Alumnus Jim Burns at Lockheed Martin. (Photo by Jim Dowdall, courtesy Lockheed Martin.)
Cal Poly education helped engineering grad Jim Burns hit the ground running with Lockheed Martin
By Cathy Enns
What does it mean for a Cal Poly grad to be ready to hit the ground running as graduation approaches? For Jim Burns (B.S., Electrical Engineering, 2006), it meant a resume in Lockheed Martin’s “high potential” stack, seven interviews and three job offers at the company’s Space Systems business unit in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Now a senior systems engineer with the defense contractor, Burns recalls that he felt “lab-ready, tested and tried” when Lockheed Martin hired him upon graduation.
That wasn’t the case when he arrived at Cal Poly in 2001 as 17-year-old with no hands-on experience.
“As a student, you really don’t have the foresight to think about your career right away,” Burns said. “You’re more worried about getting to class on time, passing that exam or meeting your friends at the farmers market. That started to change pretty quickly for me, though, when I realized that I was creating my story.”
Cal Poly offered various career developing opportunities, and Burns began to take advantage of them. He started with career fairs – creating a resume and attending one of the events in his sophomore year.
As a junior, Burns used the Career Services website extensively, mining it for resume writing tips and cover letter strategies and signing up for on-campus interviews. Those moves helped him land an internship in Southern California at Alcon Laboratories, a biomedical company specializing in eye care products. He spent six months at Alcon’s Irvine Technology Center, researching and characterizing lasers to be used in a future eye surgical device.
The following summer, he returned for a second stint at Alcon, designing the LCD control panel circuit board for the same surgical device. Burns had found his senior project, one so grounded in the real world that, he remembered, “I even got paid!”
Burns also credits the many engineering Learn by Doing opportunities Cal Poly offered for his workforce-readiness. One of these opportunities was PolySat, a student-led project that builds and launches cube-shaped satellites into space to perform research and explore new technologies for various sponsors – one of which is Lockheed Martin. Adding satellite design experience to his knowledge of lasers gave Burns’ resume another important dimension.
In addition to hosting extracurricular programs such as PolySat, the College of Engineering supports students in other ways, Burns said. The fact that open lab hours are available on weekends, for example, is a major advantage for students, he said. Students have the freedom to use the facilities to complete lab assignments, work on their senior projects or even follow their own interests.
That kind of support for student success is critical, he said, because of the rigor of Cal Poly’s engineering programs. “Nearly every engineering class has a one-unit lab along with it,” he said, “but you do as much or more work in your labs as you do for your three-unit classes. In those labs, students work with the same technology they’ll be using on the job. That’s one reason that, pound for pound, Cal Poly engineering units outweigh those of other universities.”
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. has a similar view, regarding Cal Poly as one of their “key schools” and singling out the university for a top-level partnership. The company assists the College of Engineering with curriculum development and funding support. Not surprisingly, Cal Poly grads are one of the largest alumni groups on the Sunnyvale campus and, like Burns, many are now involved in Cal Poly recruiting efforts.
Now in his sixth year at Lockheed Martin, Burns continues to build his portfolio of experience in true Learn by Doing style. He has worked on a variety of spacecraft and missile defense programs and performed various functions. His roles have included hardware design, systems integration, project management and problem resolution.
What will Burns tackle next? Even though he hastened to say “there’s no guarantee,” he did note that he was selected for – and recently completed – a three-year Engineering Leadership Development Program at Lockheed Martin. Next stop: management?