Making a Splash

Northrop Grumman Employees Work as One on the Water

A dragon boat with 20 rowers is shown in silhouette as it moves along a river.

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Visit any marina and you may spot an ornately carved wooden serpent gliding across the water. These elaborate reptilian watercrafts, known as dragon boats, are based on the ancient Chinese water sport. Across the world and at Northrop Grumman, the modern-day version of the sport is enabling dragon boaters to create connections — with each other and with China’s dragon culture — while keeping active.

Synchronizing with Speed

Nish Bhagat knows firsthand that teamwork on the water doesn’t happen without synchronization. When he’s not working as a systems engineer and integrated product team lead in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, he’s engineering ways to help his employee dragon boat team paddle faster, together.

Nish was first introduced to the sport through his local APPN employee resource group.

“At first, I thought I’d just watch,” said Nish, who recently raced with the Rolling Meadows dragon boat team on a stretch of the Chicago River that rolls through the city’s Chinatown neighborhood. “I found out that it’s not a passive sport. We have people from all different walks of life at the company paddling together.”

For Baltimore -based engineer Samudra Haque, who led this year’s Baltimore-area Northrop Grumman Stealth Dragons team, a boat working in tandem together is crucial.

“You learn through training to move in synchronization with each other,” said Samudra.

That synchronicity paid off during the 500-meter race where the Stealth Dragons — chanting and rowing to a booming drumbeat — placed first by less than a second.

Connecting to Community

Project Manager David K. Lee, who is based in Space Park, California, has been involved in dragon boat racing for more than 20 years and said, for him, dragon-boating is about creating community and connection.

The sport has helped him connect with his ancestral roots.

Growing up, David has vivid memories of participating in dragon boat races, as well as the associated festivals surrounding them, with his mother who would make rice dumplings during these special occasions. For him, dragon-boating connects closely to his heritage and culture of maintaining strong family ties, respect and selflessness.

“It’s the team’s synergy that drives the boat to the finish line,” he said.

For members of the Rocket Ship dragon boat team — comprised of employees from Northrop Grumman’s Rocket Center, West Virginia, site — the sport has also been an opportunity to give back to the community. In the past five years, the team has not only won numerous trophies and medals but has raised over $10,000 for their local YMCA.

“Captaining the team for five years was a way to connect new and seasoned technical folks together outside of work in a fun and competitive team-building activity,” said former Rocket Ship team captain and Design Engineering Manager Corey Tharp, noting that the team helped their local YMCA not only meet their budget needs, but grow. “This team activity helps our remote site retain young, diverse employees.”

The World Championships

Some employees are reaching the highest echelons of the sport. Jane Farrell, a Northrop Grumman strategic marketing campaign lead based in Australia, was selected to join the Auroras, Australia’s national dragon boat team, which competed at the World Dragon Boat Championships in Rayong-Pattaya, Thailand, in August 2023.

“It was great to be able to take part internationally in a sport I love,” said Jane, who trains daily at Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. “There was a real buzz getting people from 18 countries together.

Although we were competing, it still felt like we were one big team.”

One of the best parts of racing is the collaboration and team-building necessary for success, she said.

“Success depends on everyone on the team working in cooperation,” she said. “Outside the boat, it’s important to work on your own physical fitness, but when racing, it’s about everyone working as one.”

* Nadine Eckert, Matt McKinney, Karla Pineda and Eric Scott contributed to this story.

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