Computer Science Student Enjoys Unique Internship Opportunity
By Eric Breier
Kevin Mendoza remembers his reaction when his robotics adviser at Oceanside High School casually said that Northrop Grumman was looking for students to apply for a STEM learning experience as part of a pilot phase for a new talent pipeline program and asked if Mendoza might be interested.
“It was like, ‘What do you mean if?’ ” Mendoza said.
For someone like Mendoza, with thoughts of a career as a software developer or working with autonomous machines and high-altitude long endurance aircraft, it was a no-brainer.
Now, as a freshman computer science student at Cal State San Marcos, Mendoza is looking forward to eventually returning to Northrop Grumman as a college intern once he completes additional engineering, physics and computer science classes.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company that has been a strong advocate of CSUSM and its engineering program. Not only has the company partnered with CSUSM’s College of Science and Mathematics on projects, but David A. Allen, Northrop Grumman’s director of systems engineering, sits on the CSM Dean’s Advisory Council.
CSUSM frequently sends students to local companies like Northrop Grumman to gain industry experience as interns, but Mendoza was in the enviable position of getting an internship opportunity before even starting college.
“Kevin represents the qualities we look for in students we want to mentor,” said Alfredo Ramirez, Northrop Grumman’s vice president of engineering. “To have a successful career in the aerospace and defense industries, one has to be driven, always learning, be collaborative and willing to go above and beyond to find solutions for challenging assignments.”
Mendoza grew up with a fascination for seeing how different things work and operate from watching his father, who is an auto mechanic. He liked to help his dad out and eventually was entrusted with working on his family’s cars, changing the oil and providing basic maintenance.
“I kind of wanted to follow his footsteps a bit,” Mendoza said. “I thought, ‘Well, how can I get involved in working with things?’ And there was robotics at Oceanside, so I thought I’d see where that goes. I was in it for four years, and it gave me pretty good opportunities.”
Mendoza is making the most of those opportunities at CSUSM. He participated in Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute Extension program, a three‐week summer experience for incoming CSUSM freshmen studying computer science or engineering. The program is funded by a Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Mendoza has also joined a slew of organizations, including the Association for Computing Machinery, CSUSM Border Angels and MEChA, among others.
Mendoza is even enrolled in his first computer science course – though it took quite a bit of initiative on his part. Needing to fulfill a prerequisite to enroll in Computer Science 111, he came to campus to study every day in the weeks leading up to the fall semester. The night before the start of the semester, he logged on and took a placement assessment at 1 a.m. He passed and then showed up at 8 a.m. to change his schedule so he could take CS111.
While Mendoza is enjoying his first semester of college, he is also looking forward to continuing his relationship with Northrop Grumman. He still savors the experience he gained from shadowing engineers in the spring at Northrop Grumman’s Autonomous Design Center of Excellence in Rancho Bernardo.
“One of the best things I remember is walking into this big room with all the engineers on one side, and they’re doing their thing on their computers,” Mendoza said. “Then there’s a test bench. It’s just like a regular table with all these parts to test them. It was cool to see where they design and develop high-altitude long endurance autonomous vehicles.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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