Argonne and Fermilab employees honored by the Egretha Foundation

Sandra Charles, diversity and inclusion manager at Fermilab

Sandra Charles

Chicago organization celebrates successful and prominent African-American women

The Egretha Foundation, formed 10 years ago to celebrate the successes of African-American women in the Chicago area, will honor two women from U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories at their annual gala this week.

The awardees — Maria Curry-Nkansah, chief operations officer of the Physical Sciences and Engineering Directorate at Argonne National Laboratory, and Sandra Charles, diversity and inclusion manager at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory — will join a long list of inspiring African-American women who have received the Egretha Award over the years. That list includes First Lady Michelle Obama, Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell and nearly 100 others.

The Egretha Foundation is named after Egretha Hamilton, a nurse who lived a life of service and philanthropy within the African-American community. Co-founder Yvonne Sledd said that the annual gala grew from informal lunches with women eager to hear stories of other African-American women making a difference. Over time, the event blossomed, and now draws hundreds.

“The Egrethas are a collection of stories,” Sledd said. “Our mission continually is sharing information amongst women of color who are successful, so that there are visual models of what you can accomplish.”

Maria Curry-Nkansah has over 20 years of experience in scientific R&D-related fields. As a chief operations officer at Argonne, she leads fiscal management, human capital management, resource allocation, infrastructure planning, safety and quality assurance to drive safe, cost-effective and efficient research and development. Curry-Nkansah also sits on the board of the Naperville Indian Prairie School District and on the board of the Hydrogen Education Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes clean hydrogen energy technologies through student scholarships, competitions and programs. She is also an active supporter of high school STEM research and tutoring programs and a member of the executive steering committee for DuPage County’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, a program that encourages academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students.

Maria Curry-Nkansah, chief operations officer at Argonne National Laboratory.

Maria Curry-Nkansah

“Maria is a working parent, a diligent school board member and voice for the community, and also an active participant and leader in many community organizations. Yet she still finds the time to tutor twice a week at our local high school,” said Andrea Collier, who directs the tutor program at Waubonsie Valley High. “Her commitment and dedication never ceases to amaze me.”

Sandra Charles is responsible for creating programs and strategies that cultivate diversity as a fundamental organizational value at Fermilab. Her work focuses on recruitment, education, community outreach and partnerships. She manages graduate, undergraduate and high school programs at the laboratory that support and encourage traditionally underrepresented students in their pursuit of STEM degrees and careers. Charles manages the lab’s co-operative education program, the undergraduate Summer Internships in Science and Technology program, and the TARGET program, a science, technology and engineering summer internship program for high school sophomores and juniors. She serves on numerous advisory boards for education throughout the state.

In 2002, Charles founded the Parent Diversity Advisory Council in the Indian Prairie School District, a committee that addresses issues of economic diversity and equal educational opportunity. The council is still going strong, and co-chair Saily Joshi describes Charles as her mentor.

“She had the foresight to see the need for this council and to have these kinds of courageous conversations with parents, students and teachers, at a time when that wasn’t really done,” Joshi said. “She’s an incredible champion of diversity and educational equity.”

The annual Egretha Awards gala will take place on Oct. 21 at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago. For more information, please contact the Egretha Foundation at

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website at, and follow us on Twitter at @Fermilab.

The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit