The Black Engineer of the Year Conference has selected Emmanuel A. Cephas Jr., a Frostburg State University senior, for its Student Leadership Award, an honor given to only one undergraduate student a year nationally who has demonstrated leadership in engineering through personal accomplishments and developments and has promoted science, technology and Black self-reliance.
Cephas, a physics and computer science major, is also a member of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, named for the late Challenger astronaut, which is designed to assist first-generation, low-income college students in pursuing doctoral degrees. With the McNair program, Cephas spent last summer researching gravity theory at the point where Albert Einstein left off with theoretical physicist Dr. James Gates at the University of Maryland.
A Baltimore native, Cephas has also served internships for three consecutive summers with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, two summers the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and last summer working on the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
Cephas says he finds the thought of winning this national award "exciting, overwhelming, but I've been so busy I can't really get my mind around it." He has been to the black-tie gala awards ceremony in the past as a conference participant, and he said he found it dazzling and "inspiring."
Cephas was no fan of math and knew little of physics before about 11th grade. It was an astronomy class at Lansdowne High School in Baltimore that gave his interest in the stuff of science fiction some grounding in reality. "I learned how vast the universe is," he says.
He was interested in someday working for NASA to learn more about that universe. He found out that he would need physics for that, and, to do physics, he would need math, so he challenged himself to bring his C in math up to an A. "Whether or not I liked math wasn't the point. The problem needed a solution. Math was a necessary tool," he says.
Now Cephas is a mathematics minor at FSU and a member of Kappa Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honor society.
He also has a minor in graphic arts. "I wanted to keep art with me. I didn't want to lose that skill." He sees a connection between science and art, sparked by the reading of an H.G. Wells story back in high school that explored ideas that Einstein wouldn't tackle until decades later.
"I told myself I have to do something in art and have to do something in science. Somehow I'm going to have a piece of one and a piece of the other in my life." He also dances and writes poetry and stories.
He tries to share his enthusiasm with others, serving as a tutor and mentor at FSU and speaking to students at his old high school. "I like the idea of showing someone else that a dream is attainable. The students see me: I'm closer to their age, I look like them. We have had similar challenges and struggles."
The Feb. 21 ceremony in Baltimore will recognize and honor the exceptional achievements of distinguished women and men who have excelled in the fields of engineering, science and technology. The Black Engineer of the Year Awards are sponsored by the Council of Engineering Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Lockheed Martin Corp., DaimlerChrysler Corp. and U.S. Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine.
For more information about FSU, visit the Web site at www.frostburg.edu. For more information about the Black Engineer of the Year Conference, visit blackengingeeroftheyear.org.