UC Berkeley alumnus Colin Parris rises when things are going down. Years ago, a mentor told Parris that success is easy when you ride the “wave” of an easy job and a favorable market, but that you’ll never really know if you were responsible for that success.
“I took a lot of hard jobs where things were going in the wrong direction, when the market wasn’t working, we had a dying business, we had to innovate and didn’t have enough money,” Parris said. “I took those jobs because in those jobs, when you do well, it has to be about you.”
Parris will now be awarded the Black Engineer of the Year Award, or BEYA, for his work in digital transformation in gas, power, healthcare, aviation and transportation industries and his diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
The award is given by the U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technology Magazine and will be presented at next February’s annual BEYA STEM Conference. The BEYA is awarded to someone who has both changed the field of engineering and uplifted minorities within STEM, according to Parris.
To qualify for the award, executives from the nominee’s company write letters of recommendation, which are then reviewed by a selection committee. Parris, who is senior vice president and chief technology officer of GE Digital, was surprised in a “surreal” and “humbling” moment during a Nov. 2 diversity panel within General Electric, or GE, where it was announced that he would receive the award.
Parris attributed the award in part to his leadership in developing GE’s Digital Twin initiative, a “living, learning” engineering model of a physical asset, such as a plane engine, that allows engineers to predict when it will fail.
Parris is also a board member for the Annual Multicultural Business Youth Educational Services Embarkment, a program that provides mentorship to minority high schoolers to help them prepare for careers.
“You have to explain what’s so interesting and then they begin to get the idea: ‘This is something that could be deeply interesting to me,’ ” Parris said. “By doing that, you catch the imagination. You catch their vision and passion.”
Parris, who earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, noted his understanding of diversity goes all the way back to his time on campus. Attending campus was something he “never regretted” because of campus’s push for diversity that allowed him to bond with fellow Black students who pushed him to finish his Ph.D.
Earlier in his career, Parris found he was often the only person of color in the room, and receiving the award has made him reflect on how important it is to strive for diversity and inclusion.
A colleague of Parris, Chung-Sheng Li, currently a managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, worked with Parris many different times during his career and attributes Parris’s award to his “insatiable appetite” for innovation, business approach and “deep insight” into research and development.
Li recalled a time when during the holidays for several hours a day, they locked themselves in a meeting room to discuss how technology was no longer the only element to drive the future.
“It was really great fun where we imagined a lot of the future,” Li said. “I really enjoy him as a mentor, a great colleague, and a great conspirator for innovation. It was enormous fun to work with him.”