Raytheon Breaks Barriers to STEM Careers for Students of Color With SMASH Partnership

Originally published at rtx.com. Raytheon Technologies ranked No. 41 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2022.


In ninth grade, she applied to join SMASH, an organization that provides hands-on opportunities and resources for students of color who are interested in STEM careers. Through SMASH, she delved into pre-calculus, tried her hand at coding, learned the basics of biology and computer science, and worked her way up to an internship in the summer of 2022 at Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies business.

“It allowed me to not feel like I was behind from the starting point,” said Gomez Peña, who attends the University of California Davis and who worked on engine control systems during her internship. “Having those classes motivated me to continue going with engineering and not give up. I don’t have any engineers in my family, so I was able to see what a future in engineering could look like, and I was able to pursue it.”

Gomez Peña’s story with SMASH is an example of why the organization is a strategic partner in Raytheon Technologies’ Connect Up initiative — and of how such programs can help develop a strong, diverse and inclusive pipeline of talent both in the near term and for future generations.

Bridging the Gap

The SMASH/Raytheon Technologies partnership helps students:

  • Build technical skills and STEM confidence starting in ninth grade and continuing through college
  • Attend college by providing financial assistance
  • Secure early internships

“Our goal with programs like SMASH is to break down barriers that students from underrepresented groups face when pursuing careers in tech and engineering, and to provide a direct path to employment at a company like ours,” said Kristy Becerra, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Raytheon Technologies.

Starting in 2024, she said, the company’s summer work experience programs will host 1,000 highly qualified students of color and women who will work closely with hundreds of Raytheon Technologies mentors.

“It’s important to build these relationships early to encourage persistence in STEM careers and to build a diverse talent pool we can recruit from directly,” Becerra said. “They’ve already got a leg up in consideration for future jobs with the company.”

A Pathway to Success

Raytheon Technologies directly supports two SMASH programs: SMASH Academy, a three-year summer residential college prep program that teaches tech fundamentals and helps students build peer networks; and SMASH Rising, a five-week pre-internship program for rising college freshmen and sophomores who have participated in SMASH Academy.

Participants in SMASH Rising work on projects at partner companies including Raytheon Technologies, which in 2022 hosted 30 SMASH Rising students. The company often considers students from that program for full internships and early-career employment.

The company also awards a $40,000 scholarship to 10 college-bound SMASH students pursuing degrees in engineering and computer science.

The interns work directly with mentors from the company. For the summer 2022 session, those mentors included Angela McCarthy, who leads digital strategy for the F135 engine — which powers the F-35 fighter jet — at Pratt & Whitney, a Raytheon Technologies business. She designed a project for a group of interns focused on finding ways to improve data management. After several weeks of working with them, she said she’s excited about what they could bring to the company.

“They’re extremely bright, they pick up new ideas and new concepts very quickly, and they have skill sets that we are looking for,” McCarthy said. “I was really impressed by how quickly they learned about our business and how quickly they understood our use cases and the project.”

Mentoring “has been a highlight of every week,” she said, and she encourages her fellow employees to follow her lead.

“It’s really important to support early-career individuals and provide them exposure to our company and all the amazing things we do here,” she said. “I’ve found it to be really a lot of fun.”

Building Confidence

The SMASH programs do more than teach the principles of STEM. They also show students how to advocate for themselves and work toward their career goals.

“I was so apprehensive about internships and the corporate world in general,” said Giselle Cortez, a University of Southern California student majoring in industrial and systems engineering. She completed a summer 2022 internship at Collins Aerospace’s site in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “It’s good to have that reassurance that it’s OK to make mistakes and ask questions. For minority students, we struggle with asking questions because we don’t want employers to think we’re not adequate.”

She said she found a supportive environment at Raytheon Technologies.

“The resources Raytheon Technologies has provided — such as professional development and resume reviews, different events — have been really helpful to develop my skills as a young professional,” Cortez said. “That’s been a huge take-away for me.”

Making an Impact

After joining SMASH in ninth grade while growing up in Los Angeles, Amiri McKinnon developed his interest in science and math into a love for engineering and a desire to give back to other students.

“I like the idea of building something,” said McKinnon, 19, who has spent two summers with Raytheon Technologies — first through SMASH Rising, then as a traditional intern at Collins Aerospace. “To have an idea and be able to materialize it in this world is very powerful.”

SMASH “is a very beneficial program,” said McKinnon, who studies applied physics and mechanical engineering at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “It’s given me a lot of seeds to plant, and I try to give back the fruit that grows.”