ERDC announces 2023 Women of Color STEM Award winners

Published 3:05 pm Friday, July 7, 2023

Five U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) employees were recently named 2023 Women of Color STEM award winners for their exceptional accomplishments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at a national level.

The awardees are Pat Sullivan, the deputy director of ERDC; Elizabeth Gao, a materials engineer at the ERDC’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL); Brandy Diggs-McGee, a mechanical engineer from ERDC-CERL; Jessica Frierson, the ERDC training and program manager and Dr. Catherine Thomas, a research biologist from ERDC’s Environmental Laboratory (EL).

“These professionals are a testament to the Power of ERDC,” said ERDC Director Dr. David Pittman. “They represent the organization in such a positive way.”

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Sullivan was honored with the Career Achievement in Government Award for her outstanding contributions to an organization. The award acknowledges women who have worked for more than 15 years and displayed exceptional leadership qualities, including sensitivity in managing others and strategic insight. The recipient of this award is recognized as a role model for female leaders in the workforce.

As ERDC deputy director, Sullivan serves as the chief operating officer for one of the most diverse research organizations in the world, overseeing seven laboratories located in four states and more than 2,500 employees, $1.2 billion in facilities and an annual research program exceeding $1.8 billion. Throughout her almost 39-year career with the organization, she has worked as a civil engineer in the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) and held roles as an assistant technical director for the ERDC Military Engineer Research and Development Division, a strategic assistant to the ERDC GSL lab director, the ERDC executive staff officer and the ERDC associate director. Sullivan holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Tulane University and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Mississippi State University. She has also completed some postgraduate studies in geotechnical engineering at Louisiana State University.

Gao, Diggs-McGee, Frierson and Thomas were all awarded Technology Rising Star Awards. The award is given to women with less than 15 years of experience in the workforce who actively contribute to shaping the future of technology.

A materials engineer at ERDC-CERL, located in Champaign, Illinois, Gao currently serves as acting branch chief for the laboratory’s Warfighter Branch. She is responsible for leading multidisciplinary research teams in support of the full research and development (R&D) lifecycle from basic research through Army implementation and subsequent assistance to ensure effective adoption and utilization of products arising from R&D investments. Gao has authored or co-authored approximately 15 journal articles and ERDC technical reports. She holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering and a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Diggs-McGee works as a mechanical engineer in the Warfighter Engineering Branch of ERDC-CERL. Her contributions to the defense department, construction industry and research community have significantly advanced the field of additive construction towards a more efficient process for energy and operations. Diggs-McGee earned her master’s degree in civil engineering and bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Frierson currently serves as the ERDC training & development program manager. She began her federal career with the ERDC in the Information Technology Laboratory, where she held several roles such as branch and division administrative assistant, program specialist, training coordinator and staff management specialist. She received her bachelor’s degree in pre-law with a minor in finance management from Alcorn State University and her master’s degree in human resource management-organizational and leadership development from Louisiana State University. She also holds an organizational behavior certification from Harvard University.

Thomas, a research biologist in the ERDC-EL, is an expert in plant interactions. She is focused on studying the physiological responses of riparian and aquatic plants to environmental changes. Her work includes conducting vegetation surveys, analyzing plant communities and designing natural planting schemes to stabilize contaminants and prevent erosion at Army installations. In addition to her research, Thomas is an adjunct instructor at Lamar University, where she teaches an advanced ecology course in the Civil Engineering Department that integrates her experience with Engineering with Nature projects. She also has expertise in evaluating nutrient uptake pathways and adaptive plasticity of submerged and emergent vegetation.

In October, the Women of Color STEM Digital Conference will welcome the five ERDC honorees, alongside numerous other professionals in their field.