NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — Two NAVAIR engineers were recognized for their leadership and technical achievements at the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers National Conference in Chicago Oct. 4.

Mini Anirudhan won an Employee Resource Group Leadership Award for her work with NAVAIR’s Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Diversity Advisory Team and Women’s Advisory Group, as well as her leadership support for Strike Planning and Execution Systems (PMA-281). Dr. Chin-Jye (Michael) Yu won the Technical/Research/Business Achievement Award for his leadership and expertise developing solutions for the CH-53E Super Stallion, MH-53E Sea Dragon and CH-53K King Stallion helicopters.

Anirudhan, a deputy assistant program manager for systems engineering in the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), has served as the AAPI team’s NAWCAD administrator since 2014. She has planned several successful local and national multicultural events, panel discussions, speed mentoring and networking events for the team.

Previously, as the Women’s Advisory Group science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) core team lead, she established a leadership book club, brown bag lunch events and STEM volunteering at local schools.

Despite her busy schedule leading a team of engineers to develop and deliver new common control systems for PMA-281, Anirudhan continues to mentor the younger generation to teach them to cope with stress, build their self-esteem and take on challenges.

“Curiosity to know things got me interested in science in my very early ages,” Anirudhan explained. She mentors middle school girls through an initiative she co-founded, called STEM-ING, recruiting 70 students to participate in their first STEM events within a two-month period.

From left: Thomas Dowd, director, Range Department, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division; Brig. Gen. Gregory Masiello, Program Executive Officer for Air Anti-Submarine Warfare, Assault & Special Mission Programs, PEO(A); and Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE) award winners Mini Anirudhan, deputy assistant program manager for systems engineering, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, and Dr. Michael Yu, PMA-261 advanced technology manager, at the SASE national conference in Chicago Oct. 4. (Photo courtesy of SASE)

“Her special qualities and fun nature make her a natural when it comes to quickly connecting with people and being effective to raise their enthusiasm and passion to succeed,” wrote Neil Garner in the award nomination.

Growing up in a small village in India, Anirudhan said she was fascinated by science by reading news articles about NASA’s space technology and always dreamed about becoming an engineer.

Anirudhan migrated to the U.S. with her parents after high school, determined to pursue her dream. She overcame cultural, language and financial barriers to graduate with a chemical engineering degree from Rutgers University in 2000. She then launched her professional career in the semiconductor industry and joined NAWCAD in 2009.

“Winning an award is definitely an added motivation, especially when the nomination is coming from the chief engineer,” Anirudhan said. “It sets the bar even higher to contribute more for my team and to the command. My obsession for my work and my people drives me to work every day, and while I am around, I try to make the day the best for others, too.”

Like Anirudhan, Yu had been interested in science and engineering since he was a child. He grew up in Taiwan, later immigrated to the U.S. and earned his doctoral degree in engineering science and mechanics from Penn State University in 1991. He has been involved with several technology projects sponsored by the Navy since then.

He currently works as the advanced technology manager for PMA-261, overseeing the technology portfolio for the H-53 heavy lift helicopters. For Yu, the work is exciting. “Here at NAVAIR, I am able to continue to expand my knowledge toward new technologies and work on actual products that are not only essential to our national security, but also the backbone of our industrial base,” Yu said. “I learn something new at work every day. I think this is probably the coolest job in my career.”

One of Yu’s contributions is helping to develop the capability for pilots to land helicopters safely during degraded visual environments, thereby reducing the number of mishaps and casualties. He has helped develop a multi-phased approach to tackle the issue, interfacing with stakeholders from the Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) and technology sponsors from the Office of Naval Research.

“The loss of visual-ground references was ranked a top safety risk by the Marines,” Yu explained. “Through numerous discussions with our pilots, I felt the urgency of this need and have received overwhelming support from both HQMC and NAVAIR’s leadership. This was a defining moment of my work here, as I feel that I am part of and contributing to this community in a significant way.”

Deb Cleavenger, PMA-261 assistant program manager for systems engineering, who nominated Yu for the award, praised his work on the project, saying, “Yu’s leadership and expert contributions to this effort have the potential to save the lives of countless Marines.”

Like Anirudhan, Yu said he plans to continue to mentor the next generation of scientists and engineers “from diverse backgrounds.” As the AAPI STEM Education Outreach Team lead, a role he has held since 2016, he volunteers at various STEM outreach events in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

“I believe diversity is the culture that enriches and unites us and makes our community strong,” he added.

SASE is dedicated to advancing Asian heritage scientists and engineers in education and employment so they can achieve their full career potential. The annual national conference and STEM career fair is the largest conference and career fair for Asian-Americans in the U.S. and includes professional and leadership development workshops and networking opportunities.