Support of NAU pays off for Raytheon’s Tucson unit in engineering-grad hires

December 29, 2009

By Flinn Foundation

Eric Betz, For the Arizona Daily Sun, December 29, 2009


FLAGSTAFF — Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson hired 10 percent of Northern Arizona University’s engineering graduates last year and is fostering a close relationship with the university in general.   “Raytheon is very, very interested in NAU,” said Kim Christianson, Raytheon Missile Systems’ chief scientist. “We like people from a lot of the disciplines, and we would like to harvest some of this really good talent.”


Recruiting with video


Christianson was at NAU in early December for an engineering seminar aimed at retaining interest.  Christianson’s talk played upon the “shock and awe” that only military weaponry can produce. It featured numerous images and videos of missile tests and explosions. At one point, he showed a video of a tank exploding into flames and a 15,000-pound turret flying into the air and landing 10 seconds later.  “Trust me,” said Christianson, who is hard of hearing as a result of witnessing more than 1,000 warhead tests. “Once you’ve been doing this long enough, it’s not that much fun to watch NASCAR.”


Contributing funds


The NAU Foundation, which handles gifts to the university, would not provide an exact figure for how much Raytheon has donated, and messages left with Raytheon’s press office went unanswered. However, the foundation’s Web site identifies Raytheon as being in the President’s Circle of givers for at least the last three years, which is defined as having contributed between $10,000 and $100,000.


Raytheon also donates to individual departments. It provides scholarships, internships, club funding and the underwriting of specific projects. The company provided the funds to start the physics and astronomy department’s American Indian Mobile Educational Resources program, a mobile computer lab that focuses on teaching science and engineering to Indian high school students on rural reservations.


Looking for talent


Raytheon is often looking for talent, and the company has customarily shown interest in filling open positions with fresh NAU grads. Even in a tough economy, many undergraduates are still finding work at Raytheon.


According to the Office of Scholarships, Internships and Employment at NAU, this last summer alone Raytheon hired about 10 percent of NAU’s more than 100 new engineering graduates.  Raytheon, which frequently attends career fairs at the university, has shown interest in other NAU disciplines, too, having hired math students and dozens of physics graduates in the past as well.  “Raytheon loves this school; that’s why we’re here,” said Christianson, who serves on the advisory board of the department of mechanical engineering. “We want to keep this bond going with the school.”


Christianson said that “just knowing how to build things” and knowing how to run a machine shop “is almost a lost art, and that is why NAU is doing so well.”


Not all NAU students reciprocate the interest Raytheon shows in them, though. “I don’t want to make weapons,” said Buddy Davis, a recipient of the Raytheon Scholarship while an NAU student.  “I believe that it’s necessary and don’t hold any contempt for those who do, but it’s not for me.”  Davis, a recent NAU engineering grad, said starting salaries for graduates in the $60,000 range, and job security, are a large part of what drives other students he knows to work for companies such as Raytheon.


Eric Betz is an NAU student and a NASA Space Grant science writing intern this year at the Arizona Daily Sun.