Sandia Labs News Releases

Sandia Labs recruiter, scientist win Black Engineer of the Year awards

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two members of the Sandia National Laboratories staff are recipients of 2016 Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) awards. Ken Holley was honored for community service and Conrad James with a special recognition award.

BEYA is a program of the national Career Communications Group, an advocate for corporate diversity, and is part of its STEM achievement program. The awards annually recognize the nation’s best and brightest engineers, scientists and technology experts. Holley and James will receive their awards at the annual BEYA STEM conference in Philadelphia Feb. 18-20.

Ken Holley helped grow the recruiting program at Sandia National Laboratories from the ground up. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Building a recruiting program

Holley is retiring after 30 years as a Sandia recruiter. He worked with three universities — New Mexico Highlands, North Carolina A&T and the University of Turabo in Puerto Rico — to recruit the most promising prospects to work at the labs. He created internships and an innovative mentorship program that was the first of its kind at Sandia.

“The program’s success allowed me to create my vision of recruiting and Sandia’s potential impact on engineering education and the diversity of the engineering workforce,” Holley said. “This lab has made great strides in diversity.”

Holley recognized the importance of mentoring not just the engineer, scientist or business professional, but the whole person. He took a personal interest in each of his recruits, and his efforts paid off. Many of the students who went through his recruiting program are still at Sandia, some in management positions.

Holley was active in Sandia’s HMTech program, which focuses on improving education outcomes for students in grades K-12 and inspires them to engage in STEM disciplines. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity that encourages academic excellence in youth, and many other education-focused organizations. He served on the board of directors of the Albuquerque Academy and is active in various Christian ministries.

“Community service was never a goal for me,” he said. ‘It was and remains a result of life activities. My goal and the goal of the organizations where I participate have a focus on giving back to the community, both locally and nationally.”

Researcher, tutor, legislator, regent

Conrad James

Conrad James is using a background in neural engineering to investigate microelectronic devices for brain-inspired computing. (Photo courtesy of Images by Davids of Santa Fe) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Conrad James maintains an unusually wide range of activities in engineering and his community.

His research interests include electrokinetic phenomena, neural engineering and biomedical microfluidic devices. He holds six patents, has published 28 journal articles and book chapters, and leads a major Sandia project to develop neural-inspired algorithms and computing hardware to automate and accelerate analysis of data-intensive problems.

He helps students improve their skill in science and engineering courses by tutoring,  devising science demonstrations and developing classes.

James also is serving his second term as a member of the New Mexico state legislature, and served from 2013 to 2014 on the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico.

“On rare occasions, an accomplished scientist will apply their leadership and problem-solving skills in other arenas, and Conrad is such a rare individual,” said Dave Sandison, director of Microsystems and Technology at Sandia.

“I feel engineers and scientists need to be more involved in policy-making, especially in areas outside of traditional topics that we often weigh in on, such as climate change,” James said. “We have an interesting way of solving problems that is very different from people with other professional backgrounds.”

James graduated summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He received his master’s and doctorate in applied and engineering physics from Cornell University. As a graduate student, he helped developed patterning techniques for constructing networks of living neurons, with eventual application to restoring lost functionality in patients with damaged neural tissue. He also published several articles on using microelectrode array devices to characterize neurons and other electrically active cells.

James is using his background in neural engineering as the principal investigator of a large team conducting a Grand Challenge Laboratory Directed Research and Development project to investigate the design and fabrication of microelectronic devices for brain-inspired computing.

“Conrad’s BEYA Special Recognition Award confirms what his co-workers have always known: Conrad is a creative researcher with strong technical leadership abilities who is also dedicated to improving his community,” said his Sandia manager Steve Casalnuovo.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Neal Singer,, (505) 845-7078