A Mother’s Inspiration Puts a Northrop Grumman Intern on a Path to Space
This summer, intern Derrick regularly walked across Northrop Grumman’s Space Park campus to the high bay that was the temporary home of the James Webb Space Telescope. For Derrick, a budding electrical engineer, seeing an exquisite and complex piece of equipment that is headed a million miles from Earth to expand our knowledge of the universe is awe-inspiring.
“I’ve seen the James Webb Space Telescope in person,” he said, amazement in his voice. “I can’t stop going in there. I’ve seen it probably like eight times.”
That sense of wonder at technology and fine engineering is a gift from his mother, Derrick said.
Derrick’s mother worked as a security guard at a Northrop Grumman facility in San Diego before he was born, and he recalls the excitement in her voice as she’d recount spending her days around advanced aircraft and electronics.
In July 2020, Derrick’s mother passed away. While Derrick feels the loss every day, he knows his mother left him with a lifetime of inspiration and drive that, this summer, led him to a dream internship with Northrop Grumman, working on a new generation of satellites that will protect the United States against missile threats from highly elliptical orbit.
Looking back, Derrick traces his interest in electrical engineering to his mother’s fascination with electronics, specifically synching speakers around their home for karaoke. Although she was careful to not let Derrick hurt himself, she would let him observe and play assistant — fetching splitters, wire and tools. As time went on, he made a discovery that put him on a years-long path to his intended career.
“Having the chance to contribute to a project that will go into space is just mindboggling to me. And it keeps me going.”
Derrick, Engineering Intern
“I realized that I could make an electromagnet,” Derrick said. “I got a screw and I wrapped a whole bunch of copper wire around it. I was maybe seven or eight years old, and I would walk around the house magnetizing things.”
Derrick’s mom continued to nurture his interest in engineering throughout his childhood, through both successful and unsuccessful experiments, which eventually led to his engineering studies at California State Los Angeles.
Shortly before she passed, when Derrick was a college junior, Derrick recalled his mother speaking with pride about her time at Northrop Grumman.
“She talked to a lot of engineers when she worked there,” Derrick said of his mother, who he described as open and friendly. “She was really happy about that position and, if she hadn’t mentioned Northrop Grumman, I honestly wouldn’t have applied.”
The Chance of a Lifetime
Derrick first connected with Northrop Grumman virtually at the Great Minds in STEM conference, an initiative supported by the company’s educational outreach nonprofit, the Northrop Grumman Foundation. There, he interviewed with Wesley Morgan, manager for power and control systems, who ultimately put Derrick to work on a missile defense project.
Derrick and Wesley connected on athletics — Derrick runs track, Wesley is a former student athlete — and Derrick’s ability to balance extracurricular activities, a part-time job, academics and leadership roles.
“I’ve never let my GPA define me,” said Derrick. “The ability to communicate, handle multiple things at once, show leadership and have academic strength — Wes saw a lot of potential in me, more than just my GPA.”
In his everyday work, Derrick says he demonstrates many of the traits he inherited from his mother, particularly her work ethic and curiosity, to push boundaries.
“What most excites me at Northrop Grumman is that we’re working with the most advanced technology and we’re dealing with space, which is one of the most mysterious things,” Derrick said. “Having the chance to contribute to a project that will go into space is just mindboggling to me. And it keeps me going.”
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