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News Release, NAVAIR Public Affairs Office

HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– Nine NAVAIR civilians won 2020 Women of Color Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Awards for their community service, technical contributions, and exceptional achievements in their fields.

The Women of Color STEM Awards serve to recognize the exemplary women, racial and ethnic minority STEM employees, and their mentors or champions from NAVAIR, Commander, Fleet Readiness Center, the Department of Defense, other government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, for their achievements.

Below is a list of the winners and their accomplishments. The winners are scheduled to be recognized formally at an awards ceremony Oct. 8-10 in Detroit.

Priscilla Ford, Community Service in Government Award

Ford, a 33-year career electronics engineer based out of Fleet Readiness Center Southwest, is being recognized for her community outreach as president of the Mercury San Diego Youth Track & Field Team, which she also helped establish. Under her leadership, the team grew from 20 to 120 student athletes and has become the largest youth track team in San Diego County.

Inspired by the student athletes, Ford became a certified track and field official so she can officiate at track events and better mentor the athletes, many of whom come from low socio-economic backgrounds, are adopted or in foster care or have been exposed to trauma. 

Ford says she loves encouraging young people to strengthen their bodies and minds and make positive choices.  

“Never give up on your dreams,” she said, “because you, too, have the mental fortitude, critical thinking skills and discipline to be just as great, if not better, than anyone else in the field.”

Adrienne Somerville, President’s Award

Somerville’s 26-year career has been filled with many accomplishments. She currently works as Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers’ (FRC) Acquisition Group head, leading all the acquisition and business management processes for FRC industrial maintenance, repair and overhaul operations. 

In the face of nationally focused readiness challenges, Somerville explored innovative acquisition and contracting solutions and employed her negotiation skills to support mission-critical needs, save money and deliver high-quality products and services for the Navy. Her contractual, program, logistics and acquisition contributions enabled key reform efforts to address the repair turnaround times of aviation assets at the FRCs for the warfighters. 

“I always aspired to work in a career field, focused on people, that would enable me to advance by delivering results that would have significant lasting impacts, while collaborating with diverse groups of people, with a wide variety of experiences,” Somerville, based out of Patuxent River, said. “Career fields offered by the Navy afforded me that opportunity. Today, it is an honor to live out one of my career aspirations to serve the artisans and the fleet.”

She previously worked as the V-22 Program production contracting officer, where she acquired V-22 Osprey aircraft for the Marines and Air Force. From there, she worked on the staff of NAVAIR’s assistant commander for contracts and then served as NAVAIR’s community/talent management program manager, developing the “NAVAIR Career Guidebook” and the accompanying mobile application — the command’s first.

Somerville described it as “an epic moment in my career, due to its [the mobile application’s] ability to touch the lives of so many current and future workforce members.”  

For those aspiring to follow in her footsteps, Somerville advises being collaborative, not competitive.

“There are such attainable individual, managerial and organizational gains when we collectively work to address challenges with a winning team spirit,” she said.

Additionally, she suggests employees be willing to invest in a cause that benefits someone else or some other group, from which they have nothing to gain. “This is how you ascend in your career as a servant leader who leaves a legacy,” she said.

Trena Jackson, Outstanding Technical Contribution in Government Award

Jackson, an operations research analyst from the Air Systems Group (ASG), Logistics Department, Readiness Analysis Branch, in Patuxent River, has 25 years of experience applying her expertise and technical knowledge to solve difficult logistics issues affecting fleet readiness.

Specifically, Jackson developed and implemented the buffer management tool, which helps the fleet create an efficient and effective maintenance schedule by matching the correct repair parts and scheduling the right corresponding amounts of maintenance to incoming components. The tool is unique in its ability to conduct workload planning and has been adopted by all 53 Navy and Marine Corps intermediate-level maintenance/supply facilities.

Jackson compared her work to putting together a puzzle, something she likes to do in her spare time. 

“It brings me joy when I can develop a program or process that supports the fleet and answers the questions,” Jackson said. “Most of my projects come from a need with unknown requirements, and I have the ability to bring that need to life by asking the right questions and developing a program or process that can answer that need.”

