Advancing Oakland

Launching Dreams

Cindy Heazlit spends her career launching satellites around the world

Cindy Heazlit, SECS '80 | Photo by Robert Hall

School of Engineering and Computer Science

icon of a calendarNovember 4, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Catherine Ticer

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When Cindy Heazlit set her sights on outer space at the age of five, she had no idea she would spend her career launching satellites from facilities all around the world. Today, she encourages students to never give up on their dreams.

At the age of five, Cindy Heazlit, SECS ’80, faked a stomach ache so she could stay home from school and watch in awe as NASA’s Project Mercury launched the first humans into space.

From that moment on, Heazlit fostered a lifelong love for space. She enjoyed a rewarding 33-year career with Lockheed Martin Corporation where she retired in 2014 as senior staff engineer on a major satellite program. She was the first woman in her work group, and the first civilian woman to access the tower at the west coast launch site.

Although Heazlit landed the career of her dreams, getting there was not easy. As a student, money was tight and pursuing an engineering degree in a male-dominated field often felt like an uphill battle. She learned then, and later as a young professional, how to make her voice heard as the only woman in the room.

Inspired by these experiences, Heazlit made the decision to support students at Oakland University facing financial need or other challenges standing in the way of finishing their degree.

“I put myself through school, often struggling to come up with enough money to register for classes,” says Heazlit. “On one occasion, it was the last day of registration and I went to my mailbox to find a refund check from the IRS. I ran to the bank to cash it and then hurried to OU to register for my courses right before the deadline. I don’t want students to experience these kinds of struggles or, worse, to quit because they don’t have enough money for tuition.”

Heazlit established the Cindy K. Heazlit Scholarship for Nontraditional Students. This endowed fund supports Oakland University students who are majoring in engineering and who are actively engaged with the university’s chapters of the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Computing, and the National Society of Black Engineers. Additional consideration is given to students who have experienced an interruption in their education and are now returning to complete their degree.

Heazlit did not experience what people often consider a “traditional” college experience. She worked at least 32 hours a week to pay her bills, spent an hour commuting to campus, and had a challenging home life. While this left little time for student life activities or extracurricular activities, Heazlit credits her university education and the mentorship of extraordinary professors for her success. They boosted her self-confidence and challenged her with real-world questions in the classroom. Six months after graduation, she accepted her first job in the guidance and control group at Lockheed Martin.

“The lab work I did at Oakland University was critical to the success of the project that launched my career,” says Heazlit. “If I had not gone to OU, I don’t know if I would have had the skills needed to do so well.”

Now a California resident, Heazlit has enjoyed reconnecting with her alma mater. She recently visited campus to give a presentation to students about her professional journey. It was exciting for Heazlit to see how much the university has grown since her graduation and learn more about the future vision for the School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“I don’t want students to experience these kinds of struggles or, worse, to quit because they don’t have enough money for tuition.”

Louay Chamra, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, is grateful to Heazlit for inspiring current students.

“Cindy’s journey is one of true grit, determination and strength,” says Chamra. “She stayed on her path with a clear direction and never gave up.”

“We are so grateful to Cindy for her generosity and support,” continues Chamra. “Her scholarship will ensure that students who have a passion for engineering have the support needed to complete their degrees and, like Cindy, pursue the careers of their dreams.”

The scholarship has already made a difference for Mariama Toure, who grew up in West Africa and graduated from OU in December with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering. The first woman in her family to attend college and the second to graduate high school, Toure worked 60 hours a week to finance her education. She received the Heazlit Scholarship during her senior year which allowed her to complete her final semesters without interruption. She is grateful for Heazlit’s support which she says allowed her to focus on her education and become more engaged with the university.

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