At Lockheed Martin, High School Internships Take Flight from a Rigorous Engineering Curriculum

January 5, 2016

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on work-based learning in STEM. High school internships are one of several types of employer-led learning activities highlighted in our employer’s guide to work-based learning.

Last spring, a young man working at Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics business completed an important assignment—setting up a worldwide tracking system for the many different technical systems and processes used to design and produce aircraft.

Not so unusual, perhaps—except that the young man rose to this challenge as a high school senior, one of five aspiring engineers in Lockheed Martin’s inaugural class of high school interns. From September to May, they worked two afternoons a week as paid interns at the company’s Fort Worth facilities. At a year-end graduation ceremony, Lockheed Martin awarded them certificates and $1,000 college scholarships to the schools of their choice.

All five interns are now first-year college students majoring in engineering, three at the University of Texas at Arlington, two at Texas A&M, which happen to be favorable stomping grounds for Lockheed Martin recruiters. Every summer, Lockheed Martin will welcome these students back as paid college interns—and send them off to school again every fall with another $1,000 scholarship. This year’s second class of 13 high school interns will have the same opportunities, as will many more as the program scales up.

Picking the Right Partners
Launching this high school internship program “has probably been the most significant community outreach that we have ever done from a business perspective,” says Lockheed Martin’s Norm Robbins, senior manager of community relations. “It not only is great for the students and community, but it impacts our business very, very positively. So I’m extremely encouraged that we can grow this over time into something that will really be a significant contributor to the talent that we need to have going forward.”

The unusual high school internship program illustrates the value of strategic partnerships. “The Arlington [TX] Independent School District approached us and said, ‘Hey, have you ever considered a high school internship program for engineering students?’” Robbins says. “And we said, ‘No, but we need to hire tens of thousands of new scientists and engineers in the next five or 10 years, so we’re very interested.’”

The idea germinated from there. The district has a very well defined and robust Project Lead The Way (PLTW) program, an exemplary, ready-to-scale STEM program that has cleared Change the Equation’s very high STEMworks bar to quality. “That is the determining factor and the discriminator for us,” Robbins says. “Our corporation has invested a lot of money in Project Lead The Way and we’re in the process of expanding it across the nation where we have a significant presence.”

By the time Arlington intern candidates are seniors, they’ve completed at least two or three years of the PLTW engineering curriculum—and they are very keen on engineering. Even so, high school internships were a new bailiwick for Lockheed Martin. The company spent months planning the competitive internships with PLTW and the district—“a phenomenal partner,” Robbins says.

“Contributing Right from the Get-Go”
In school, as part of the engineering curriculum, students create resumes, practice interviewing, learn how to behave in the workplace, and “how to have all the kinds of skills that you would want somebody to have that you’re going to employ,” Robbins says. The first five interns were deployed in Lockheed Martin’s technical operations, which design advanced, high-performing aircraft. Some of this year’s 13 interns are also working in a factory setting in production operations. Next year’s interns might be working on the Lockheed Martin’s largest program, the F-35 fighter jet.

“So they’re getting extremely meaningful experiences doing very significant work” in key business areas, Robbins says. The first five interns “significantly contributed to our business needs right from the get-go,” working on engineering projects for business units responsible for:

  • Technical systems
  • Technical displays, including designing workspaces for pilots of unmanned vehicles and radar systems
  • Stress testing and corrosion testing of aircraft in the materials and process lab and chemical lab
  • Flight simulation for pilot training
  • Developing flight operations software for life support systems in aircraft cockpits

All five students completed their internships with flying colors, impressing their supervisors. In the words of a supervisor, one intern “had a critical design review with one of our top experts in database design. This checkpoint validates his design and demonstrates the competency of his growing engineering expertise. He continues to perform at a level far beyond the expectation of a high school senior. He not only demonstrates strong analytical skills, but combines them with personal initiative and strong interpersonal skills.”

Imagine heading off to college with that recommendation and experience! “They’ll just be head and shoulders above their peers in college,” Robbins says. With the continuing relationship and work experience with Lockheed Martin, “that’ll just get accentuated through each year they progress through college. By the time they do graduate, they’re pretty much assured that they want to be here and we’re pretty much assured that we want them to be here. So it’s just a real positive program all the way around.”

Tags: Employee Engagement, engineering, STEMworks