Tanaya Bondon, Technology Rising Star Award

Bondon, the lead avionics systems engineer for the Marine Air-to-Ground Taskforce Unmanned Expeditionary Program within the Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Air Systems Program Office in Patuxent River, is being recognized for her ability to take technical concepts and develop them into potential solutions for the fleet.   

Bondon played a key technical and leadership role in the success of a -program office prize challenge competition — a first for NAVAIR — that provided critical requirements data in support of a Marine Corps rapid acquisition effort to obtain more unmanned aerial vehicles for the fleet. Bondon designed a scoring rubric that gave the judges a standardized, effective and efficient tool with which to judge the contestants and also helped evaluate the entries.

Her engineering acumen, ability to adapt to changing requirements and team dynamics, and positive attitude are all why she is considered a “Rising Star.”  

Michele Cofield-Clay, Grace Henderson, Margelyn Massey, Gloria Smith and Veronica Wesson, Technology All-Star Awards

Technology All-Stars are women with 15 or more years in the workforce who have demonstrated excellence in their workplace or communities.

Cofield-Clay, an electronics engineer based out of Patuxent River, used her engineering expertise to help install a new system in a short amount of time to the warfighter.

“Integration was the major challenge at the time, due to the differences between each platform,” she said. She helped identify the design commonality that allowed system integration across all platforms, working alongside all branches of the military.

“It was challenging and stressful, but I learned so much about working with other platforms and service branches,” she said.

Cofield-Clay didn’t always want to be an engineer; she originally wanted to be a fashion designer, until she realized the different career possibilities within STEM.

“The STEM field is so broad, and there is so much that you can do. I was motivated by all the possibilities that I could pursue. After that, I never looked back,” she said.

Henderson, an operations research analyst in Patuxent River, said she has always loved math.

“I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with numbers,” she said. “I had never heard of the cost analysis field before working at NAVAIR, but during a rotation assignment with the Cost Department, I discovered that I loved this work.”

Henderson also loves mentoring and training junior employees.

“There is a level of satisfaction that I feel in sharing my knowledge and experience with other analysts and seeing them blossom in their careers,” she said. She advises new employees to take advantage of every opportunity they can to broaden their knowledge base and gain a better understanding of the bigger picture and their role in it.

As a supervisor for more than 14 years, Massey also encourages new employees to learn, ask questions, take advantage of training and workshops, and join professional organizations and NAVAIR’s diversity advisory teams.

“Always be willing to learn and seek out opportunities to experience something new,” Massey said.

She took her own advice when she started her career as a logistics engineer. She most recently served as the assistant program manager for logistics for communications and mission systems within Air Combat Electronics, where she supervised eight employees.

“I had no knowledge of the field of logistics, but it turned out to be the best fit for someone with an industrial engineering degree,” she said. “I chose industrial engineering, because it deals with improving the working environment and quality of the work produced, which is mainly what logistics is all about.”

One of her proudest accomplishments included serving as the H-1 upgrade deputy assistant program manager for logistics, where she spearheaded the successful completion of the Integrated Logistics Assessment for the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). As a result, the program received Acquisition Logistics Support Certification to proceed to LRIP. She also managed a logistics budget of more than $6 million.

Smith, also from the ASG, Logistics Department, Readiness Analysis Branch, has worked as an operations research analyst for more than 18 years. She is recognized in part for her volunteer efforts in the community. Smith’s community outreach efforts include working with young mothers to provide financial education and assistance; conducting health, wellness and coaching/mentoring sessions; and tutoring and assisting with the college application process. “Do not give up,” Smith says.

That’s a lesson Wesson knows well, as her career path took her on a long journey to her current job as a program analyst.

“I ended up in my current field after doing a few things that never quite felt like a perfect fit,” Wesson said. “After learning in those positions and thinking of my areas of strength, I realized that I would like a career that allowed me to combine a little bit of them all.”

Wesson supports Strike Planning and Execution Systems on the Program Integration Cell and Air Wing Ship Integration teams. She has been with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division for seven years. In addition to her duties at the program office, Wesson serves as the national lead (East Coast) for NAVAIR’s African-American Pipelines Advisory Team.“The STEM field is so vast, you can always find your path,” Wesson said. “Don’t worry so much about what you want to do; learn about your strengths and interests. There are many ways to incorporate them both into your work, and that will help you enjoy and feel fulfilled by what you’re doing.”