By Chloe Riley
A few months after she graduated from the University of Mississippi, Tamara Crawford (BSME 02) took the leap of faith that ultimately jump-started a long and successful career at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company.
In the midst of her junior year of college, Crawford was working on a class assignment by Dr. Ellen Lackey (BE 90, MS 92, PhD 96) to read “Skunk Works,” a book by Ben Rich and Leo Janos about Rich’s engineering career at Lockheed. Upon finishing the assignment, Crawford said she was sitting in her dorm room when she closed the book and declared she was going to move to Texas to work for them one day.
While Crawford would accept a position working on the F-35 program at Lockheed a few years later, her journey to that point wasn’t without its challenges.
“Four months after I graduated from Ole Miss, I moved from Mississippi to Texas with no job, no family, no interviews, without knowing anyone who worked at Lockheed,” Crawford said. “I had less than $300 in my pocket, but I knew if I didn’t go then I was going to lose my nerve.”
Without a backup plan, Crawford made the 9-hour drive to Dallas, the farthest she had ever driven alone by herself. A native of New Albany, she had also never lived far from home.
“I didn’t have a plan B. There was no plan B; so I literally had to take a leap of faith.”
Crawford’s connections would be the first step in getting established in Texas. As luck would have it, a friend from her freshman year had already moved there.
“When one of my good friends graduated, she said ‘I’m moving to Texas, so if you decide to move to Texas you can stay with me,’” Crawford said. “A year later, I was about to graduate, we were on the phone talking and she told me I could stay with her until I got on my feet.”
Making the fateful move in September 2002 after her graduation, Crawford slept on her friend’s couch while she began Lockheed’s application process. She got a call for an interview in January and in May she was officially an employee at her dream company.
Since starting at Lockheed in 2003, Crawford has held numerous positions, climbing her way up the career ladder. In one of her assignments, she pioneered the shutdown of the F-22 program, ultimately making history.
“When the government decided not to make any more F-22 planes and wanted to shut down the production line, I had to help identify what tools need to be retained, prepped and preserved to store and ship them to California,” she said. “What was different was that this had never been done before for an aircraft program. If the government decided they wanted to make more F-22s in the future, say, 30 years from now, Lockheed has to be able to reconstitute the production line, and to make sure the right tools are accessible to the people building it.”
Not only was Crawford tasked to do something never done before, when she joined the project it was behind schedule; when she finished it, they were four months ahead.
In addition to her performance on the F-22 program, Crawford also created a common structure for the F-16/F-22 Integrated Fighter Group Program by developing the IFG CAM eNotebook Population Guidance, which later became a best practice across all Lockheed Aeronautics programs.
While Crawford has achieved a lot in the 13 years she has worked for Lockheed, her proudest moment came earlier this year.
“I received a Black Engineer of the Year award, which is a special recognition award for career achievement,” Crawford said. “For me, it was special because it validated all of the hard work that I had done. To be recognized on a national level for my contributions to engineering was an awesome feeling.”
With the support of her family from day one, Crawford remembers how it felt when her family watched her receive the award.
“What’s even sweeter and more rewarding is seeing the look of pride and joy in the faces of my family,” she said. “The award was great, but the look on their faces was even greater. They had sacrificed and it was validation that their hard work wasn’t in vain either.”