Johnna Sargent ('16), a senior engineer mission systems at Bell Flight, is the recipient of the Modern Day Technology Leader Award from the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Conference. The award recognizes mid-level professionals who help shape the future of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in their careers and communities. Sargent worked on the Bell Boeing CMV-22B Navy Carrier onboard delivery configuration and helped create innovative technology that reads the fuel gauge while improving the amount of fuel carried and the flight distance.
Receiving the prestigious Modern Day Technology Award was shocking, yet exciting for Sargent. Sargent's coworker Terry Brynn nominated her while her company backed the nomination. Sargent had previously received BEYA's Women of Color STEM Technology Rising Star Award.
"The best part of being an engineer is working with other engineers," she says, noting that the culture is full of nerds and math jokes, and "you always celebrate Pi Day with pie of course."
Sargent knew she wanted to be an engineer in high school after she and her mom talked about her potential career options.
"I had not thought about engineering much prior to high school," she says. "But the field became appealing when I began to realize that I enjoyed working with technical things like computers and questioning why things worked all the time."
When she first started out at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station working for the Omaha Public Power District in Nebraska, Sargent's confidence level was low because she was constantly surrounded by brilliant people. Sargent wondered, "Can I perform at this level?" But nerves didn't keep her down for too long — as her confidence increased, she focused on her work and asked questions along the way. Being vulnerable helped her grow as a professional.
"Being vulnerable came in the form of me asking for help," she says. "I remember a time when I was working on a project, and I had no clue how to figure out what the solution was and I had to come clean to my boss and tell him I did not know what to do. In that moment, he recognized what I had already done and helped me figure out the next steps. If I hadn't done that, I would have been late on my assignment and I would have robbed myself the opportunity to see a great leadership example in action."
Sargent laid the foundation for her success at UNT, where she could be closer to her hometown of Keller. While a student, Sargent was a member of the Homecoming Crew for three years. In her junior year, she became part of Voices of Praise, a Christian choral ensemble.
"My experience was good, it had its ups and downs, but as an engineering student that's to be expected," she says. "My last year, I joined the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and I realized that I really missed out on the benefits of being involved earlier on. The advice I'd give to engineering students is — despite how much work you have to do, try and find the time to get involved with the college. It can be rewarding and helpful especially if you are more introverted."
Sargent says she's graduating in August with an M.B.A. from West Texas A&M University with an emphasis in management with her ultimate goal to become a chief engineer and continue her work on a new project, the Bell V280 Valor.
"There is always so much more to learn," she says, "but now I know how to better navigate my career to get to where I want to be."