DAHLGREN, Va. –
What makes a good leader? John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Exemplary leadership does not always receive recognition, but for five scientists and engineers across Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), their work set them apart and they were recently selected to receive the Modern-Day Technology Leader award at the 2022 Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) STEM Conference. Dr. Christopher “Chris” Brown, Myesha Dabney, Reginald “Reggie” Heggie, Tony Moss and Samuel Semakula are each recognized with this award.
Dr. Christopher “Chris” Brown was a critical contributor to the U.S. Navy’s success in Directed Energy (DE) technological advancements; “Dr. Brown not only supported larger rapid acquisition programs, but was instrumental in establishing critical partnerships within the DE community to include other governmental agencies and academia,” according to the award citation.
Following an interest in robotics during high school, Brown started on the path to become a mechanical engineer in college at Florida A&M University before being introduced to what he calls, “the wonderful world of lasers” by his professor, Dr. Lewis Johnson. Upon completing his masters in optics and a doctorate in physics at the University of Central Florida, Brown dove into the laser community headfirst. As the chief scientist and lead architect for NSWCDD’s High-Energy Laser Counter-Anti Ship Cruise Missile Project, Brown stays busy. “I joke that I do things ‘in my spare time,’ but I always make time if my people want to come in and talk,” said Brown.
The open level of communication between Brown and the scientists and engineers in DE is intentional. “To me, listening to your people is the most important aspect of being a leader. I always try to ask questions and get a feel for where their interests lie, so I can understand and identify their strengths. I try to give them problems that will help them grow and develop into successful subject matter experts,” he explained. “It’s not always giving the answers, but listening to their solutions or guiding them to the solution. By doing that, it may not be finished the way I would have done it, but in such a way that the person knows how to work the problem, understand it and explain it to others. It’s a lot of trust.”
Brown sees the external recognition as a BEYA awardee as a team effort. “It’s hard to succeed as a singular person. I don’t do it for the recognition. I just want to do something that makes a difference. If I can help chart the course for the implementation of laser technologies into the Navy, then I believe I will accomplish what I always dreamed of doing.”
Myesha Dabney, a NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity (DNA) employee, made waves as a modern-day technology leader through her work “characterizing software safety risk and identifying mitigation strategies to reduce risk introduced by software,” according to the award citation, and her work as the principal for safety for four weapon system programs, the vice-chair of the Naval Ordnance Safety and Security Activity’s Software Systems Safety Technical Review Panel and NSWCDD DNA’s Safety division’s software system safety technical leader. The Virginia Tech alum has a background in both mathematics and computer science. As the Systems Safety Engagement Branch software systems safety lead, Dabney helps oversee all 61 projects in the branch’s portfolio.
“There is more complex software embedded in our weapons systems than some years ago, when it was more hardware-centric,” explained Dabney. “We have to make sure our software is robust and functions by design to eliminate mishaps from occurring within the fleet. A lot of what we do doesn’t get a lot of external visibility, but we definitely impact the warfighters. To have this external recognition warms my heart.”
Reginald “Reggie” Heggie is the electrical engineer lead for the Battle Management System (BMS) at NSWCDD. Heggie started as an intern at NSWCDD after completing his bachelor’s degree at Tuskegee University. After finishing his master’s at Tuskegee, Heggie returned to the division, spending time in platform integration before moving to BMS. “The most important part of being a leader is developing the people you are leading. Because BMS is so big, one or two people can’t handle all the work. You have to develop the people you are leading, so they can, in turn, also lead,” said Heggie.
According to the BEYA citation, Heggie supported projects at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for the last two years – all while demonstrating “superb technical acumen and superior leadership” in leading the BMS Precision Guided Weapons electrical team and in serving as the lead electrical engineer for several BMS projects, showing “great promise” and shaping his field’s future for the better.
“To me, receiving this award means that what BMS is doing is important,” said Heggie. “Being able to push the boundaries of what is normally expected of a government agency and knowing that we’re actually making a difference and pushing the norms. We’re not only writing requirements, but the actual work of producing the hardware, maintaining and troubleshooting the hardware is recognized, too.”
Tony Moss has spent the majority of his vast career at NSWCDD, with the last 22 (and a half) years as a government employee. The award nomination exemplifies the stand-out achievements of the Richmond native, including his extensive, “unparalleled knowledge of combat system technical and process knowledge [and the] ability to work behind the scenes, bridge the gap across multiple disciplines and organizations and remain customer-focused to the success of the Navy.”
“As a leader, you have to know when to lead, when to follow and when to listen to good advice,” shared the Virginia State University alum. “You have to have the patience and goodwill to enact on it and see things through in a positive manner.”
Moss names the recognition as a major accomplishment in his professional career, saying, “It’s a joy that I can bring the award back to Dahlgren and our younger scientists. If I can make a difference, so can you.”
Moss says the push to make a difference stems from the people who use products created at the division – Navy men and women who need to make it home safe and sound.
According to the BEYA award citation, Samuel “Sam” Semakula’s “leadership, decisive action and proactive communication enabled [his team of eight engineers and scientists] to meet their original deadlines, despite added delays and challenges.” Semakula started at NSWCDD in 2017 after gaining experience in the aerospace field right after graduating from University of Colorado at Boulder.
“I’m the only engineer in my family, and I feel very proud to be in this position to support the incredibly brave men and women that have fought to give us the opportunity to live freely,” said the Colorado native. “If I can help them in any way, I’m going to do it.”
Semakula credits his manager, Andrew Johnson, for both his outlook on leadership and the opportunity to “be put in a position to shine.”
“Over-communication is key. It goes both ways; it’s not just me telling my team something, but also being able to hear the concerns and questions that your teammates have,” he explained.
NSWCDD’s five awardees will receive their awards at the 36th Annual BEYA STEM Conference, Feb. 17-19, in Washington, D.C.