Damali Ankoanda-King

Systems engineering manager at Lockheed Martin Corp. in Moorestown.

An engineer is born ... out back:

King's mother, a teacher, home-schooled her and two of her four siblings, along with a handful of other students, in the garage behind their home in East Palo Alto, Calif. Along with a curriculum that was "very intense in terms of fundamentals" like reading, science and math, her mom encouraged the 4th-8th-graders to study outside the box, so King learned Swahili and undertook some gardening as a 4-H project.

She was sprouting seeds when another student's science-fair project about radios caught her fancy, and from that moment on she knew she'd be an engineer. "It's OK to grow stuff, but I don't have a green thumb," she says. "I was more interested in the machines."

We can thank our lucky stars for that radio. Among the machines that King has helped to engineer at Lockheed Martin, which she joined in 1997 after graduating from Howard University, are ship-based ballistic missile defense systems that can intercept enemy attacks.

An engineer is groomed: Lockheed Martin recruited King during her senior year in college for its then-new engineering leadership development program (ELDP), which lets young engineers cycle through rotations in engineering disciplines before they pursue their graduate degree - on the company's dime - in the specialty that feels like the best fit. She got her master's degree in systems engineering from Penn, taking two classes a semester while working full-time. "I didn't sleep very much back then," she recalls.

ELDP is one of many workforce development initiatives that Lockheed Martin runs to identify, inspire and groom would-be scientists, starting as young as 4th grade. (Its new "I Want to Be an Engineer!" brochure celebrates Lockheed Martin scientists who do certifiably cool things at work - like levitating moon dust.) According to projections, the company will need to hire 90,000 engineers in the next 10 years.

Tapping South Jersey for next-generation gold: "We're trying to establish the pipeline, bringing them up from grade school through permanent employment after college," King says. For her part, she mentors three female engineers at the company and works with promising minority students at nearby Willingboro High School as a volunteer with the National Society of Black Engineers.

It's not a light commitment:

She meets with students every other week to guide them through hands-on projects and other extracurriculars and spends two hours on Saturdays tutoring them for the SAT. The Willingboro students recently took first place in a regional NSBE "tri-mathalon."

And in her spare time: She coaches a girls' under-15 travel soccer team. King was a founding member of Howard's intercollegiate women's team.

Wild-blue-yonder ambitions: Last fall, King was promoted to her first management position, where she oversees 29 engineers. She's penciled out a career trajectory that has her steadily climbing the ladder and incrementally picking up skills until she's prepared to lead the whole company - at age 63, by her calculations. "When I map out my career plan, I see myself as president and CEO," she says. "The sky's the limit."

- Becky Batcha,
Daily News staff writer

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