Suzanne Kearns is a professor who teaches Commercial Aviation Management students at Western University in Ontario, Canada. She is also a licensed airplane and helicopter pilot. She holds a Helicopter Pilot college diploma along with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Science and a Master of Science degree in Human Factors and Systems Engineering both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Additionally, Suzanne holds a Ph.D. in Education, specializing in Instructional Design for Online Learning. She has extensive experience as an instructional designer and is passionate about innovating human factors and aviation safety training. She is the author of e-Learning in Aviation, a book published by Ashgate in 2010 and a new iPhone app called m-Safety.
What have you been doing since you graduated with your MS in Human Factors & Systems in 2002?
I graduated with my BS in Aeronautical Science in 2000 and my MS in Human Factors & Systems in 2002. Shortly after graduating I was hired full-time as a professor at Western University, in their Commercial Aviation Management program, teaching human factors and aviation safety. After I was hired I began my PhD in Education, with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning, which I completed in 2007.
Since 2007, I have written two books: Canadian Aviation, which is a textbook for university students who are new to the aviation industry, and e-Learning in Aviation. I have also published four academic journal articles in The Journal of Human Factors, The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, and The Collegiate Aviation Review. My current project is the development of a smartphone app that delivers pilot safety training, called m-Safety, which will be on the Apple App Store mid-April.
I have been married to Michael Kearns since 2004 and have three children, Katelyn (6), Sam (4), and Andy (15 months).
What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?
The biggest highlight of my career so far has been the publication of my e-Learning in Aviation book. This book was published by Ashgate, a highly respected publisher in the aviation industry. With Ashgate, you have to submit a book proposal and sample chapter which is put through an external review before the publisher agrees to publish your book. Then comes the hard part – you have to do all the research and writing, which took me about 9 months.
After the book was published, I made connections throughout the industry with people who had read the book and were interested in collaborating. It’s quite the experience to have people approach you, after having read your book.
What advice do you have for students and graduates who are interested in teaching in a university setting?
Teaching in a university setting offers a lifestyle with unparalleled flexibility. I always dreamed of being a pilot, as I started flying airplanes and helicopters when I was 15, yet it was not until I completed an internship near the end of my ERAU bachelor’s degree that I realized how challenging the lifestyle of a professional pilot can be (as you are away from home so much).
I did not dream of becoming a professor, but I am very glad that my path led me here. As a professor, your workload is distributed 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service. The teaching requires about 6 hours of lecturing a week, plus office hours and grading. The fun part of the job is the research, as you get complete flexibility over what you decide to explore, and it’s something you can do from home. My interests led me initially to e-learning and now to mobile learning, which I think has enormous potential to improve aviation safety. The service component of my job includes running the admission process for our aviation program and sitting on several university and industry-level committees.
For students interested in teaching at the university level, the best advice I can give is to consider whether or not you are interested in research. It’s not obvious from the outside, but a professor is expected to spend just as much time conducting research as teaching. Universities place a very high value on academic publications, such as books and journal articles. As a student, if you want to work in a University, the best thing you can do during your studies is to try and get one or two papers submitted to journals and published. The saying in the academic world is ‘publish or perish’, which means that if you don’t conduct research and produce publications it’s unlikely you will survive in the academic world.
How have your Embry-Riddle degrees opened doors for you in the course of your career?
My ERAU degrees have opened up many doors in my career, beginning with the ability to get a Master’s degree. What I mean is that in Canada, most pilot education is at the 2-year college level. I am an example where it is hugely valuable to have a 4-year university degree in aviation, as it allows you to build upon that education. In my case, it allowed me to get a Master’s degree and eventually a PhD.
Also, unlike other academic disciplines (such as history or calculus) there is a very “real-world” component to aviation research. I need to stay on top industry-happenings and trends as well as the academic literature in my area. Having a degree from Embry-Riddle has given me the foundation upon which to build my career. I absolutely would not be where I am today without the education I received from ERAU.