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Three generations of engineers shine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

Three generations of African-American women continue to make their mark as engineers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and all of them are from the same family. (WKEF/WRGT)

FAIRBORN, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - Three generations of African-American women continue to make their mark as engineers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and all of them are from the same family.

Phyllis Bolds will tell you she has never been afraid to go against convention. Growing up in Dayton, she graduated valedictorian from Dunbar High School in 1950. With a strong interest in math and solving problems, she then graduated with a physics degree from Central State in 1954. Bolds says as she went through school, she was usually the only woman in her courses. But her standing out, never stopped her from doing what she loved. Soon after college graduation she was hired by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as a physicist in the radar branch of the electronics laboratory. She remembers technology, like computers, were a bit different back then.

"It would take up a whole bay in a hanger and all it would do is add and subtract, multiply and divide and move the decimal point," Bolds said.

Bolds worked at the base for more than 30 years and what she didn't realize during those years, was that she was igniting inspiration that would carry through her family for decades to come.

"She's amazing," said Bolds' daughter Karen Beason. "Her strength and her tenacity to encourage me not only to do well in school but to do it wisely. "

Beason says growing up, she hadn't considered the engineering field until her mom encouraged her to give it a shot.

"She was just a role model," Beason said. "She was my mentor, my counselor, my role model."

Now, Beason too is a scientist at the base. She works in the 88th Civil Engineering Group as an environmental protection specialist. And Bolds' influence didn't stop with her daughter.

"I know the times my grandmother lived in, you read about it in history," Adrienne Ephrem said. "And so I was like, if she can do it, then I can do it."

Ephrem is Bolds' granddaughter and Beason's niece. A top student in math and science, she also found her way to the base after graduation. She says a lot of her confidence pursuing her interests in the sciences comes from the encouragement of her family like her mother who is a chemist off base, and the story of her grandmother.

"So being a woman pursuing STEM was something that wasn't out of reach to me," Ephrem said. "So it was like, oh, biomedical engineer I can do that."

Now Ephrem is an integration manager with the 711th Human Performance Wing.

"What I'm currently doing is I'm in the division level where I can see the ins and outs of some of the technologies," Ephrem said. "So I'm getting that big picture view before I dive in and get my Ph.D."

Both she and Beason are not living out there dreams working at the base, but they're also working with the next generation of students through projects inside and outside the base.

When the family gets together, it's hard to miss the incredible admiration and love for Bolds from her children and grandchildren.

"She showed the Miami Valley and especially her family to put your best foot forward," Beason said. "To do your best and share that with others."

For even more about this story, you can read the article written up by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base here

And for more information about the base's educational outreach office which is a resource for K-12 STEM education throughout the Air Force and the Department of Defense, you can click here.

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