Denise Fernandez and Jacob Zeferino were selected by the aerospace and defense technology company for a new “talent pipeline” program.

RANCHO BERNARDO — For six years, Denise Fernandez attended Palomar College as a military spouse, balancing a growing family and military life with demanding STEM classes. On a recent Monday morning, all of her hard work began to pay off.

On Oct. 28, the 26-year-old mother of two reported for her first day at Northrop Grumman, a large technology company and defense contractor with several locations clustered around Palomar College’s Rancho Bernardo Education Center.

“I tried to convince my husband to work for Northrop when he retired—I told him, ‘They hire veterans!’ Then, the more research I did, I was like, ‘I want to work there,’” she recalled. “That was before this internship. This is my chance to do my part.”

Fernandez is one of two Palomar students selected for a pilot program at Northrop Grumman providing community college students with work-based learning opportunities and career development in the aerospace and defense industries.

“This is not a go-get-coffee internship,” said Fernandez. “They’re throwing us right in.”

She and Jacob Zeferino, the other Palomar student chosen for the program, are officially Electronics Technicians at the company. Zeferino’s internship is set to begin on Nov. 4.

Both will be working 20 hours a week, four days a week, until Christmas. Fernandez described her first week as part of an infrastructure team, doing hands-on software engineering, and a production team, assembling virtual machines.

“They invest a lot in their interns, and they really did treat us like real employees coming on,” she said. “As an intern, you can feel really small in a big company, but they’ve been really supportive and helpful.”

“It’s pretty cool they’re having us work on real projects,” added Zeferino, 20, who plans to transfer to UC Irvine to pursue computer engineering after he graduates from Palomar next spring.

“All my experience so far is either my own projects or school assignments. I’ve never done anything like this. So I’m hoping to get some good experience,” Zeferino said. “Just the name of the company is going to look good on my resume.”

Jason Jarvinen, the Cooperative Education Department Chair at Palomar College, described the process of partnering with Northrop Grumman as highly collaborative, with huge potential benefits for the students who are chosen to participate.

“It’s a really good opportunity for students to be with a company where they’re going to work on really cutting-edge technology programs,” said Jarvinen. “I think this will really enhance their career potential down the road. And the mentoring they’ll get from staff members at Northrop will expand their networks and help them develop some of the soft skills that are necessary to be successful in the field.”

“For me, as a beginning software engineering student, I didn’t even think internships would be possible until my first year at Cal State San Marcos”—where she plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree next year, Fernandez said. “Palomar definitely opened this door for me.”