Photo Credit: Beth Perdue, SCBB
Photo Credit: Beth Perdue, SCBB

By Beth Perdue/editor@southcoastbulletin.com
Posted Jan. 1, 2015 @ 2:01 am
MARION — Lane Tobiason recalls the exact moment he got hooked on engineering.
It was during a special STEM class in 2007 while he was a junior at Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School.
Students were given a single piece of construction paper and six inches of tape and challenged to create the highest, sturdiest tower possible with only those materials.
The class was part of a Lockheed Martin Sippican/UMass Dartmouth collaboration, called UMD Primes, that is designed to increase local graduates in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.
Tobiason made his tower by cutting the paper into four pieces, using three of them as cylinders which he stacked on top of each other, and using the fourth piece to string together triangle shapes into an antenna. It was a success.
“I ended up winning and the instructor said it was the tallest tower he’d ever seen,” he recalled.
The Acushnet resident hasn’t looked back since.
Tobiason spent two years in the Primes program, then enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at UMass Dartmouth, graduating in 2014. He returned to Lockheed Martin Sippican in Marion during his junior year to work as a summer intern and today works at Lockheed Martin as a mechanical engineer.
He wouldn’t change anything.
“I’m enjoying it a lot,” said Tobiason with a grin. “Over Thanksgiving, we had a five day break and I just wanted to go back to work.”
Forty years and counting
While UMD Primes isn’t the only employer program to promote STEM education in the region, it goes above and beyond in a number of ways.
For one, it’s been in existence for 40 years and has helped 2,000 students, at best guess, boost their math skills in preparation for STEM careers, with most going on to college, according to Amanda Gomes, Primes program director for Lockheed Martin.
“All of my seniors graduate and go on to higher education whether at the BCC level or a four-year college,” Gomes said. “Out of the past 12 years, maybe four or five didn’t go directly into an undergraduate program.”
For another, Primes takes a comprehensive approach to helping students, offering weekly classes, one-on-one tutoring, and mentoring and guidance on everything from course selection to public speaking to completing college applications. Field trips are included as well as meetings with working engineers.
The program’s core feature is the Monday night classes which run for 20 weeks each year. On its own, the weekly classes can make a huge difference in a student’s life, Gomes said.
“I have letters from parents that have said they can’t believe the turnaround and the focus their children have gained just from the Monday night class,” she said.
Helping students identify the right courses to take is another important component, Gomes said, noting younger students in particular often don’t know which courses they need to graduate with to be accepted into a college program.
“We found (high school) students weren’t thinking about college,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is get the ninth graders in now, help them with class selection for the following year, so they can complete math to the highest level and know what the colleges are looking for.”
Many students who complete Primes come back to the program to teach or just to meet with students and talk about their experiences. At the least, they keep in touch with her, Gomes said.
Once a student finishes Primes, there is no requirement to pursue an engineering field, but anyone who does so at UMass Dartmouth is given a $500 stipend each semester, if they maintain a required GPA, Gomes said.
She speaks from experience when she says the program works.
Gomes started in Primes as a ninth grader at Wareham High school about 25 years ago. The first generation in her family to go to college, she believes she only made it to higher education because of her Primes connection.
“I probably wouldn’t even have thought about going to college without it,” she said.
Today, Gomes’ son attends the program.
David Maher, project engineering manager for Lockheed Martin Sippican, and a member of the Greater New Bedford Workforce Investment Board, also has firsthand experience of Primes — both his nephew and oldest son went through the program.
“While neither of them went on to UMass Dartmouth…they still talk about the program and how it helped them prepare for what to expect in college and kept them both interested in engineering related majors and subsequently nice jobs,” he said.
Primes got its start by a former Lockheed Martin Sippican maintenance employee, Andrew Mendes, who wanted to help minority students, mainly young men of color, who were the first generation in their family to go to college. Later, Mendes began focusing on helping girls pursue STEM careers, Gomes said.
For the last 15 years, the company has partnered with UMass Dartmouth, but the program was originally a collaboration with Northeastern University. Although Lockheed Martin isn’t able to offer as many internships or co-op positions as it once did, the company still benefits directly from Primes, according to Maher.
“Lockheed Martin believes in staying focused on STEM related initiatives to recruit the best talent in the industry,” he said. “In many cases, that is to grow our own talent right here in our own community. I have seen this happen many times over the years and LM benefits directly by employing young talented engineers that are very dedicated to the company in return.”
Primes is not guaranteed funding by Lockheed Martin, but each year has received a $20,000 grant through an application process. This year’s funding was increased to $28,000.
Both Gomes and Maher speculated about the possibility of duplicating the Primes program. Gomes said she knows of no other like it.
“I’ve gotten calls from other companies just to see how to design it or where to start with it,” she said. “I’ve had other Lockheed Martin sites call and say they’re starting to form a group for a program like this. Raytheon has called, Gillette and Dell.”
Eager and ready to learn
On a recent Monday night, the UMD Primes program is in full swing.
It’s 6:30 p.m., but the Lockheed Martin building is buzzing with activity as about 50 students from five area high schools, backpacks slung over their shoulders, gather in groups by school year and math subject, to get down to work. This evening, juniors are studying calculus, sophomores are tackling geometry, and freshman are focused on Algebra I.
The mood is eager and focused.
In one corner of the cafeteria, Tobiason works with a group of students on a mix of subjects including trigonometry. He has been teaching at Primes for three years and still feels the challenge of passing his knowledge on to students. But he’s also excited to present them with projects he once enjoyed, including one to build a thermal electric fan that uses a heat source, like a candle, for power.
Asked what brought him back to Primes, Tobiason isn’t sure. But he knows the program is responsible for him finding his calling as an engineer.
“If it wasn’t for Primes, I wouldn’t have the job here,” he said. “Maybe that’s the reason I came back, because I feel I owe them something.”
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