Eastern Kern County and the Antelope Valley are home to some of the coolest companies around, with names like Virgin Galactic, Masten Space, Rocket Propulsion Engineering Corp., The Spaceship Company, and Stratolaunch, a business in Mojave that has built the largest airplane in the world.
On Friday, more than 75 students gathered in a classroom at Cal State Bakersfield to hear from four speakers who work in this booming technology center situated east of the Tehachapi Mountains.
"The value of holding an event like this is twofold," said CSUB Assistant Professor of Management Jeremy Woods. "To find students jobs and help students start businesses."
Woods, who helped organize the event, is advisor for the university's Entrepreneurship Club, which boasts some 150 members. By bringing in aerospace professionals, Woods hoped to give students a leg up as they begin to explore their own futures.
Cam Martin, former chief of external affairs & government liaison for NASA, told a story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, aviation pioneers credited with inventing, building, and flying the world's first successful airplane.
He reminded students that the Wright Brothers were true entrepreneurs. They had a printing business and later a bicycle shop before exploring aviation.
"On Dec. 17, 2003, almost everyone in the country was focused on Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and the 100th anniversary of the brothers' first flight," Martin said.
Meanwhile in Mojave, California, Martin said, Burt Rutan's SpaceShip One was becoming the first privately built, privately funded aircraft to fly super sonic.
"I'm pretty sure if Wilbur and Orville had been alive, they'd probably rather have been in Mojave."
The point? The aerospace desert, the engineering center of eastern Kern, is one of the most creative and exciting places on Earth to begin or mature a career.
As students munched on pizza, the event provided them with an inside look into the the aerospace industry, including job and internship prospects, advice on remaining entrepreneurial in spirit, and pitfalls job-seekers may encounter.
Todd Quelet, site manager at Stratolaunch Systems in Mojave, said students would do well to protect their own reputations and the image they project to the world.
"Be careful about what you put on social media," Quelet said. "Keep your nose out of trouble ... legal trouble."
Some jobs in the aerospace sector require a security clearance — or a basic background check — and a criminal record, questionable behavior on social media or even outsized debt may be seen as a vulnerability, he said.
Drew Christensen has multiple titles, among them, technical operations manager, Palmdale Aircraft Integration Center of Excellence, and said there is a "perfect storm" as large numbers of baby boomers are retiring, creating openings for new hires.
He suggested job candidates carry a "fire in the belly," a creative, outside-the-box entrepreneurial spirit even if they are working for a huge corporation.
Michael Russo, a teacher at the Kern High School District's Regional Occupational Center, brought along several ROC students to Friday's event. He said he is fascinated by what is happening in eastern Kern County.
"It seems like people on this side of the county don't appreciate what's happening in our own backyard," he said.
Derrick Hu, deputy director, office of small business programs at China Lake Naval Weapons Center in Ridgecrest, ask the crowd a question.
"How many of you knew we have a naval facility in the middle of the desert here in Kern County?"
Maybe one-quarter of the students raised their hands.
"Last year, our spend was $1.8 billion," he said.
Small businesses, entrepreneurs, aspiring interns and graduating students, he suggested, might want to take note.