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One conversation can change the course of a life. For Loriann Kaaihue ’08 ’09MBA, it was two.

In the early 2000s, the mother of two decided to return to college to complete a bachelor’s degree in business management. She had been a stay-at-home mom for about six years and was ready to get back into the workforce. As she neared graduation, a professor-turned-mentor had a candid conversation with her about her future.

“Knowing I was a female in my mid-30s trying to get re-established into the workforce, she suggested I earn my master’s to help me stand out,” says Kaaihue, who that same night talked to her husband about how they could make it work. They hired a sitter for their children so that she could continue her education full-time.

Then came the second life-changing conversation. A classmate in UCF’s Master’s of Business Administration program was a Lockheed Martin employee, and she told Kaaihue about the College Work Experience Program (CWEP) that allows students to work part-time at Lockheed Martin. The opportunity was unique to UCF students, thanks to a strong partnership and close proximity between the organizations.

Kaaihue had been looking for internships, and shortly after that conversation, she applied at UCF’s Career Services. It didn’t take long for Kaaihue to be invited to Lockheed Martin for an interview, and before she even left the parking lot to drive home, she was called with an offer to be a CWEP in program finance.

Twelve years later, Kaaihue is still a Lockheed Martin employee. Management noticed her hard work and skills, and she felt valued by the team and the company culture. She had a full-time offer waiting for her upon graduating from UCF.

Kaaihue’s story is just one of countless others of the CWEP program, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The program has grown exponentially, with Lockheed Martin providing paid work experience to approximately 650 students each year. On average, 60% of them are offered full-time jobs. And despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program continued to offer a significant number of CWEP positions remotely.

The program is a shining example of a win-win situation — students earn good pay and workforce experience at one of the most recognized corporate names in America, and Lockheed Martin has a pipeline of talent from numerous engineering and business-related disciplines that is funneled directly into its workforce.

“We believe increasing opportunities for students and fostering their talents through hands-on work experiences positions them for success,” says Frank St. John ’87 ’91MS, Lockheed Martin chief operating officer and a grad of the College Work Experience Program. “I personally know how valuable and formative CWEP is, and I am honored to be a part of our 40-year partnership with UCF.”

Treated Like Part of the Team

Kaaihue says what stood out about the CWEP program is that she wasn’t treated like a grunt intern asked to fetch coffee or file paperwork; she felt like one of the team.

Christie Adkins ’01 ’03MBA, a finance senior manager at Lockheed Martin who now works with Kaaihue, remembers the way her manager treated her when she was a CWEP in 2000. As a part-time employee with real responsibilities, Adkins created weekly monetary reports detailing how much had been spent on the program that week, including labor and personnel, plus quarterly affordability analyses.

“It’s the mentality I now apply to my CWEPs,” says Adkins, who annually has eight to nine students working in her department. They help budget new projects and create proposals to win new contracts.

That mentality is across the board. Senior Systems Engineer and MAE alumnus Jose Castillo ’12 ’19MS developed algorithms as a CWEP intern that collected and evaluated flight data of Lockheed’s Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). He continued using those same skills when he transitioned to a full-time employee, developing and testing software for sniper targeting pods that are used on more than 10 fighter aircrafts, including the F-16 and F-18.

Recognizing how fortunate he was to have that real-world experience while a college student, he now takes it upon himself to advocate for the CWEP program by visiting campus to recruit students and help mentor the 30 to 60 CWEP students his department has at any given time.

“CWEP has become my passion project,” he says.

A Year-Long Interview

Adkins’ college journey at UCF started as a mathematics major. Working with numbers undoubtedly was her strong suit, but she wasn’t sure how to translate that into a career she loved.

“The CWEP showed me what a finance analyst does. It’s analysis planning, but there’s a lot more creativity than any other opportunity I had found,” Adkins says.

She found what she was looking for, and has since worked in various finance roles since being hired full-time at Lockheed Martin in 2001. This is thanks to CWEP managers that ensure students, like Adkins at the time, are exposed to as much as possible while in the program. It’s an opportunity for students to learn what they’re passionate about, while managers also learn which students are a good fit for potential full-time employment.

Christine Hawkins, a current CWEP student and sophomore studying computer science, has been thankful for that opportunity. Hired on last year as a freshman, she’s now creating a software script that will calculate the projected amount of product that a business line is expected to create in a given week — a tool that’s expected to be used by numerous projects across the company.

In addition to software development, though, she’s also learned about production, finance and coding.

“It’s giving me an opportunity to see what I really want to do,” Hawkins says. She intends on staying in the CWEP program through graduation.

Invaluable Work Experience

Castillo remembers an elated feeling after earning a spot in the CWEP program. Prior, he had been serving at Applebee’s to pay for his bills in college.

“I was just pinching myself,” he says. “I walked with pride.”

Although not all internships are paid — some offer academic credit — CWEP students make anywhere from $11.78 an hour to $20.27 an hour for up to 25 hours of work per week, or up to 40 weeks during the summer.

In the Central Florida area alone, Lockheed Martin employs about 8,000 workers and over the next 15 years, intends to hire approximately 50,000 new STEM professionals across the company. That job security is assuring for students like Gio Dantes, who began his college career after five years of service in the U.S. Navy. The stability of job security and competitive wages is something he looks forward to as he continues to re-acclimate to civilian life.

Dantes joined the Navy at age 19 and served as an aviation engine mechanic. It was during that time he discovered his project-management skills, which he uses regularly as a program planner as a CWEP. He ensures all the business and engineering functions of the product lines he works on stay on track. Come January, he will begin a full-time position at Lockheed Martin as a program planner after graduating from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in business management.

“It’s a great feeling to have a job secured,” Dantes says. “I’ve worked the best I can and tried to make the most of my time in this program. I’m very thankful to UCF and Lockheed for having it.”

Dantes’ story is exactly what this partnership had hoped to accomplish when it began 40 years ago.

“It’s pretty rare that we have a CWEP that we aren’t chomping at the bit to hire on full time,” Kaaihue says. “I think that’s a testament to UCF, too, and the quality of students they’re bringing to the table.”

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