NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 17, 2021) – Officials honored a structural engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District as a “Modern-Day Technology Leader” during the 35th Black Engineer of the Year Awards’ Technology Recognition Ceremony Feb. 12 in Detroit, Michigan.
Gbandi Nikabou, who works in the Civil Design Branch’s Structural Section, received this award during the virtual event hosted by Stephanie C. Hill, executive vice president of Rotary and Mission Systems for Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Dr. Kendall Harris, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Texas Southern University.
In addressing the Modern-Day Technology Leaders and Science Spectrum Trailblazers being recognized at the BEYA event, Hill encouraged them all to continue to “stand up, step up and make the change that can make the difference.”
Nikabou has certainly lived by that motto over the past decade, overcoming adversity, becoming an engineer, and making the most of an opportunity to make a difference in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He migrated to the United States from Togo in West Africa in 2010. He said it was a tough transition because he didn’t speak English, had no family members to rely on, and had to work multiple jobs to pay his way and save for college. He slowly learned the language interacting with coworkers and customers, along with an English language course.
He worked his way through college, earning an Associate degree in Science Engineering from Massachusetts Bay Community College, and Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and Master of Science degree in Structural Engineering from University of Massachusetts Lowell. He then landed his dream job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2017 after receiving multiple offers from several districts.
“I ended up choosing Nashville after learning about the three mega projects,” Nikabou said. “If there is one thing I’ve learned from this journey, it is time management and the sense of responsibility.”
Nikabou remains very driven with a desire to learn his craft. He is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
“My main goal with this degree is to be able to contribute with an innovative hand to maintain and/or rebuild our already old and crumbling infrastructure, especially in USACE where nearly 75 percent of our locks and dams are over 50 years old,” Nikabou said.
Lt. Col. Sonny B. Avichal, Nashville District commander, said it is fitting for Nikabou to be recognized because as a native of Togo in West Africa, he brings a unique perspective to the missions of the district.
“His desire to gain more knowledge and give back to his community led him to study engineering in the United States, a passion that still drives him as he is currently pursuing a Ph.D., at Vanderbilt University.” Avichal said. “As a civil engineer, he has brought his technical abilities to bear on a wide number of design projects for our region’s navigation and flood damage reduction missions.”
Nikabou is responsible for all structural engineering related tasks for Cordell Hull Dam in Carthage, Tennessee, and four dam projects located within the Cumberland River Basin in Kentucky. He conducts annual dam safety inspections and instrumentation evaluation as well as periodic inspections of navigation, dam and hydropower facilities.
He is also serving as a design engineer for the new Soo Lock project located in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, which is managed by the USACE Detroit District. The project is a multi-district design effort for a new 110-foot by 1,200-foot lock to replace the existing Sabin and Davis locks at Soo Locks on the Great Lakes. The Soo Locks enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes.
Maj. Gen. Robert F. Whittle Jr., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division commanding general, endorsed Nikabou’s nomination as a “Modern-Day Technology Leader” because of his pivotal role in designing and inspecting key features of the nation’s infrastructure. In his endorsement, Whittle said the public is often unaware of the STEM careers that exist in the Corps’ workforce, and that African Americans are contributing to mission success in some very critical career fields.
“Mr. Nikabou serves as a key role model, exemplifying excellence in the Nashville District’s Structural Section,” the general noted. “A very conscientious and extremely competent individual, he is passionate about bettering himself so that he can be of service to the community.”
Rob Baulsir, Nashville District Civil Design Branch chief, supervises Nikabou and describes him as one of the most driven, hardworking employees he’s ever had the pleasure of working with.
“Whether he is designing navigation and flood risk reduction projects or performing dam and bridge safety inspections, Gbandi is a consummate professional that collaborates well with his peers and is always willing to support the team,” Baulsir said.
Nikabou said he is honored the district nominated him and that BEYA ultimately recognized his work as a structural engineer.
“I have to say it is a great honor to be recognized at this level and it means a lot. To me, this award is an encouragement and a motivation to keep up the good work and reach for higher accomplishments. It also means all my efforts and the hardship I went through were not vain,” Nikabou said.
The Modern-Day Technology Leader Award recognizes bright people who are shaping the future of engineering, science, and technology. It is a part of the BEYA STEM Outstanding Achievement Award Category. The OAAs are granted to individuals in the workforce. Nomination applications are reviewed and recommended for an award by a panel of leaders from industry, government, and academia.
The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. For more information on the Black Engineer of the Year Awards, go to http://www.beya.org.