Taking Flight: Young alum rises up in job at Lockheed Martin

Many NIU alumni build their careers in the Chicago area, but 2017 alumnus Hugo Delabarrera is paving his path in Palmdale, California.

Before he graduated in 2017, Delabarrera was recruited to work for Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Program, also known as Skunk Works.

“Depending on the project, I could be working with electrical engineers, software engineers, or aerodynamicists,” Delabarrera said.

Delabarrera’s success can be traced to hard work and perseverance – and the challenging courses he took with mechanical engineering professor John Shelton.

“Dr. Shelton structures his classes in a way that gives students the best chance to absorb the dense material,” Delabarrera said. “Dr. Shelton had a great impact on my experience at NIU and like him, I approach challenges with a level head.”

Engineering is a challenging discipline, and Delabarrera struggled with some of his courses. Despite the challenges, he said, the critical thinking skills he learned at NIU are crucial to the way he approaches his job today.

“Many of the issues we work on may have an impact on aircraft airworthiness or the lives of our pilots, so being able to break down large problems is a fundamental skill,” Delabarrera said.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is another important everyday practice at Skunk Works. It takes engineers from various specialties to make projects work.

“A simple electrical wiring problem may involve thermodynamics, loads and vibrations, and electromagnetic interference, for example,” Delabarrera said.

Delabarrera said the journey to an engineering career isn’t easy, but he advises students on the same path to never give up, assuring them the struggle will be worth it in the end. His most important piece of advice, he said, is to face challenges head on and don’t be afraid to fail.

“Failure is the best motivator,” he said. “I have done my fair share of failing and have had professors suggest a different career path, but I looked at my failure as a lesson. Hard work, careful planning, and a strong reluctance to be defeated gets you through all obstacles.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email