Faheem Memon

Faheem Memon, Oakton Alum

Oakton Alumni shoots for the moon… and lands there

Faheem Memon ’11 is an Oakton alum, a reliability engineer at Lockheed Martin, and someone who “followed his bliss” all the way to working on NASA Orion’s Artemis Project. After a ten-year career in the aviation, mining, gas and oil industries, his education and experiences prepared him for this role – the pinnacle of his career. Memon credits his start at Oakton, the freedom to explore his interests and the lifelong friendships built here as a catalyst for his success.

After two semesters at Roosevelt University, Memon transferred to Oakton to explore different majors.

“One of my family members was like: why don’t you just go to community college? Save some money while you try to figure out what you want to do. Cover your Gen Eds, and figure it out from there. And that was perfect. I loved the freedom that Oakton would offer.

It was an opportunity to make friends and connections because I was an immigrant and didn’t have many friends when I first came to the country.” Memon joined and took up leadership roles in student organizations such as STEM club, Astronomy club, Physics and Engineering club, NASA Robotics Team, Phi Theta Kappa, Habitat for Humanity and student tutoring.

“I dove head first, sought opportunities where I could volunteer, and essentially got involved in everything that I could get involved in at Oakton. I ended up forging friendships that lasted a lifetime.” Memon also met his wife at Oakton.

Being a part of Oakton’s NASA Robotics Team ended up influencing Faheem’s future in many ways. NASA’s Robotics Mining Competition invited prestigious 4-year universities to design and build robots that could mine lunar surface.

“The NASA Robotics Team is probably my proudest accomplishment at Oakton. And partly for the fact that we weren’t even allowed in. Our application got rejected because only Universities were allowed to participate, and we actually had to petition NASA to allow us to take part. We paved the way for every 2-year school in the country. They ended up changing their rules and allowing us to participate.”

The NASA competition provided real-world opportunities for applied learning, teamwork and ingenuity.

“Part of the competition was to complete these milestones, and if you hit them, you could move onto the next level. One of them was community outreach, we were presenting at an elementary school. This was literally the week before the competition, and I’d say we were 70% done.

One of the requirements was that the robot had to be autonomously controlled, and not only did it have to be autonomously controlled, but it had to be over Internet Protocol – meaning it could be controlled anywhere in the world (and by extension anywhere in the universe). We had yet to figure this part out. We were essentially controlling it with an X-Box controller. As we were transporting this thing, it fell and got damaged.”

Faced with this challenge, the team’s ability to travel to Cape Canaveral to participate was in jeopardy.

“We were told: ‘We’re going to scrap the trip unless you can put a working robot in front of us on Monday.’ And that’s what we did. We literally went to my friend’s garage, worked night and day, and presented a working robot at 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning.”

Although the Team did not win the competition, it was a rewarding experience. The Track System that Memon had built from bicycle chains and two-by-fours was specifically complimented by NASA.

This hands-on learning experience fostered his aptitude for STEM. Faheem recalls his decision to pursue an engineering pre-major and the support of Oakton faculty.

“It was both of my physics professors Ted Gotis and George Tootelian who were really instrumental in that decision. Professor Gotis was one of the best teachers at Oakton. His style of teaching is so engaging, and he makes every class so fun. That’s what really drove me toward physics and mechanical engineering.”

When it came time to transfer for his bachelor’s at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), he described working with Oakton’s advisors and the process “as a breeze. I might as well have been taking classes at UIC; I was so prepared.”

After working at Orbital and GE, in October 2022, Faheem was hired by Lockheed Martin to work as a contractor for NASA’s Orion Artemis Project, a mission that will land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon.

“Because I had my roots in the reliability field, I was able to understand how equipment fails and what are some of the telltale signs of those failures. My job is to look at literally every single component of the spacecraft. Figure out all the ways that it can fail. Assign probabilities to those failures and roll them up from a component level to system level, all the way to a mission success or failure level.

I went from a NASA college project to actual Artemis sending people to the moon.”

Reflecting back, Faheem shares some words of wisdom to the next generation of students finding their place at Oakton and beyond.

“What I realized throughout my career is you don’t know what you don’t know, right? And the only way to know what those things are is to talk to someone who’s more experienced than you, who can provide you insight on those things. So don’t be afraid to go out and talk to people. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, because most likely the wheel is there. You just have to go find it.”