Home-Grown Opportunity in the Southwest

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Jaime, COOP Program Graduate

New Mexico is known as the land of enchantment, but it isn’t always seen as the land of opportunity. One Northrop Grumman site wants to change that.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, site accomplishes a lot with less than 30 employees under the leadership of John. Located close to Kirtland Air Force Base, the site provides critical support to various customer organizations with the mission of advancing space-based research and development capabilities. However, demand at the site is growing faster than they can find qualified, cleared employees.

John noticed that people with existing ties to the Southwest were more likely to take a job there and remain in the region. He wanted a way to locate exceptional candidates from the surrounding area. That’s when the team turned all eyes to New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces. NMSU is a top-tier, female-majority research institution that attracts students from surrounding Hispanic and Native American communities. As a NASA Space-Grant college, it is ranked as the number one minority-serving college in engineering by the National Science Foundation.

“By fostering relationships with faculty, researchers and students, we’re investing in our most valuable resource: our people.”

Blake, Cooperative Education (COOP) Program Sponsor

In the fall of 2020, Northrop Grumman kicked off a Cooperative Education (COOP) program at NMSU. The program is different from a traditional internship or job rotation. It combines specialized, mission-focused education with varied on-the-job experience and tailored mentorship. The COOP produces graduates with security clearances that can hit the ground running in Northrop Grumman-specific jobs.

“The goal is to establish a long-term pipeline of talent from NMSU into the larger Northrop Grumman enterprise,” said John.

Karen, COOP Program Graduate

Currently, the program can accommodate eight students at a time. The education portion of the COOP program is led by former NMSU professor Dr. Rasler “Ras” Smith, a retired Marine Corps aviator with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and a background in the intelligence community.

“The best part of the program has been seeing the students’ eyes open when they learn new things,” said Rasler of his teaching. “I am teaching them materials that are not offered in any university. They are brilliant, quick learners and really good students that are going to make great employees.”

Northrop Grumman program sponsor Blake also sees the COOP as a boon for those involved. In her role, Blake has seen the enduring benefits afforded by the program, such as identifying future talent early and providing equitable pathways to opportunity for women, people of color and underrepresented minorities.

“By fostering relationships with faculty, researchers and students, we’re investing in our most valuable resource: our people,” commented Blake. “Our program allows us to find, develop and recruit incredibly talented people who will shape the future of our business through innovation, collaboration and their dedication to our mission.”

The NMSU COOP program’s first two graduates from the Class of 2021 have accepted positions at Northrop Grumman’s Gilbert, Arizona, site. The long-term goal is to have them rotate back to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the future.

Meet the Hires from the Program

Karen settled in Las Cruces, New Mexico, as a child after first living in Virginia and Chihuahua, Mexico. “The COOP program allowed me to work under an amazing boss with so many years of experience in space and engineering subjects, and gain knowledge that I wouldn’t have had the privilege to learn without being in this COOP,” she explained. Karen graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in engineering physics and physics, plus a minor in math. “My biggest motivator to finish school was my beautiful six-month-old son,” she said.

Jaime was born in Oceanside, California, but lived on the Navajo reservation as a small child near the Four Corners in Shiprock, New Mexico. He moved to Las Cruces just before first grade. Jaime says he participated in the COOP program because it presented an opportunity to be exposed to knowledge and subjects that would have been otherwise unattainable. “The most exciting thing about working for Northrop Grumman is the opportunities and variety of projects I could potentially work on, as well as the ability to work in the space environment on satellites and help launch and maintain spacecraft.”

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