Lockheed Skunk Works® chief to lead-off SMU lecture series

Innovation is a tough concept to define and even harder to teach. But Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works®, where the fastest military jets are born in secret, is sharing its name and formula for innovation with Southern Methodist University’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.

Frank Cappuccio, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and Skunk Works® director, will deliver the program’s inaugural lecture at 3:30 p.m. March 18 in the Hughes Trigg Student Center Theater on the SMU campus. Cappuccio will be speaking on “Creating an Environment for Innovation” to mark the beginning of this unique partnership.

The SMU/Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® Program is the first university program anywhere to teach the storied approach to problem solving behind aviation marvels like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. SMU students will not design airplanes — but they will learn the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® method of tackling daunting problems in small teams under high-pressure deadlines. The program is part of Lyle School’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education.

Every SMU engineering graduate will experience the Skunk Works® program, starting with the incorporation of philosophy and case studies in undergraduate coursework. Lockheed Martin will rotate Skunk Works® engineers through the SMU program as visiting mentors and lecturers.

The best student opportunities for learning engineering innovation will come from varying degrees of immersion into Skunk Works® lab research. Those projects will last anywhere from a week or two between terms to an intensive, semester-long assignment for senior-level students working on a challenging problem.

As part of its ongoing mission to strengthen American engineering education at every level, the Lyle School will develop curriculum from the Skunk Works® experience that can be applied at other universities.


The Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, under the leadership of former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Delores Etter, already is home to nationally recognized programs to prepare middle school and high school students for engineering education and careers.

“We are committed to improving American engineering education,” Etter said. “You don’t do this with little steps — you do this with big steps.”

Lockheed targets 50 percent of its philanthropic work and outreach to support education, and Cappuccio is bullish on attracting the brightest students back to the industry that was perceived as so glamorous during the early space race. As a group, he says, engineers need to be less wedded to process and structure.


“What we want to do is apply the philosophy of the Skunk Works®, which is imbedded in founder Kelly Johnson’s 14 different principles,” said Geoffrey Orsak, dean of the Lyle School. “The key is doing things quickly. In today’s world doing things quickly is very important. If you take too long, you lose out.”

SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 29 graduate programs, including both master’s and doctoral levels. — Kim Cobb

Related links:
DMN: Lyle changing face of SMU engineering
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works&#174
Kelly Johnson’s 14 different principles
Delores Etter
Caruth Institute for Engineering Education
Geoffrey Orsak
Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering