Leap of Faith

Meet Three Northrop Grumman Employees Who Changed Career Paths to Join the Aerospace Industry

By Leslie Zychowski

There are many reasons why people change their career — a sudden realization, conversation with a friend or chance encounter can change someone’s entire trajectory. Meet a few Northrop Grumman employees who took the leap to transition into the aerospace and defense industry.

From Cars to Components

A love of cars — and a high school graduation requirement — led Shaun to start his career as an auto mechanic.

“I loved the process of starting from scratch and using my hands to build something new,” said Shaun. “My high school senior project helped me eliminate a few career paths and made me realize I had found my calling — I was a creator.”

cheerleader smiling on football field
Rhonda, shown here, previously cheered for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pictured in the image at the top of the page is Shaun.

By the time he turned 30, Shaun had received his professional certification and earned the title of master technician — but his career plateaued, and he felt he had little room to grow. Shaun realized it was time for a change and, coincidentally, was introduced to Northrop Grumman through a conversation with a friend.

He applied to a Northrop Grumman job as an assembler at the Sykesville, Maryland, office, which would allow him to use his hands-on skills in an entirely new way. As an assembler of returned field material for U.S. Navy nuclear propulsion programs, Shaun still uses many of the same tools he did as a mechanic, but with a larger mission in mind.

“Building a product for our military that helps protect our country is completely different than doing an oil change,” said Shaun. “My career journey is full of endless opportunity — I’m now a test technician and get to run tests on the products I once physically built.”

Managing Change

Rhonda has been team-oriented her entire life — starting in her role as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader in the late 1970s.

Throughout college, Rhonda cheered for the Buccaneers, a professional football team, and made public appearances with the cheer team while she studied business and marketing at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida.

“I was suddenly exposed to a more professional group of people and new experiences, which helped me develop and mature,” said Rhonda.

Although Rhonda loved cheerleading, she realized she wanted to do more with her career. Her first job out of college was in staffing, and, after some time off work to raise her children, Rhonda made the decision to change careers once more — from human resources to marketing, and finally project management. That was the move that would bring her to Northrop Grumman.

“I started down a path working in project management for a small medical practice, but I always had my eye on the larger picture — the big company in the area: Northrop Grumman,” said Rhonda. “I knew quite a few people who worked there and it was where I wanted to be, too.”

Today, Rhonda is a project manager for Northrop Grumman’s air vehicle engineering team in Melbourne, Florida. With staffing as a major focus of her role, Rhonda has the opportunity to help contribute to a positive experience for engineers who join Northrop Grumman, especially those in the veteran community. Outside of work, she volunteers with NFL alumni network, supporting children’s charities; she said she feels honored to have that opportunity, a full-circle moment in her career path.

No Experience Required

When Stephen was 13 years old, he was invited over to the home of a friend (his now wife, Samantha). During that first visit, he was amazed by Samantha’s father’s display of commemorative mission patches from one of Northrop Grumman heritage companies.

“I knew that someday I wanted to work on rockets,” said Stephen.

Raised by a single mom who had to work multiple jobs, Stephen’s family moved frequently; they eventually settled in Chandler, Arizona where, as a high school senior, he began working as a technician at a maintenance facility for a local grocery store. But he never lost sight of his goal to build rockets and began applying to open jobs at Northrop Grumman.

After several years of 60-plus hour weeks at the grocery store, Stephen was invited to interview for a rocket technician role at Northrop Grumman’s Huntsville, Alabama, facility.

The interview was a success: Stephen received an offer to work on target vehicles. Since being hired in 2020, he has supported programs and launches across the country, including Virginia, Utah, California, Alaska and Hawaii.

“Northrop Grumman took a big gamble hiring me with no experience,” said Stephen, whose advice is to keep trying, stay consistent, work hard and never give up. “Today, I am building and launching rockets — that is pretty rad!”

*Trina Patterson contributed to this article.

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