Takara Petersen knew from an early age that she wanted to work at Northrop Grumman.
As an 8-year-old growing up in Syracuse, Utah, she first tagged along with her mother, an engineer, to watch missile test launches in California from a control room at Hill Air Force Base. She was hooked. The problem was figuring out how to choose a degree.
The materials science program at the University of Utah provided a career path. After receiving her associate degree from Weber State University, she transferred to the U in 2019—promptly joining the Society of Women Engineers, becoming an ambassador for the College of Engineering and, most importantly, signing up for an internship and later a part-time job at Northrop Grumman.
“There’s just so much opportunity at the U,” Petersen said. “It offers more experience and growth and a much larger community.”
A week ago, the Class of 2022 graduate started working full-time at Northrop Grumman, designing corrosion solutions for the defense contractor that avoid using the carcinogens hexavalent chrome and cadmium. Petersen is one of 900 U alums with 1,200 degrees among Northrop Grumman’s 8,000 Utah employees. She’s also a perfect example of the impact of the university on the state around it, says President Taylor Randall.
“We have a lot of reach, but tremendous responsibility at the same time. The state invests heavily in us, and that carries with it an obligation. Utah State University has the same responsibility,” Randall told a group of Cache County leaders gathered for breakfast at Herm’s Inn in Logan. “We’re here to listen and understand how we have to change the way we deliver higher education to the state.”
On the first leg of his statewide Utah Across Utah tour, Randall and a group of U leaders traversed Northern Utah from Logan to Farmington and back to Ogden: meeting with elected leaders from Cache County and the Utah Legislature; talking internships and recruitment with business executives from aircraft battery manufacturer Electric Power Systems and carbon fiber bicycle component maker ENVE Composites; organizing a discussion about the Great Salt Lake’s future; and wrapping up with an alumni dinner in the downstairs lounge of the Union Grill on Ogden’s 24th Street.
“This tour is a good idea,” said Amy Anderson, a member of the Logan City Council. “In general—even at Utah State University—there’s the perception of the ‘university on the hill’ that doesn’t come down off the hill as often it should. So the fact that you’re coming all the way up here—we appreciate it.”
The tour comes as Randall rounds out his first year leading Utah’s flagship institution of higher education. Other legs of the tour later this summer will include Southern Utah and St. George; Utah County; Tooele County; and the Eastern Utah towns of Moab, Price and Vernal. Throughout the tour, the president will highlight the U’s partnerships and collaborations with other state colleges and universities in an effort to redefine and rededicate to the university’s unique role in Utah. At the same time, Randall is laser focused on the overarching goal of making the university a top 10-ranked public university, or one with similar community impact.
“A lot of universities get to top 10 by being exclusionary. We’re not going to do that,” he told alumni gathered in Ogden, paraphrasing Football Coach Kyle Whittingham. “We are actually going to be the university that coaches up. We are going to lift our students and their families. If we can do that, we will change society.”
Those founding principles are captured in Six Commitments signed by the president and the Board of Trustees.
The numbers tell a story of the university’s statewide impact:
- Students come to the U from two-thirds of Northern Utah ZIP codes —including 2,016 students from Davis County, 606 from Weber County and 267 from Cache County
- U of U Health patients live in 96 percent of those ZIP codes—nearly 64,000 in Davis County, another 20,500 in Weber County and 5,600 in Cache County
- The U manages 550 buildings totaling 15.4 million square feet of space in 14 counties and 33 cities across Utah
- The U awards more than half of the advanced degrees awarded to Utah graduates
- The university is the state’s largest employer with 39,300 direct jobs, and directly and indirectly supports another 831,000 jobs
- The university trains 2/3 of Utah’s physicians
In addition to those contributions to the state, the president has pledged to disperse university administrative jobs throughout Utah, particularly in rural communities. At the same time, he is asking business leaders to work with beefed up career and professional services operations at the U that will help interns and graduates find jobs throughout the state.
At Northrop Grumman last week, U graduate and director of operations Justin McMurray said his company is ready to capitalize on the relationship. Already, Northrop Grumman provided 19 grants this year totaling $90,000 for offices across campus and has offered another series of grants worth up to $500,000 to university colleges and departments. About two dozen U students are currently working as summer interns at the company. And Northrop Grumman currently has nearly 1,000 job openings.
“There is a huge opportunity to get more people from the University of Utah,” said McMurray, an engineering graduate who started as an intern at the company 20 years ago. “It’s not just about a summer. It’s a career.”