For Lockheed employee, National Engineers Week a return to career roots

Andres Mujica might have had a bit of déjà vu Thursday.The 23-year-old Lockheed Martin electrical engineer met with students at a robotics competition hosted by the defense giant, one that commemorated National Engineers Week.It was during the...

For Lockheed employee, National Engineers Week a return to career roots

Andres Mujica might have had a bit of déjà vu Thursday.

The 23-year-old Lockheed Martin electrical engineer met with students at a robotics competition hosted by the defense giant, one that commemorated National Engineers Week.

It was during the robotics competition six years ago that Mujica first visited the Orlando-based defense giant’s campus as a member of Freedom High School’s team.

He said that visit convinced him that he should pursue a degree in engineering, which he received from University of Central Florida in 2015.

“When you’re in high school, it’s one thing to think about what you want to do for a living,” he said. “But when you can meet the people who are doing it, that is what can push you over the edge and make you decide to pursue the career.”

That’s the idea behind inviting students into the usually secretive location at Lockheed Martin during National Engineers Week, which began in 1951 and has some major tech companies celebrating their engineers.

More than 200 students from nine local high schools built robots to pick up and collect yellow spheres off a maze-like board painted blue.

If that brings to mind a physical representation of the classic video game Pac-Man, that’s no accident.

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“It’s something students can relate to,” said Steven Botwinik, Lockheed’s director of advanced programs for its Missiles and Fire Control division. “It’s fun. It gives them a good engineering-and-science challenge, while at the same time, they can have a really good time both competing and enjoying the game.”

As Lockheed invited students into its facility Thursday, Harris Corp., on the Space Coast, made a week out of it, as its employees hosted several events at the space and defense company’s Palm Bay facility.

Employees built egg-carrying gliders out of cardboard, crafted load-bearing bridges out of balsa wood and flew radio-controlled quadcopters through an obstacle course.

Orlando resident and Harris mechanical engineer Van Truong took his turn on the course.

“It helps take the mind off serious work for a while,” said Truong, who works on space and intelligence systems for Harris. “It gets the creative juices flowing. A little bit of friendly competition helps drive innovation.”

At Lockheed, employees served as mentors for the high school students during the eight weeks Bets10 of preparation that went into the competition.

Perhaps Mujica’s luck rubbed off on his former school: Freedom High School ended up winning Thursday’s competition.

Botwinik said the events can serve as a bridge into the workplace for potential engineers.

“We need to start engagement as early as possible,” Botwinik said. “Without the talent, we can’t do what we need to do.”

Got a news tip? msantana@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5256; Twitter, @marcosantana

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