to put in the work.”

Shaping the Future of STEM

Engineers Honored at BEYA Conference
BEYA 2014
Gerard Thomas, left, and Emmanuel Pean at the 2014 Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) conference.

Congratulations to Emmanuel Pean and Gerard Thomas for winning Modern Day Technology Awards at the 2014 Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) conference held in Washington, D.C!

Pean won in the Community Service Category and Thomas won in the Most Promising Engineer Category. The purpose of the awards is to “recognize men and women who are demonstrating outstanding performance and who will shape the future course” of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Pean, 34, and Thomas, 31, are both engineers for the C5ISR, Electronics, and Infrastructure (CEIS) group in Charleston, S.C. Pean’s contracts include the Army’s The embedded asset does not exist:
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program, the Marine Corps Electronic Security Systems (MCESS) program, and the Automatic Fuel Handling Equipment program. Thomas works primarily for AIE.

Q&A with Emmanuel Pean and Gerard Thomas

How did you find out you won your BEYA awards?

Pean: I received a letter at work in December.

Thomas: I was at my son’s basketball game when I received an email letting me know I was nominated. The next week, I received the award letter at work.

What was it like attending the BEYA conference?

Pean: It was a great opportunity to participate in multiple workshops and seminars. I gained extremely valuable knowledge and skills to practice in my workplace.

Thomas: It was very inspiring. Seeing the positive impact our projects have had on military families, and having that message conveyed by the highest-ranking officials of our nation was moving. Also, networking with like-minded individuals who are continuously succeeding and excelling academically and professionally inspired me to get on my “A” game.

How does winning your BEYA award inspire you for the future?

Pean: It further motivates me to give back to the community by mentoring young students in STEM. I’m involved in FIRSTLEGO League, a robotics program for children 9 to 16 years old, which is designed to get them excited about science and technology.

Thomas: I’m even more excited about my 10-year career plan. I want to earn my first doctorate in systems engineering, embark on a second career as an engineering professor, and help inspire the next generation of engineers.

How did you get into engineering?

Pean: By breaking my parents’ electronic items and trying to fix them. Sometimes I was successful and other times not. One time, I took apart the family VCR to see how the tapes were played. That did not end well for the VCR.

Thomas: Growing up, I actually wanted to be a pediatric surgeon. When I was in the 10 grade, I applied to a magnet school with an academy of health professions. There were no open spots, so applied to the school’s engineering academy and was accepted. Within a week, I fell in love with engineering and knew I wanted to make it a career.

What are your hobbies?

Pean: Running, watching basketball, and volunteering with FIRSTLEGO League.

Thomas: Robotics, music production, recording engineering, and sound engineering.