New partnership enrolls Northrop Grumman employees in Innovation Campus degree programs
The new program is another example of the university’s growing relationship with Northrop Grumman, a collaboration that includes a $12.5 million commitment from the company toward quantum research and education.
For the past two years, John Smutny has worked as a software developer for defense and aerospace company, Northrop Grumman Corp. Now, he aims to enhance his skills in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
A new partnership between Virginia Tech and Northrop Grumman is helping him to do just that.
Smutny is one of a cohort of 25 Northrop Grumman employees who are participating this fall in the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus master of engineering programs in computer engineering and computer science. The programs are currently being held in Falls Church and will move to the new 3.5 acre Innovation Campus in Alexandria in 2024.
“Having the master’s will open up a lot of doors into what could become a universal tool,” said Smutny, who majored in electrical engineering as an undergraduate at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. “There is a demand for people with skills in artificial intelligence. AI’s ability to help us understand the world is something that anyone could benefit from.”
The pilot partnership, called Tech Talent Together, offers full-time employees at Northrop Grumman the opportunity to take Virginia Tech graduate courses part-time, at a maximum of two courses a semester. The partnership between Virginia Tech and Northrop Grumman also includes a $12.5 million commitment by Northrop Grumman to support quantum information science and engineering research and teaching for the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.
The courses are fully funded by Northrop Grumman when employees maintain B grades or better.
Northrop Grumman is the first corporate partner for this program, which supports a major goal of the Innovation Campus — to dramatically increase the number of graduates with the skills to fuel the technology workforce.
“The country, and the Washington, D.C., area in particular, are in need of more outstanding tech talent,” said Lance Collins, executive director of the Innovation Campus. “I am grateful for Northrop Grumman’s participation in this program and their dedication to the next generation of technology leaders. Through partnerships like this one, we are furthering the careers of working professionals, and helping them increase their impact on their companies and the tech industry.”
Northrop Grumman employees based around the country – from California to Virginia – are enrolled in the program. Students choose from a variety of focus areas, including computer security, quantum engineering, internet software development, and signal processing.
These are the software skills that continue to be in high demand at Northrop Grumman.
“It’s increasingly important to ensure that we get the talent that we need to be successful,” said Patty Finch, who is director of technical development for Northrop Grumman’s Mission Systems sector. “Our goal was to offer advanced degrees that our current employees could complete within two to three years and directly apply to their roles at Northrop Grumman.”
Participants in the program could complete the Virginia Tech master’s degree within two to three years.
That’s the plan for Ashley Chang, who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at Virginia Tech in 2020 and is a systems engineer at Northrop Grumman. Chang is pursuing a degree through the partnership program.
Chang said she is seeking more technical knowledge that will help her in her day-to-day work.
“It’s helpful to understand my peers and to understand more about what we work on,” said Chang, who eventually wants to move into program management.
This new program is helping Northrop Grumman increase its significant and supportive base of more than 700 Hokie alumni, like Chang.
“That builds the internal camaraderie and allows it to grow and develop,” Finch said.
Northrop Grumman’s support of employees advancing their education is one feature that attracted Smutny to the company.
“All parties benefit from this,” he said. “Employees continue their professional growth, and Northrop Grumman gains a more trained workforce that is ready for the defense industry’s next generation of problems.”