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Many students dream of working for Lockheed Martin. But they don’t have to wait until graduation – they can work for the defense company as an undergraduate or graduate student through the College Work Experience Program, also known as CWEP.

CWEP allows students to work at Lockheed Martin for at least two consecutive semesters. During that time, they gain hands-on experience through different projects, work under the supervision of Lockheed Martin employees – and get paid for the work that they do.

Aerospace engineering doctoral candidate Kristina Pionessa ’22 ‘23MS started in CWEP as an undergraduate and has remained in the program for the past five years, developing both her technical and soft skills along the way.

“My experiences gave me the opportunity to apply the information learned in courses to real-life design and analysis,” Pionessa says. “It’s hard for me to think of a skill I didn’t get to build because I’ve been in the program for five years now, and it has been an endless learning opportunity.”

Pionessa has had the opportunity to get her feet wet in different areas of engineering, from quality assurance to aerodynamics. She’s worked in the Infrared Track and Search program, learning how to evaluate trending failures and discovering how different engineering teams work together to identify problems and create solutions. She’s also developed her skills in computational fluid dynamics and gained knowledge in missile design, flight mechanics and hypersonics through the Aerodynamics Center of Excellence. Throughout these experiences, the Lockheed Martin team encouraged her growth as a student and as an engineer.

“As a CWEP student, my leads pushed me to constantly learn new tasks,” Pionessa says. “When I was confident in a task, I could train a newer student to take on that task and my team would teach me something else. I had a team that knew me, pushed for me to be learning endlessly and had full confidence in my abilities.”

The Knight has also grown her professional network, with mentors who work in mechanical design, manufacturing, thermal design and aerodynamics at Lockheed Martin. She hopes to work alongside of those mentors as a full-time employee post-graduation. But she’ll have to complete her doctoral degree first. As a two-time graduate, returning to UCF was an easy choice. But her decision was influenced by opportunities CWEP could provide.

“UCF was a great option in terms of the program and environment, but I didn’t have to uproot my CWEP opportunity or overall life which was a plus,” Pionessa says. “I have always known I wanted to work within industry, so UCF was one of a few schools that had the opportunity to work year-round with the CWEP experience.”

Pionessa isn’t the only student to benefit from the program. To date, thousands of Knights have completed the program.

“Every year, more graduate-level students in CECS recognize CWEP’s ability to broaden their experience,” says Ali Gordon, the associate dean for graduate affairs. Beyond students like Kristina, prospective students who’ve completed degree programs at other institutions are enrolling in UCF’s graduate programs to enhance their chances of landing career opportunities in aerospace and defense companies.”