Highest Number of NAVAIR Employees Ever Recognized in The Women of Color STEM Awards

October 22, 2023

Thirteen employees from across Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) were recognized at the annual Women of Color (WOC) STEM Conference awards ceremony Saturday, Oct. 14.

Thirteen employees from across Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) – the highest number of employees ever awarded – were recognized at the annual Women of Color (WOC) STEM Conference awards ceremony Saturday, Oct. 14.

The awards recognize outstanding women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Women of color have been trailblazers in STEM for a very long time,” said Michele J. Estep, a contract specialist at NAVAIR. “They had to overcome gender and racial stereotypes to even be allowed to participate amongst their peers. It’s only recent history in which they have been recognized for their valuable contributions. I count it an honor to be nominated by my management team and am truly excited that I was selected as a winner in the Top Women in Finance category.”

NAVAIR’s 2023 WOC STEM Awards recipients are as follows:


The 2023 Top Women in Finance Award winners are leaders in their field while promoting diversity and serving as role models.

  • Michele J. Estep, contract specialist, NAVAIR
  • Patricia Johnson, PMA-281 foreign military sales business financial manager, NAVAIR
  • Kari Pierce, financial management analyst, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD)


Technology All-Stars are accomplished mid-level to advanced careers – 22 years or more in the workforce – that have demonstrated excellence in the workplace and in their communities.

  • Shari Carroll, level II integrated product team leadNAWCAD 


Community Service Award recognizes an employee who uses technology in novel ways to improve access to jobs and educational opportunities, and boost understanding of technology’s potential to improve access to useful services, resources and information.

  • Maria Thorpe, human systems engineering department director, Systems Acquisition Group, NAWCAD

2023 WOMEN OF COLOR STEM AWARDS – Special Recognition

Peer viewed Special Recognition Awards honors those who have accomplishments that distinguish them beyond their individual disciplines. These honorees usually score within the top 15 percent of their category. Each nominee represents recognition of high merit, broad impact on people in many disciplines and value to society as a whole.

  • Autumn Leake, chief engineer, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD)


Rising Stars are young women – 21 years or less in the workforce – who are helping to shape technology for the future.

  • Patrice Hopkins, PMA-242 direct strike integrated product team acquisition lead/operations manager, NAVAIR
  • Krisiam Ortiz-Martinez, chemical engineer, NAWCAD
  • Veronica Wesson, program analyst, NAWCAD
  • Marilynn Bell, program directorate/undersea directorate, Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD)
  • Khenia Melendez Resendez, industrial engineer (schedule analyst), NAWCTSD
  • Laura Nieves, logistics deputy assistant program manager, NAWCTSD
  • Brittany Scott, foreign military sales product manager/suite integration lead, NAWCWD

Held for more than 20 years, the conference focuses on the development of women in STEM careers and provides opportunities for professional development, networking and recruiting. The WOC STEM Awards have been presented annually since 1995.

Bell said the most significant aspect of her job is supporting the warfighter.

“I am extremely honored to be selected for the Women of Color Technology Rising Stars award,” said Bell. “Being a veteran, I will continue to respect and honor our country by showing up to work giving my absolute best to ensure that the warfighters receive quality training products.”

Estep agreed with that sentiment.

“I come to work every day and leave exhausted,” said Estep. “But that’s because I pour my heart and soul into the Navy civilian service in order to support the warfighter. In the end, that’s what we are all here for.”

Leake said a host of informal and formal mentors have supported her along the way.

“Being recognized as a woman of color in STEM awardee is both a humbling and inspiring experience,” she said. “It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of not only myself, but also of my mentors and colleagues.”

Bell was also grateful to everyone who directly or indirectly shared knowledge and lessons learn.

“These people helped to cultivate my career and change my life,” she said. “I would like to thank the NAWCTSD business Financial Management, Comptroller and Program Management teams, especially Karyn McMillan, Paul Honold, Martha Green, Chris Caudill, Eric Anderson, Lucille Pettway, Brenda Farrier, Paige Bohan and Jeri Costello for challenging me.”

Estep also thanked a number of mentors, stating, “I want to thank Emily Harman who pushed and mentored me from day one. And although we don’t interact on a regular basis I always and still look up to Damon McGill, Lakeeta Hill and Selinda Joyner. They looked like me and were where I aspired to go, so I used them as an example in how I approached my career. I also want to thank The Hot Mess Express . . . they know who they are.”

Most importantly, Leake hoped that the award not only validates her contributions to STEM as an engineer, but continues to help make a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

“I’m hopeful that this award will be the launch pad for a culture shift in having conversations with leaders at all levels about the importance of the Women of Color in STEM,” she said.

Thirteen employees from across Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) were recognized at the annual Women of Color (WOC) STEM Conference awards ceremony Saturday, Oct. 14.