Phillip Lachman knows a thing or two about national security from his time at Lockheed Martin, where he currently provides electronic security systems and manages several projects in support of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet.
Perhaps no security was tougher when, in 2011, the 31-year-old surprised his friend and mentor, Brad Griffis (BSEE ’01, MSEE ’03), by endowing a scholarship in his honor for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“I called Brad about six months before and told him to put on a suit, bring your wife, leave your three kids at home, come down (from Chicago) to Champaign and don’t ask questions,” Lachman recalled. “I specifically told the department not to advertise anything on their website about it, knowing Brad would seek any intel he could find.”
Lachman was involved with student government at Forbes Hall, where Brad Griffis’ future wife, Katherine, was a resident advisor along with Brad. She introduced him to Brad, and the rest is history. Brad served as a Lachman’s resident advsior, ECE 210 teaching assistant and junior year roommate while Brad was completing his master’s degree, helping Lachman navigate through the challenges of ECE each step of the way.
“When you come to campus, you kind of live in your own little bubble, but you’re looking for someone to guide you,” Lachman said. “Some have upperclassmen from their high schools who also came to Illinois. I didn’t have that connection. Brad gave me sound advice on how to handle my course load and was a great resource and a genuine friend.”
Lachman successfully kept his secret from Griffs right up until they met the first recipient of the scholarship.
“He and his wife were genuinely touched,” Lachman said.
Lachman’s Foundation for Success
Lachman, a native of Boston, graduated from Illinois in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. In a short time, he has moved up the ranks at Lockheed Martin, currently serving as a staff project engineer, and says it was his experience at Illinois that has provided the foundation for his success.
“The academic reputation speaks for itself,” Lachman said. “It’s not until you graduate, I think, and have a chance to interact with fellow engineers from other universities that you get a grasp of the disparity between the Illinois ECE education compared to other universities.”
Having a strong academic résumé out of high school, Lachman, the son of an electrical engineering, had his choice of schools.
“The size of the undergraduate class was an indication of the emphasis the department put on undergraduate education,” Lachman said. “I knew I would get a hands on experience here. My final choices were Illinois, RPI, and Johns Hopkins. After visiting all three schools, the choice became pretty clear.”
Not only did Lachman take advantage of the highly regarded ECE department, he benefitted from all there is to being on a larger campus, including joining a fraternity and being the only engineering student of 27 from Illinois to spend a summer studying Shakespearean theatre in London during the summer of 2002.
“One of the great things about Illinois is while you get the engineering fundamentals, which make up your core education, you also get the support of a large university,” Lachman said. “I took a lot of advantages through student organizations and liberal arts classes to get breadth within my college career.”
Although Lachman knew he wanted to work in electrical engineering, his career path wasn’t clear. That is until the fall of his sophomore year when the tragedies of September 11 hit the nation.
“I remember coming into the front of the Union after my physics class and seeing all the people pouring out from the Illini Café,” Lachman recalled. “They had the projector down and were watching the tragedy unfold on the big screen. You could hear a pin drop. The event hit home for me with the planes having originated from Boston’s Logan Airport, and one of the suspects’ last names happened to stay at the same hotel where I had my senior prom. It shook my core and made me want to go into defense. That’s why I’m at Lockheed Martin today.”
Lachman’s Post-Graduate Career
Lachman, who has taken over as current ECE alumni board president, got involved in alumni affairs when he was still a student where he served as an ECE undergraduate student representative. It was through that role and serving 3 1/2 years in the IEEE student chapter, where he was responsible for bringing company representatives in to campus for “tech talks,” which enabled him to make connections that led to Lockheed Martin.
“I flew out to Sunnyvale (Calif.) for a job interview,” Lachman remembers. “I met with a manager one-on-one. The job didn’t quite fit my experience level for what the manager was looking for; however, the résumé landed on another manager’s desk. She looked over my academic credentials and while I was rolling between classes gave me a job offer right over the phone. That’s the power of an Illinois ECE education.”
Lachman went to graduate school at Stanford part-time while serving as an associate systems engineering at Lockheed Martin. Since that time, he has had several positions at the company, including some classified roles, which he says “is not as cool as James Bond, but still very interesting.”
Lachman has served as an antenna test engineer for three commercial satellites, currently on-orbit, as well as an optics designer for a classified military program. He has worked on a communication system for a missile defense flight demonstration at Edwards Air Force Base and currently is a Project Manager, responsible for installing electronic security systems for U.S. Naval Bases that serve the Nuclear Submarine Fleet.
Lachman Keeping Up with the University
Lachman has continued his relationship with the College through the alumni board, which he has served since 2008. It was the appreciation for other alumni who have given back, along with the opportunities the department provided him in launching his career that led him to the decision to do the same.
“I’ve always had an appreciation for those who have helped me,” Lachman said. “Giving back is one of the pillars I live by. I wanted to support the department and thank Brad for everything he had done. The great thing about putting together a scholarship is that it produces dividends every single year. The earlier you start, the more of an impact you can make through the course of your life.”
Through his role as alumni board president, he is also committed to carrying on the legacy for future students.
“I want to try to make an impact in the calculus of how incoming students view Illinois,” Lachman explained, “Not just from an academic perspective, which is already well established, but now making sure the financial equation is right in these trying economic times to come in and maintain ECE’s reputation.”
A Personal Thank You
Graduate ECE student Christopher Barth was the recipient of the Griffis Scholarship for the 2011-2012 school year when he was still an undergrad. Barth is an incredibly focused student, someone who values academics as a top priority, and his devotion has been rewarded. He also received the CITGO Electrical Engineering Scholarship in 2012. “I have often said that the most important thing is to focus on school and the finances will work out. This scholarship is further proof that it pays to focus on school.” While a top ranked student, Barth was reaffirmed by his awards. “I believe that most people tend to think they’re struggling to keep up even if they’re near the top of the class. To receive a scholarship is very encouraging, it was for me. I didn’t even know I was in the top 15% of my class.” One day in the future Barth would like to return the gesture to the University and to future students. “I would definitely want to give back one day. Both U of I and the community college I transferred from have been a big help and the guidance I got from professors was great. I would especially be interested in giving to a scholarship and therefore giving directly to the students.” Barth is currently pursuing his master’s thesis in Maximum Power Point Tracking under Professor Robert Pilawa-Podgurski. After completing his masters Barth is looking to apply his education to a career in industry.