Boeing Frontiers
September 2003
Volume 02, Issue 05
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Cover Story

The Old College Try


Top: Pictured during a spring pizza party for Boeing scholarship winners at Georgia Tech are (from left) University Relations Vice President Bob Spitzer, student Kevin D. Rodkey, and Boeing Phantom Works Director Henry Pugh.
Professional sports teams use a "feeder system" of minor league and college teams to make sure their rosters are stocked with potential superstars. High-tech-driven companies like Boeing do the same.

By building long-term relationships with about 280 "focus" colleges and universities worldwide, Boeing helps ensure that these institutions equip a diverse group of students with the technical and business skills most needed for success on the future company playing field. But that hardly means that top-quality graduates from other schools are out of the game.

Boeing employees come from 2,600 different schools, said Bob Spitzer, University Relations vice president of External Affiliations—and it's impossible to be meaningfully involved with each. So for focus schools, "our relationship is somewhat proportional to their relative size and contribution to our business," Spitzer said.

Focus schools are selected, he said, "because they're providers of the kind of talent we need. They're there because they have a strong reputation of diversity—not only geographical and ideological, but gender and ethnicity." About 50 of these 280 focus schools are two-year community colleges, which Spitzer said help produce as many as half the technical graduates in the United States.

But the powerhouse college names don't have a lock on high-tech and business talent. Just as pro sports teams always are scouting small schools for future superstars like football Hall of Famer Walter Payton (Jackson State University) and basketball legends John Stockton (Gonzaga University) and Scottie Pippen (University of Central Arkansas), so is Boeing. What's key is ensuring that college grads—regardless of their schools—have developed the skills and critical thinking needed in the business and technical workforce of the future, and understand the importance of lifelong learning.

While many collegiate suppliers of top talent are located near Boeing sites, other schools—including Indiana's Purdue University and Atlanta's Georgia Institute of Technology—are situated in places without any Boeing presence. About 40 non-U.S. schools are engaged with University Relations, with many contributing specific research and development work to the company.

"Universities provide knowledge, ideas and research we couldn't get anywhere else," said Spitzer. "The people that teach there are in search of knowledge, and that knowledge is accessible" to Boeing through these relationships. Boeing currently provides colleges with more than $12 million to conduct R&D work—either in conjunction with the company, or on a contract basis.

University Relations work not only enhances the company's future workforce but also benefits current employees. By establishing relationships with schools that educate Boeing workers—often through the company's landmark Learning Together program—University Relations helps ensure the company workforce gains the skills that will keep Boeing in the technological forefront.

"Education does not end with your college degree and your job," said Spitzer. "In today's world, you have to begin continuing education from the day you step in the door."

It's all about engagement. And that, said University Relations Manager Frank Hughes, involves everything from Boeing employees sitting on accreditation boards, to hosting engineering professors at company sites for the annual Boeing-A.D. Welliver Faculty Summer Fellowship Program, to the several hundred company leaders serving as "executive focals" responsible for building relationships with specific schools. The University Relations Process Council—sponsored by the Office of Technology and composed of representatives from across the enterprise—meets regularly to help ensure Boeing consistently leverages its resources and relationships with schools worldwide.

All this engagement is paying off. For the second year in a row, engineering and science college students have named Boeing the No. 1 employer, according to the 2003 Universum Undergraduate Survey.

Last year, more than $2 million of Boeing charitable cash investments provided for 945 scholarships, with about half going to women and underrepresented minorities in technical and business fields.

"We're trying to encourage the educational system to produce students who meet the needs of the overall industry in the future: multidisciplinary education, learning together, business acumen," said Spitzer. "We're tending to emphasize to the schools that they need to produce people ready for their work lives.

"When we allocate scholarship dollars to the school," Spitzer said, "we expect our executive focal to get acquainted with the student by name."

And Gina DeSimone, vice president of Boeing Air Traffic Management Engineering & Programs, has done just that, and a lot more. For the past 18 months, DeSimone's been the executive focal assigned to Georgia Tech, where she earned a master's degree in electrical engineering in 1982. The research university is one of about 25 that Boeing deals with on a crossenterprise basis, as it turns out the nation's largest number of students with bachelor's degrees in engineering, as well as the largest number of female and African-American engineers at the graduate level. So after getting acquainted with the school's industry liaison and key college deans, DeSimone jumped into what she considered the most crucial task—meeting those benefiting from Boeing scholarship dollars.

"I'm trying to get to know the students because we're investing a good amount in their educations," said DeSimone, a 20-year Boeing employee who previously served as the senior site executive for the Boeing facility in Huntsville, Ala. "And I thought it would be nice for them to know Boeing, rather than just getting a check with Boeing's name at the bottom."

So this spring, DeSimone hosted a pizza party for the 50 or so scholarship recipients, with the goal of introducing them to the diverse ideas, technologies and people that exist within Boeing. At the party, she also introduced the "Boeing Buddy" program, one that will "virtually" pair Georgia Tech students with Boeing Technical Fellows starting this semester.

"The students will get a lot out of it," DeSimone said, "but I think the Tech Fellows will, too. They'll get that connection to the next generation of engineers. I think everybody wins."


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