It’s a very big day. Applause, cheers and deep thumping beats belie the athletic atmosphere.
This is no stadium, but a large, festive room on Lockheed Martin’s sprawling campus in Fort Worth. Dozens of students with hundreds of relatives and Lockheed employees are celebrating signing day.
Four soon-to-graduate college kids are about to leave Lockheed Martin’s internship program and join the defense company’s engineering team full time.
One of them is Amy Hughes. The A&M engineering student graduates next year, but she started her Lockheed internship back in high school in Arlington.
“I just signed a contract with Mission Systems Combat Avionic Systems for F-35,” she said. "I’ll be working on the brain of the F-35.”
This year, Lockheed Martin has been ramping up production of the F-35, its next-generation stealth fighter jet.
Of the Lockheed interns signing employment contracts, Hughes is the only woman.
“Being a girl in a [male-dominated] field was no problem because most of my friends growing up were guys,” Hughes said. “It was just something I fit right into. It’s actually been kind of a blessing because you know you automatically stand out. And it’s in a field that women can really excel, and we’re pioneering a way to get more and more women each year.”
Lockheed Martin’s internship program is pioneering in its own way.
Molly Thompson, vice president of the Cooperative Education and Internship Association, says she doesn’t know of any other programs where the “employer is engaging the student in high school and then tracking them through college.”
Lockheed Martin came up with this approach out of frustration. The company runs several student programs in science, technology, engineering and math. But its lead human resources representative Laura Hopkins says despite the efforts, the company still struggles to find enough STEM workers.
“We needed that return on investment to make those STEM efforts live, and so this is what we came up with,” Thompson said. “The goal was: How do we come up with a program that really provides a talent pipeline that’s viable into the future?”
To nab good talent early — in high school — Lockheed Martin needed to know younger students could meet its standards.
More than four years ago, Arlington Independent School District Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos made the pitch. He told them his high school kids used a STEM curriculum by national nonprofit Project Lead The Way that met both school and business standards.
“We used that, quite frankly, as a lever in our discussions with a Lockheed Martin and other industry partners,” Cavazos said.
And it worked.
Arlington launched the program in 2014. The students signing this year represent the inaugural class of Lockheed Martin’s high school-to-hire internship program. That program’s now expanded to a diverse group of 47 high school seniors, including new intern Ozioma Mgbahurike.
“I feel really special that I was one of the people they selected to join this prestigious program because it leads to job opportunities in the future,” Mgbahurike said.
“Some people in college don’t even get this opportunity and I’m a high school student who gets to work with these big facilities," he continued. "And through networking, I can meet some more people later on in life and it could set me up for a career in engineering.”
That’s what Lockheed Martin’s banking on anyway along with the original Arlington, and now Crowley, Fort Worth and Keller independent school districts.