Art Lofton (E’80) is the sector vice president of global quality and analytics at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, part of Northrup Grumman Corp., an aerospace and defense technology company that employs approximately 70,000 people worldwide and reported annual revenue of $24.7 billion in FY2013. Lofton recently received the 2014 Industry Career Achievement Award at the annual Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) STEM Global Competitiveness Conference, which acknowledges excellence in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
What first sparked your interest in engineering?
I’ve always been a car guy. I remember when I was young, sitting on the front steps of my home in [Philadelphia], watching muscle cars drive by, listening to the engines, hoping I would have one someday. So I decided to build my own hotrod when I was 14 or so, and I started collecting parts for my dream car. My friends used to tease me, saying I was building an engine in my bedroom. I had a camshaft and carburetor and other things that became the start of my first engine, which you could say falls under engineering.
I understand that your first job, as a teen, was at a gas station. What was that like?
I did everything there—pump gas, change oil, spark plugs, tune-ups—that was really where I cut my teeth in terms of learning the hands-on skill set of understanding how a car operates. That work also taught me not to be afraid to tackle complex projects or to fear failure. I learned the most from the owner, who took me under his wing. He would let me fail initially, then say, “Oh you put that on backwards? Let’s try it this way next time.”
What led you to CMU?
Early on, my mom suggested I consider studying engineering, based on my tinkering with engines. CMU wasn’t too far from home; and, of course, it had a terrific engineering program.
How was your time on campus?
There were lots of talented people at CMU, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work. There were more than a few late nights studying for me. I also took part in study groups, whatever it took for me to learn the material.
It has obviously served you well. What are you most proud of?
The space I operate in is aerospace and defense, but my role is similar to my gas-station job in some ways. Just as I learned from the gas station owner to not be afraid to fail, I’m mentoring in the same way for a passionate team of high-quality professionals—driving quality into all they do.
What was the best part of receiving the BEYA Career Achievement Award?
My mother, who turned 90 last October, was there, along with my wife, Victoria, and my brother and his kids. It made me reflect on what my mother first said, “You might want to consider engineering…” and for all of them, particularly my mom, to see it come to fruition was wonderful.
—as told to Lisa Kay Davis (DC’09)