November 8, 2021
Five staff members from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, were honored last month with Women of Color STEM Awards. The annual awards honor promising innovators and inventors who are making a difference in their disciplines as well as demonstrating a commitment to mentoring and encouraging women in STEM fields.
Suman Woolums, a human systems engineer and supervisor, received a special recognition. In 2019, through an APL innovation challenge, Woolums led an all-female team that developed a helmet-mounted, relatively inexpensive, lightweight augmented reality display designed to support field operations. She then helped transform the challenge into the Laboratory-wide BLAST (Building Leaders Accelerating Science and Technology) program for early-career staff that is now in its second year.
Four other APL women — Latise Baker, Cara Hall, Karmethia Thompson and Shahnaz Ukani — received Technology Rising Star awards.
A hardware designer, Baker is a supervisor and project manager whose work focuses on the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. Her recent technical contributions include Crosswinds and Galileo, the most advanced miniature transceivers ever built and delivered by APL. Leveraging talent from across the Laboratory, she worked on and led teams that incorporated a flexible transmitter, a receiver and a groundbreaking, APL-designed oscillator into an ultra-miniature form factor. Baker also serves as a mentor to more junior staff members and has embraced the role of encouraging women engineers to pursue leadership and management positions.
Hall, a combat systems engineer, is a supervisor, project manager and key contributor to the Navy’s Surface Ship Advanced Capability Build program. Hall’s data analyses have influenced the development of technologies that span the spectrum of detection, classification and localization of quiet adversary submarines — and will ultimately be delivered to more than 55 Navy surface ships, greatly strengthening the nation’s warfighting capability. In addition to her technical achievements, Hall has served as an executive board member of APL’s African American Culture Club (AACC) and is a member-at-large for the APL Caucus of the Johns Hopkins University Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA). She also advocates for underrepresented students through APL’s College Prep Program, which supports students who have the desire and academic potential to excel in college but lack the resources.
Thompson is a senior computational scientist with significant expertise in algorithm development, modeling and simulation, and software engineering. As software lead for a real-time electronic warfare capability, Thompson and her team applied advanced algorithms to different computer architectures, each selected for their ability to perform the multitude of required calculations with differing characteristics most efficiently. This effort represents one of the first real-time implementations of a deep learning convolutional neural network in an operational system. In addition to her technical accomplishments, she has made a significant impact as a mentor, leader and role model. Since 2019, she has served as the president of the APL AACC.
Ukani is an analyst who works on emerging technologies, biosecurity, artificial intelligence, and modeling and simulation. With a background in biophysics, neuroimaging, data analysis, and languages and history of the Muslim world, Ukani’s recent technical contributions include helping develop a suitability framework for the acquisition and utilization of artificial intelligence/machine learning products, with a focus on technical, policy, legal and ethical criteria. She is also an advocate for LGBTQ+ people of color at APL and has helped shape the Laboratory’s diversity and inclusion culture. Through her affiliation with APL’s Allies in the Workplace affinity group, she has led training sessions on ways to support transgender and nonbinary colleagues; she has also served as a subject-matter expert and quality reviewer on multiple climate survey development teams, and advocated for the needs of early-career and LGBTQ+ staff as a member of the APL Benefits Committee.
All five women were honored at the Women of Color STEM Conference, which was held virtually Oct. 7-9.
Media contact: Amanda Zrebiec, 240-592-2794, Amanda.Zrebiec@jhuapl.edu
The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.