Herndon Black Image Award Recognizes Justin McNeill

Dr. Wayne Goodman, left, presents the Herndon Award to Justin McNeill. (Photo: Elisa Haber)

Each year The Aerospace Corporation and the Aerospace Black Caucus (ABC) kick off African American History Month by awarding the Robert H. Herndon Black Image Award. This year that honor was given to Justin McNeill, a senior project leader in the Vaeros JPL and Robotics Programs Directorate.

Established in 1982 to recognize the contributions of former Aerospace engineer and manager Robert H. Herndon, the award is made to a recipient selected based on criteria that includes career and professional achievements, leadership and initiative, and company and community volunteer activities.

Dr. Wayne Goodman, senior vice president of the Operations and Support Group, presented the award and reflected on African American History Month and the qualities of an effective leader, including service to others.

“The theme of this year’s Herndon Award Ceremony is ‘Diversity, Excellence, and Service.’ This theme encourages action,” Goodman said. “It encourages each one of us to not only take responsibility for ourselves and our personal challenges, but to make a difference in the lives of others. Service is the cornerstone of African American History Month.”

Goodman spoke of the components of leadership, including the ability to embrace diversity, strive for excellence, and serve others. He also spoke of the ability of a leader to anticipate and respond to change.

“We are here today to celebrate our present, to remember our past, and to reinforce our commitment to a shared future,” Goodman continued. “All of us can be leaders. We all have the ability to improve our world for the better.”

McNeill’s partner, Jimmie Andrews, left, and McNeill, chat with Dr. Wanda Austin. (Photo: Elisa Haber)

McNeill’s partner, Jimmie Andrews, left, and McNeill, chat with Dr. Wanda Austin. (Photo: Elisa Haber)

McNeill joined Aerospace in 2003 as an engineering specialist in the Software Assurance and Applications Department, Computers and Software Division (CSD). Since then he has served as manager of the Engineering Applications Section (now Orbit Analysis and Space Environment Applications) of CSD, and as senior project engineer for the NASA Programs Division (now Vaeros’ NASA and Civil Space Division). He has completed numerous special studies for NASA customers and is currently leading projects in support of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and other NASA customers.

Prior to joining Aerospace, McNeill worked at both JPL and Northrop Grumman. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Delaware and a Master of Science degree from Stanford, both in electrical engineering.

Dr. David Bearden, general manager of the Vaeros NASA and Civil Space Division, and Debra Emmons, principal director of the Science and Technology Programs Directorate, nominated McNeill and that nomination was enthusiastically endorsed by Vaeros Vice President Ed Swallow. “Mr. McNeill is a highly innovative and motivated person,” Swallow said. “His approach to developing a healthy Aerospace presence where virtually none previously existed is being replicated at other NASA centers and his dedication to mentoring young engineers at Aerospace, as well as African-American youth in his community, is admirable.”

McNeill’s commitment to the community includes involvement in his church’s ministry to educate high school students, and the community overall, on issues such as racism and gay and lesbian inclusion. He also volunteers with and raises funds for the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, an organization that provides basic health services to communities affected by HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This award speaks directly to the value that both Aerospace and my African-American colleagues place on service and giving back to the community,” McNeill said. “It does take a village to shape an individual, and it takes the collective actions of the individuals in that village to shape the community. For those of us who have been given the privileges of opportunity and education, it is our charge to make a difference in our communities, each as we’re best suited.”

McNeill’s partner, Jimmie Andrews, was in attendance for the ceremony, as were many of his Aerospace colleagues and friends. Jessica Herndon, granddaughter of Robert and Mary Herndon, also attended and was thanked for the Herndon family’s commitment to diversity and the future of STEM.

The Herndon Award ceremony is the official kickoff of African-American History Month, recognized at Aerospace — and nationally — every February. There are a number of events planned at various Aerospace campuses, including:

  • Feb. 11: Keynote address — “Defying Tradition: An African American Woman in Science” presented by Dr. Margaret E.M. Tolbert, the first African American female to serve as a director with the U.S. Department of Energy’s New Brunswick Laboratory and the Division of Educational Programs at Argonne National Laboratory, among other noteworthy accomplishments (Chantilly with VTC to other locations)
  • Feb. 18: Art show (El Segundo)
  • Feb. 22: Movie screening of The Tuskegee Airmen (Chantilly)
  • Feb. 25: Annual Jazz Brunch (El Segundo, tickets required)
—Wendy O'Dea