Business Leader and First African-American Graduate of UMass MIE Department
On January 25, College of Engineering Dean Tim Anderson was one of several academic and business leaders to announce the sad passing of Cheryl Snead, the first African-American alumna of the UMass Amherst Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department. During her storied career, Ms. Snead was the founder, CEO, and president of Banneker Industries Inc. and an inspirational leader in business, women’s issues, and civil rights. Banneker is a world-class provider of supply chain management solutions, including logistics, headquartered in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, with operations across the United States.
Paula Rees, the Assistant Dean for Diversity at the College of Engineering, responded to the sad news of Ms. Snead’s death, “Cheryl graciously spent the day with the members of our National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and Society of Women Engineers a few years ago. She is a very inspiring role model, and the students were clearly energized upon meeting her. In the evening Cheryl gave a public lecture, From Minority to Trailblazer, sharing the defining moments of her career. She spoke to a packed house which included students, faculty, staff, and other alumni from across engineering. At the end, I remember her being surrounded by students wanting to meet and thank her for coming. She very graciously took time to talk with each and every one of them. We had just discussed inviting her back, and are deeply saddened by her untimely passing.”
Professor Ana Muriel recalls Ms. Snead presenting at an MIE 395 professionalism seminar, “She gave a very inspiring talk to our students, describing her path after graduation, how she built Banneker Industries from the ground up, and the values it is founded upon. She was a very remarkable woman indeed; a trail-blazer and invaluable role model for our students.”
According to her official biography, Ms. Snead had received numerous awards, both for business accomplishments and ongoing civic work. In 2014 she was inducted into the Women’s Business Enterprise Hall of Fame. In 2009 she was named a “Women’s Business Enterprise Star” by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and she was also chosen as the New England Businesswoman of the Year by Bryant University’s Women’s Summit.
Ms. Snead has recently served on the Federal Reserve Advisory Board in Boston and was also the lead director for Amica Insurance, nationally recognized for home, auto, and life insurance. She was an immediate past director of Bank Rhode Island. Ms. Snead also shared her expertise with non-profits as vice chair for the Bryant University Board of Trustees, vice chair of the WBENC Women’s Enterprise Forum, and she served on the WBENC Board of Directors. Her community activities included serving as a charter member and officer of the Greater Providence Chapter of The Links, Incorporated. She had been a member of the board of directors for Amica Mutual Insurance Co. since 2000. Ms. Snead was also a passionate and motivational speaker, advocating greater empowerment for youth, minorities, and women everywhere.
According to an article in the Providence Business News, Ms. Snead, who was 59, founded Banneker Industries in 1991. Under her leadership, the supply chain firm grew to include three locations in the United States and 55 employees. Forty-six people are employed in the company’s North Smithfield headquarters. Banneker has been featured nationally in Inc., MBE, Essence, Black Enterprise, and ARMY magazines. Banneker Industries was also selected as the “National Subcontractor of the Year” by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2008.
“I got to know Cheryl through our service on the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston New England Advisory Board,” said Travis McCready, president and CEO of Mass Life Sciences Center. “She was a strong leader for small business, advanced manufacturing, and the New England economy. Cheryl also passionately represented the interests of women and underrepresented minorities in business, particularly in STEM-related careers. What most people did not know was that she was the first African-American woman to receive a degree in Mechanical Engineering from UMass Amherst.”
The Banneker company informed its employees of her death in an all-hands meeting Tuesday morning, January 22. In a joint message, Ned O’Donnell (company chief financial officer at Banneker) and Junior Jabbie (the executive manager of corporate operations who will now serve as acting president) informed business suppliers and clients, as well as other business associates, of her death. “Banneker has lost a visionary and inspirational genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being,” they wrote. “All of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Cheryl have lost a dear friend, a trusted confidant, and an inspiring mentor.”
O’Donnell said that Ms. Snead was recuperating from recent surgery when she had a setback and passed away. “She was very bright. She was a natural entrepreneur, and she had a vision,” O’Donnell said. “She absolutely was a moral leader, honest, straight-forward, very caring about the folks who worked for her, who she treated as family.”
Besides earning her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UMass Amherst, Ms. Snead completed a master’s degree in business administration at Purdue University. She received an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree from Bryant University in 2006 and previously was a board of trustee member at Bryant University.
Bryant University President Ronald K. Machtley issued a notice which read, in part: “Among her major contributions to Bryant was her work with faculty and staff to create the LITE program for aspiring minority students. On a personal level, Cheryl Watkins Snead was a delightful individual and an inspiration to us all.” (February 2018)