Michael K. Tillman, Sr., Northrup Grumman
Michael Tillman understands that paths can take unseen turns leading to unexpected destinations. That’s how he wound up at Northrop Grumman 19 years ago, instead of continuing a journey into law enforcement.
Back then, the former Marine and Secret Service Officer was set to join the Federal Air Marshal Service and didn’t own a computer. Now, he’s a department manager of cyber and non-kinetic operations in Mission Systems.
He engaged with Howard Community College (HCC) and its students over the years and noticed something. “There were some talented kids coming out of the college,” he says. “I went to our recruiting department and asked them to stage a recruiting event. They basically told me, ‘We don’t do community colleges.’”
Tillman thought it was a missed opportunity, so, he created his own informal partnership with HCC. He started mentoring students, offering them internships, and even hired a few to full-time positions. The company took notice and Tillman advocated for more.
“I thought we should offer a STEM scholarship program to support community college students,” he says. “My idea was to give them scholarships, and we could introduce ourselves as a company, culture, and brand,” he says. “That was my hope, to create a scholarship program, and it took a lot of virtual blood, sweat, tears, and elbow grease.”
The NG Scholars Program provides a scholarship of up to $4,000 to three first-year students majoring in math, engineering, computer science, computer information systems, physical sciences, or cybersecurity. Students who remain enrolled and eligible can receive the scholarship in their second year, too.
“We want them to go to school for free and just focus on academics,” Tillman says. “During their tenure we hope to engage them for mentoring opportunities and give them opportunities for internships. We’re trying to place ourselves high on the list of places they want to come to work once they graduate from college.”
Tillman attended Kentucky State University before entering the Marines but continues his studies and plans to graduate from University of Maryland Global Campus in 2023. The story behind his ascension to management at a Top 10 defense contractor makes him keenly aware of the potential in people who often are overlooked and undervalued.
“My path was less than direct, and I still made it,” Tillman says. “I see great capabilities in these students and they’re looking for their path to success. Whatever twists and turns life takes, they’re seeking education and knowledge, no different from students at Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. Why should these individuals be treated any differently just because their path is less direct than a four-year college?”
Tillman lives about two miles from the school and his children attended the Children’s Learning Center. He has hired HCC students as well as faculty members. He enjoys an up-close view of the school’s local impact and wants other organizations to join NG in offering support.
“Communities – and especially under-represented communities – need investment, education and opportunity,” he says. “Now we’re in this new age where it’s fashionable to be socially aware and interested in social justice. If you want to figure out how you can make change, find ways to invest in underserved communities. And what institutions serve them at the secondary level? Community colleges.
“If they’re strong, that means broader opportunity for people who may not be financially stable enough but have the will and want to go to college. This can be the thing that saves them. This could be the way out for a family. Just a little investment.”
It can help shorten the distance between point A and point B.