NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– Maria Thorpe, acting executive director of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s Systems Acquisition Group, recently received the Department of the Navy (DoN) Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Minority Institutions (HBCU/MI) Program Administering Officer of the Year Award for 2022.

Anthony Smith, director of the DoN HBCU/MI program, and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Commander Vice Adm. Carl Chebi presented the award to Thorpe at Naval Air Station Patuxent River on Sept. 20.

The DoN’s HBCU/MI program is designed to increase the participation of HBCU/MIs in the Navy’s Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) programs and activities. As part of its mission, the program strengthens the capabilities of these institutions to conduct basic and applied research and increases the quality and quantity of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs with a focus on minority researchers and graduates.

Smith read from the proclamation, “Maria’s unwavering dedication has uniquely positioned the DoN to be greater enablers of the STEM talent pipeline produced at the nation’s HBCU/MIs. In 2016, Maria stood up NAVAIR’s HBCU/MI Internship Program with funding from the DoN and continued to provide game-changing RDT&E opportunities and experiences to populations traditionally underrepresented in the DoD STEM workforce.”

“Her pioneering efforts have established her as a visionary and a thoughtful leader throughout the DoN, Department of Defense (DoD), and academia. Maria frequently serves on technical review panels for DoN funding opportunity announcements designed to enhance the RDT&E research capabilities of HBCU/MIs. As Maria excels in her career, she continues to identify new opportunities that shape the future force. Amid the national COVID pandemic, Maria successfully transitioned her on-site, in-person internship program to a hybrid environment, ultimately developing a pilot for other Navy system commands to model. Maria has proven herself as an advocate for advancing diversity of thought to solve wickedly complex challenges facing the warfighter.”

“I want to thank you all for allowing me the opportunity to support the Navy, the command, and our community as we look for talent that’s required for our need to be the best,” Thorpe said. “As a part of this program, it has allowed me to engage in some of the most unbelievable technology, and bringing those students into our organization has allowed us to grow quickly. When we bring these students in, we’re not sitting them in a corner — we’re engaging them. They’re helping us solve big problems. And I’m just grateful to be a part of the opportunity to support our organization in that way.”

Chebi reiterated recruitment and retention are key to NAVAIR’s success.

“We must open up our aperture and employ the full workforce to be successful. The foundation of our success is our people,” Chebi said. “We at NAVAIR are looking for new talent. When you bring people from different backgrounds and experiences into your team, and they look at things differently than you do, that’s when we get better.”


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