Northrop Grumman mentorship program for UAH students promotes careers in STEM


Northrop Grumman’s support of UAH students in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields is helping to grow the region’s pool of talented, qualified STEM employees.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Northrop Grumman Corporation has been a longtime supporter of students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). And last summer, the global aerospace and defense technology company took that commitment a step further, establishing the Northrop Grumman Group Mentorship Program.

"Northrop Grumman expressed how impressed they were with the UAH alumni they had hired in the past, and they were looking for a way to better target our STEM students," says Candace Phillips, a counselor in UAH's Office of Career Services. "We spent several months developing a new model of employer and student engagement that we thought students and employers would find mutually beneficial. The model introduces students to the organization during their freshman year and becomes progressively more involved."

Students are hand-selected to take part in the program; to date, 20 have completed it, with nearly half receiving internships. Each student had to meet the criteria required for participation, which includes being a U.S. citizen with a sophomore or junior standing; maintaining a GPA of at least 3.5; being active on campus and/or a student-athlete; and majoring in electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, industrial & systems engineering (ISE) or math with a computer science minor.

Students participating in the program attend a series of informational sessions on campus and are invited to a STEM tour at Northrop Grumman, where they can experience various technology demonstrations and interact with engineers. Upon completion of the program, they are invited to apply for and complete an internship with the company. In addition, freshman students are introduced to the organization at the Co-op Kickoff and in career panels included in UAH's First Year Experience course. A select group of seniors also has the opportunity to take part in a cross-collaborative senior design project sponsored by Northrop Grumman.

"It is vital that we enable and support the best and brightest STEM workforce, as well as being a strong partner in the communities where we live and work," says Dan Verwiel, Sector Vice President and General Manager, Missile Defense and Protective Systems. "We are very excited about the success of the program, for the students, and for Northrop Grumman. We look forward to strengthening our partnership with UAH in capturing the imagination and commitment of bright young talent, producing the next generation of capable minds, maintaining our technical superiority, and delivering the very best capabilities in defense of our nation and to our men and women in uniform."

It enables you to strongly grasp how the company operates and what it can offer you as a future employee more than any career fair or interview would allow.

Kellie Johnson
UAH student and program participant

Senior ISE major Kellie Johnson was one of those originally chosen to participate in the group mentorship program. "Being a junior at the time, I felt that the program would shed light on where I wanted to focus my job search," she says, adding that she found the informational sessions particularly beneficial. "We were able to learn what Northrop Grumman does as a company through the eyes of the employees, and we spoke one on one with people who could tell us what it was like, on a day-to-day basis, to work for such a large defense organization." She also appreciated the opportunity to network. "Throughout the entire program, there were multiple opportunities to get your name out there and tell other professionals what you want out of a career," she says.

More recently, Johnson was able to gain career-related experience working on a cross-collaborative design project sponsored by Northrop Grumman. She and her teammates were tasked with building a system capable of detecting, responding to, or providing an alternative to a hostile unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). "We chose to respond to a threatening UAV, so we built a system that attached to a friendly UAV and dropped a net onto the hostile UAV, essentially disabling the threat," she says. "It was a wonderful experience that allowed my team to get hands-on experience with real-world problems. And working closely with Northrop Grumman, we were able to experience how projects such as this would play out in the workplace."

That's a sentiment echoed by ISE professor Dr. Phillip Farrington, who served as faculty lead along with Dr. Brian Landrum, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Dr. Earl Wells, professor of electrical and computer engineering. "Projects like this, in which students learn to work together as a team on an open-ended problem, are valuable learning experiences," he says. "They learn about the challenges of working as a team, communicating with the customer, meeting deadlines, and explaining their solution to a professional review board made up of Northrop Grumman engineers and managers with experience working on these types of projects."


Students participating in the Northrop Grumman Group Mentorship Program attend informational sessions to learn more about career paths in the STEM fields.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Johnson is hopeful that she'll be able to parlay that experience, along with the skills she's currently gaining as an intern with Northrop Grumman, into a full-time job with the company after she graduates in December. But either way, Johnson "definitely recommends" the mentorship program to other UAH students. "It enables you to strongly grasp how the company operates and what it can offer you as a future employee more than any career fair or interview would allow," she says. "From speaking to current employees and interns to touring Northrop Grumman's facilities and projects, the program shows you exactly how exciting a career with Northrop Grumman could be. It's an overall great experience."

With the first year of the program successfully completed, those most recently selected to participate are now looking to follow in Johnson's footsteps. And when they do, like her, they'll be adding to the region's pool of talented, qualified STEM employees. "We are so excited to have established such a successful model with Northrop Grumman, which ensures our students gain the practical experience needed to make the maximum contribution as employees at the start of their careers," says Phillips. "And we are looking forward to making new partnerships that will continue to help grow the program and allow us to better match our qualified graduates with the high-tech companies of the Tennessee Valley."


Candace Phillips
UAH Career Counselor