From Blackboard to Blueprint

A Teacher’s Journey to Aerospace

Woman stands facing viewer smiling.

By Lauren Mittleman

In 2010, Assistant Department Manager Traci Elliott was working as a substitute teacher in Torrance, California, trying to figure out her next career move when she received a life-changing call from a friend at Northrop Grumman. Her friend encouraged Traci to apply for an administrative assistant position supporting the system used to track and purchase the company’s hardware and piece parts.

“I wanted to be inspired, excited and surrounded by talent,” said Traci. “My friend worked with engineers, business managers and technicians and sold me on how many different types of people worked at the company, so I said, ‘Yes, whatever it is, I’m in.’”

Traci’s professional pivot continued over the next several years. She became a lab facilitator in Electronic Assembly and Test and then a section manager for cryocooler manufacturing before joining her current group in the machining section of the Advanced Manufacturing and Machining Operations department (AMMO), which machines, plates and assembles flight parts for dozens of programs across Northrop Grumman’s Space Park site in Redondo Beach, California. Using the AMMO department’s machining equipment, talented apprentices, machinists and technicians create metal parts which must stay on-schedule and under-cost to serve customers’ critical missions.

Compassionate Company Culture

Traci had the opportunity to take on a new challenge as assistant department manager in 2022.

“Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was something I was ready to do, but I had some really great managers who knew my skills, valued my potential and told me, ‘You can do it. You are ready. Just go over there and try it out,’” Traci said.

As the first woman at her site to hold her position, Traci has firsthand appreciation for Northrop Grumman’s culture of belonging. Today, Traci uses her experience as a teacher to foster a positive work environment for her large and diverse team and places significant emphasis on the importance of creating a warm, inclusive culture.

“To me, a team is no different than a classroom of students,” said Traci. “As a teacher, you have to change your teaching or communication style based on the person — it's an everyday commitment to fostering the culture and making sure people feel like they want to be here.”

Showing Your True Self

Part of the reason Traci is so passionate about Northrop Grumman’s culture is because she has felt its impact personally. The company’s inclusive culture — along with its policies and resources supporting LGBTQ+ employees — helped Traci feel safe to share her authentic self.

“I came out at work before I came out to my family, because there are inclusive policies and a support structure,” Traci said. “My colleagues were just wonderful about it, and I’ve learned people can surprise you over and over.”

Coming out at work empowered Traci to come out in her personal life. When Traci married her wife in 2015, she said colleagues across campus stopped by her office to congratulate her. Each well-wisher made her feel accepted and seen.

After attending an Out and Equal Conference with her wife in 2018, Traci said she felt like she could make more of an impact at work, so she joined the board of PrIDA – Pride in Diversity Alliance, Northrop Grumman’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group which provides support to LGBTQ+ employees and organizes community events.

“There's a quote: ‘It's hard to hate up close.’ So, get to know people, connect with them, and suddenly, they want you to be well,” Traci said. “If they want one person to be well, they open up and want the community to be well, too. Getting to know people and connecting with them solves most problems.”

Traci said this philosophy has served her well.

“Be impactful, learn from smart people and offer help — whatever form that takes,” Traci said. “That mentality has brought me here.”

Life at Northrop Grumman

Your work at Northrop Grumman makes a difference. Whether you want to design next-generation aircraft, harness digital technologies or build spacecraft that will return humanity to the moon, you’ll contribute to technology that’s transforming the world. Check out our career opportunities to see how you can help define possible.

male standing and smiling

One Heritage: A Proud History

Longtime PrIDA member Jon Eubanks reflects on the group’s journey.

Melvin Aguirre working on equipment in the manufacturing internship program.

Putting it All Together

A Look at the Impact of Northrop Grumman’s Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program

technician working on automobile

Leap of Faith

Meet three Northrop Grumman Employees who changed career paths.