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Automotive Glass Solutions leader honored nationally at Black Engineer of the Year gala

Automotive Glass Solutions leader honored

Corning's Eric Biribuze received high honors earlier this month during the 2018 Black Engineer of the Year Award STEM conference in Washington, D.C. Eric received a 2018 Black Engineer of the Year Award for Professional Achievement in the Industry category recognizing his 20 years of contributions and accomplishments at Corning.

Currently the business operations director for Glazing in Automotive Glass Solutions, Eric grew up in Burundi and attended college in China on a merit-based STEM scholarship. He said the key to his success was in turning each challenge along the way into an opportunity.

"My life journey has been a stream of challenges that became golden opportunities," Eric shared with the gala attendees during his acceptance speech.

"I came to this great country to further my education and landed a career with Corning. My passion is to make a positive impact, and, for 20 years, it has been a privilege to contribute to Corning's innovative journey, while solving some of the world's toughest problems and helping transform people's lives." 

Eric was introduced at the ceremony by Marty Curran, executive vice president and Corning innovation officer.

"He's a collaborative Corning leader in both the communications and auto sectors, delivering strong results in diverse functions and cultures, including teams in the United States, Mexico, and China," Marty said.

"He's linked the connections between research, development, manufacturing and commercial teams - creating new, exciting and life-changing innovations. And the thing I love most about our Honoree is his belief that you and your organization can always improve, that we will win, and that you do it by being a great teammate."

The 2018 Black Engineer of the Year Awards and Minorities in Research Science (BEYA/MIRS) convened an unprecedented crowd of nearly 11,000 professionals from industry, academia, and government for the event. The conference is designed both to foster a talent-rich environment for recruiting and development and to shine light on the technical contributions made by leaders from communities of color around the nation. One of the marquee events at the conference each year is the BEYA Gala which highlights the accomplishments of the year's top honorees in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Career

Eric shares details of his life and career

The Black Engineer of the Year committee awarded Eric based on his life-long commitment to hard work, multiculturalism, and innovation.

Growing up in Africa – striving to see the world and make impact

Eric was the third child of a family of five. Burundi is a former colony of Belgium, where French is the official language of education. By the time Eric completed his elementary school, he was already fluent in three languages, Kirundi, his native language, Swahili, a regional language (also spoken in parts of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) and French. He was a consistent top achiever in school.

In addition to being a good student in math and science, Eric was always curious and fascinated about knowing the world, wanting to know more and to be part of it.

"At 19, I knew and could recite every country in the world, its capital and its leader; and I wanted to see each one of them," he said. After graduating from high school, both Eric's academic credentials and curiosity played a role in the next phase of his life. In 1987, he left Burundi and went to China, becoming the first person from his extended family to ever visit the country. He was one of just 10 students awarded a prestigious academic scholarship to study in China. He became the first person in his immediate family to go study abroad.

"As soon as I landed in China, I knew: My life has just changed," he said.

Going to China and the U.S. for college and learning to become a global citizen

In China, Eric attended the Beijing Languages Institute, to learn Chinese while getting prepped for College. He had to learn Chinese in English, a language he barely knew, and ended up learning both Chinese and English (a challenge he later turned into an opportunity to study in the U.S.). He then embarked on a 7-year college education learning all the subjects in Chinese, a language he just learned in 9 months. Eric attended the Northeastern University, in the city of Shenyang and Liaoning province, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering in 1992. He further pursued and earned a master's degree in 1995, with a concentration in Management Information Systems (MIS).

Once again, academics and curiosity drove Eric to seek further education and more opportunities in a different country, this time in the U.S. He was offered a full academic scholarship with an assistantship to attend the MBA program at Appalachian State University.

"At Appalachian, I learned to become a global citizen, having a keen awareness and understanding of cultures of the southern and eastern hemisphere, I was now learning and embracing a whole new culture in the western hemisphere," he said. Today, he speaks five languages fluently.

Eric received an MBA from the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University in 1997.

Becoming a successful professional, delivering results

Eric joined Corning in 1997 in Hickory, N.C.

"When I learned the long history of Corning innovations, using its world leading position in materials science to solve tough problems and transform people's lives, I knew: I have found home," he said, "where I am still as passionate as 20 years ago."

Starting off as an international credit analyst, Eric quickly moved within Corning through multiple roles of increasing responsibility, to include Finance, Manufacturing, Product Line Management, Strategy, and New Business Development based in different U.S. locations as well as Mexico.

One of Eric's biggest contributions at the company was to coordinate the successful launch of the EDGE product solution, enabling Corning to expand its leadership position in the data center market and the adoption of the solutions by global customers in the banking and technology industries as well key government agencies.

Then, his passion led him to embark on a new path to tackle another challenge, this time south of the border in one of Corning's largest manufacturing facilities. He followed his most recently launched product to Mexico to help drive it to flawless manufacturing. To be effective, Eric decided to learn Spanish. This EDGE product solution has continued to evolve generating more than a $1 billion in revenue since its launch in 2009.

In 2014, Eric left the Optical Communications business for a product line management leadership position to develop a new business for Corning, bringing Gorilla Glass to "the sleepy automotive glazing industry." It might just be his biggest challenge yet, he said.

"I seek opportunities that involve challenges, even today. And if you embrace the challenges by focusing on performing the best you know how and learning everything you can from your experiences, everything is possible."

Giving back and becoming a role model

When Eric joined Corning in 1997, his father, and role model, died after a short illness, leaving his homemaker mother and siblings, without a breadwinner. Eric became the breadwinner, using a portion of his salary to take care of his family back home, which he continues to do to this day. Since then, Eric has put his two younger siblings through college.

When the AIDS epidemic decimated his native Burundi, leaving many orphans with no one to care for them, Eric and a group of fellow Burundians in the diaspora decided to sponsor the education of a select number of those orphans.

"Our action was pretty much a no brainer. We mentored 50 kids and paid full 4-year scholarship to attend college, and graduated everyone but two. Upon graduation, we helped them find jobs and each becoming a 'householder leader,'" he said.

As he's moved through his career, Eric has also found time to lecture and speak at Appalachian and serving as a mentor to his students. In 2010, Eric arranged for the Corning Cable Systems CEO to be a speaker at the esteem Appalachian Business CEO Lectures Series, paving the way for Corning recruitment of Appalachian students.

Last but not least, as a founding member of the Society of Black Professional (SBP) chapter in Hickory, Eric was instrumental in the recruitment of people from Africa while helping them navigate the challenges of the corporate life. He is an active member of the Black Technology Network (BTN), the Corning China Association (CCA), and the Ethnically Diverse Group of Employees (EDGE) all of which are internal organizations aimed at championing the cause of and empowering Corning's diverse employees. Eric has mentored more than a dozen interns here at Corning helping some of them to join Corning.