Late last year, we went to a reception at the National Electronics Museum for students in Northrop Grumman’s High School Involvement Partnership Program (HIP). Nora works as a counselor in a Baltimore school that participates in the program, and has been to this reception before. It was my first time.
If you don’t know, Northrop is a ginormous U.S. defense contractor, and is especially prominent in Maryland. The Northrop Grumman Mission Systems sector headquarters in based in Linthicum, near BWI airport. They employ 10,660 in Greater Baltimore, the fifth largest private sector employer and the only one of those five that isn’t a medical or educational institution.
When we walked in the door, Nora made a surprised yelp sound, yelled “Theo!” and ran to embrace this young Asian man:
I’d seen this behavior before in movie theaters and grocery stores around town, whenever Nora runs into a current or former student. She’s been at this a while, so there are a lot of former students.
Everyone seems happy to reunite, but it doesn’t have much meaning for me. I just awkwardly hover in the wings, my life on pause for a moment.
Not so at the Northrop HIP event. There I got the chance to see what it means for young people when organizations and adults invest in them.
That evening, we heard from the founder of HIP (formerly WORTHY, or Worthwhile To Help High School Youth) on the origins of the program.
Her names slips me, but she grew up in West Baltimore at the dawn of the computer age, and received a scholarship to study programming at Drexel University in Philadelphia. After graduation, she nabbed a computer job with Westinghouse Electric’s defense electronics division outside Baltimore. (When Westinghouse left the defense business in 1996 at the end of the Cold War, Northrop snapped up the Baltimore operation for $3.6B).
After a few promotions, she looked around at her fellow managers, and realized she was the only one with a black face. So she hatched an internship program for Baltimore City high schoolers.
She nervously pitched the program to the executive suite. The reaction? She was given $1M out of the gate and tasked with running it. That was 1971.
Over the years, over 100 students from 20 Baltimore City high schools have been mentored by Northrop employees, who typically spend a full day a month with mentees. Activities include working on a year-long hands-on project, as well as tutoring in math.
Even better, Northrop provides summer paid work opportunities, as well as scholarship money for college – $20,000 over four years for students who show promise.
Today, the program has expanded to other Maryland cities – Annapolis and Sykesville – and other Northrop locations in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia.
Corporate investment in youth – especially underrepresented kids – is important, but it’s not sufficient. It all starts with adults taking time to know and guide young people – in and out of the classroom.
Same with government. Maryland elected officials in Annapolis love to throw money at Baltimore from a distance, to little effect. What if they kept their money, and each of them committed to four hours a month of mentoring in the city instead, and encouraged others to do the same?
Nora is modest, so she wouldn’t want me to share this, but she saw potential in Theo when he was a high school freshman, and looked for opportunities he could pursue.
The Northrop program seemed like a good fit, but Theo had some disadvantages: English wasn’t spoken in his immigrant home, he had to put in many hours at the family Chinese takeout, and he had zero exposure to corporate America.
But he was determined to make it…and to make it out of his dangerous city.
Nora knew this program would be a difference-maker for Theo, so she worked with him to prepare his application. On the day of the interview, she tied his borrowed necktie for him; he had never needed one before.
At the reception, Theo – now a HIP mentor himself – was one of the keynote speakers. He held everyone’s rapt attention as he related the story of growing up in the ghetto, perpetually drenched in the deep fried stench of egg rolls and fried chicken, yet still graduating in the top 5% of his magnet high school class. Then, with Northrop’s scholarship help, attending the state’s top collegiate engineering program at University of Maryland, College Park.
The room was so quiet that I think you could hear tears drip onto my shiny wingtips as Theo described the terror of hearing how his father was shot in the neck protecting the family takeout during the Baltimore riots of 2015, and how proud Theo was now, as a full-time Northrop electronics engineer, to be able to buy his own house.
A house that is big enough for his now-recovered father and mother to live in also. In Baltimore City, of course.