Groundbreaking Program Secures MiraCosta College Students Work-based Learning Opportunity with Northrop Grumman
MiraCosta College student Matthew Sheehan is making history. Sheehan, a 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran, is among the first cohort of students taking part in a groundbreaking Northrop Grumman Corporation-led program offering community college students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with paid, work-based learning opportunities and a pathway to qualification for careers in the aerospace and defense industries.
Sheehan, a Temecula resident and computer science major, began working part-time at Northrop Grumman in September as an engineering assistant/technician, putting his software skills to use automating various testing procedures with a team assigned to high-altitude, autonomous aircraft.
“I’m getting relevant experience and a foot in the door, and the fact that I will be able to put the Northrop Grumman name on my resume is pretty valuable in and of itself,” Sheehan said. “That Northrop Grumman is a defense contractor makes it even more valuable for this line of work.”
The pay, a competitive hourly wage, isn’t bad, either. At the moment, he is working 14 hours per week.
Northrop Grumman’s talent pipeline program evolved through the company’s involvement with San Diego Regional Economic Corporation’s Inclusive Growth Steering Committee and support for the Advancing San Diego initiative aimed at aligning local industries with workforce development programs and regional education systems. MiraCosta College Superintendent/President Dr. Sunita “Sunny” Cooke is on the committee with sector Vice President, Communications, for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems Cynthia Curiel. Through their leadership, Northrop Grumman and MiraCosta began to collaborate in developing the parameters of the program, including working with the MiraCosta College Career Center and with neighboring colleges and universities.
The pilot phase of the community college program was launched this fall. “Establishing a framework to collaborate with education systems is necessary for building a strong local talent pipeline and supports a long-term workforce planning strategy,” said Alfredo Ramirez, Northrop Grumman’s vice president of engineering. “Our decision to develop a community college pilot fills a critical gap bridging K-12 and university programming, allowing us to reach and engage students in San Diego throughout their education journey.”
Sheehan couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. Born and raised in Gloucester, Virginia, Sheehan enlisted in the Marine Corps while a senior in high school and went to boot camp shortly after graduating in 2011. Assigned to an aviation operations team at Camp Pendleton, Sheehan helped manage the flow of aircraft training before leaving the service in 2018. He enrolled at MiraCosta College that fall.
“It’s a great place to knock out my general education requirements, it’s a small, more personal campus to be at, and the class sizes are manageable,” he said. Carrying a 4.0 grade point average, Sheehan is on track to graduate in the spring 2020 and is looking to transfer to UC San Diego or San Diego State University next fall. His longer-term goals include earning a master’s degree in computer science, working as a software developer, and then returning to MiraCosta to teach. He currently serves as vice president of the MiraCosta College Veterans Club.
Why computer science? “I’ve always liked challenges, that’s part of the reason I joined the Marine Corps, and computer science can be challenging. It’s also a growing and lucrative profession.” Sheehan heard about the internship opportunity from a coworker at the MiraCosta College Counseling Office. He will be with the defense contractor through most of December.
“Northrop Grumman’s pilot program gives us the ability to provide our students with empowering industry-based experiences that will help them define and shape their future,” Dr. Cooke said.
Sheehan said his Northrop Grumman experience further validates his decision to enroll at MiraCosta College. “Your courses transfer to 99.8 percent of the universities in the area,” he said. “This is a good place for returning students and veterans to enroll.”
MiraCosta College student Jeannelle Balilo has never shied away from a challenge. It’s one of the reasons she enlisted in the Navy, it’s why she is seeking a career in a male-dominated STEM field and it’s why she is taking part in the groundbreaking, Northrop Grumman-led, work-based learning opportunity.
Balilo, 26, is learning to write computer programs and test state-of-the-art software for an unmanned helicopter being developed by the defense contractor. “It is fun, but it is challenging, too, and there is nothing better for me than to be challenged,” Balilo said. “They’re allowing me to do things I never thought an intern would be allowed to do. I’m definitely not making coffee or cleaning up the offices. I love it there,” she added. “It’s amazing and I feel like I fit in really well.” The daughter of Filipino immigrants, Balilo enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in the San Francisco Bay Area city of San Bruno. Based mostly in San Diego during her six years of service and attached to the amphibious assault ship USS America and the amphibious transport ship USS Somerset, Balilo worked as a fire control specialist and left the Navy as a fire controlman second class. She moved to Oceanside a short time after concluding her military service, enrolled at MiraCosta College in spring 2019, and has accumulated at 4.0 GPA while majoring in computer engineering.
Enrolling at MiraCosta, Balilo said, was one of the best moves she’s made. “The instructors here really care about us. They’re thinking about the best way for us to succeed.”
Balilo said she was looking for internship possibilities when she received an email from MiraCosta College Internship Coordinator Mike Green informing her about the new Northrop Grumman program. “I never expected to get an email from the school asking me to apply for an internship when I was looking for an internship at the same time, but that’s the way MiraCosta College is,” Balilo said. “It has been an amazing opportunity.”
Balilo plans on transferring to UC San Diego in fall 2020 and embarking on a career where she can put her computer engineering skills to use in the private sector. “It would be great to work at Northrop Grumman fulltime after college, or maybe get into the gaming industry, but right now I’m taking one step at a time with the immediate goal being getting into UCSD,” she said.
About MiraCosta College
The MiraCosta Community College District has served the coastal North San Diego County area for over 80 years. More than 21,000 credit students per semester in over 70 disciplines enroll in associate degrees, university transfer and workforce readiness certificate programs. The college also serves a wide spectrum of educational needs in the region ranging from programs for adult education, basic skills, and ESL to a California Community College pilot program offering the nation’s first baccalaureate degree in biomanufacturing. MiraCosta College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).