A Port Orange, FL native, Heather Owen graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Communications (minors in International Relations and Homeland Security) and in 2011 with a Master of Science in Aeronautics (Systems Safety specialization). During her time at ERAU, she studied abroad in China in 2008, and she was captain of the Eagles cheerleading team, a sister of Alpha Xi Delta, and a member of Women in Aviation International. She is currently a Safety Specialist, managing the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) for ExpressJet Airlines in Atlanta, GA. Heather is engaged to a U.S. Air Force Reservist and is excited about integrating her career with her fiance and discovering the world together.
Discuss your internship experiences while enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University?
While enrolled at ERAU, I had two international internships; both were professionally and personally defining.
During the Spring 2010 semester, I interned with the Department of State at the U.S. Consulate in Munich, Germany, as a Political and Economic Diplomacy intern. Although not a traditional internship for an aviation major, my internship incorporated my interests in politics, diplomacy, and German culture. During the internship, highlights included meeting Senator John McCain, working as a site officer during the Munich Security Conference, and traveling with the Consul General to aviation industry locations in Nuremburg and Furth.
Upon my return to ERAU, I spent much of my graduate schooling looking for a career field that would meld my new passions for international diplomacy with my existing one for aviation. During research for my thesis, my advisor suggested the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an air transport-specialized agency of the United Nations. Immediately following my Spring 2011 graduation, I moved to Montreal, Canada, to intern with ICAO in the Air Navigation Bureau – Integrated Safety Management Section. During my internship, I worked with the office to develop and write safety culture sections for ICAO’s Safety Management Manual. I also gained firsthand experience with aviation’s governing side.
How did your internship experience help prepare you for your current position?
My internship with the State Department taught me diplomacy goes far beyond just international politics. I utilize it most during ASAP meetings between my present company, the FAA, and the workforce union. My ICAO internship introduced me to safety reporting systems. I now manage the Aviation Safety Action Program, a non-punitive, voluntary, and confidential safety reporting system for ExpressJet Airlines’ pilots, dispatchers, and mechanics.
What advice do you have for students who want to intern with a government agency?
Interning with a government agency is to participate daily in activities that may have historical significance. Ask to attend any and every meeting. Whether you understand the topic or even the language, it is important and exciting to see how meetings produce or enact policy at the international level. While in Montreal, I listened to a meeting being simultaneously interpreted in six languages; in Munich, the Security Conference had nearly 20 represented languages.
Do not be discouraged that Embry-Riddle is not a “traditional” international relations university. I almost didn’t apply because I felt like I wouldn’t be considered if I didn’t come from Johns Hopkins or Georgetown. However, my boss in Munich said he hired me because my aviation focus could offer a unique perspective to the Consulate. Additionally, he found ways to incorporate my aviation experiences and gave me chances to serve as the consulate’s subject matter expert.
Finally, while pursuing a government internship, be sure to allow ample time for a security clearance. Additionally, response time can be slow from government agencies, so don’t be discouraged if you haven’t heard from them quickly. By the time I received my interview request from the State Department, it had been three months and I had forgotten about it.
Professionally, I would like to stay within Atlanta’s burgeoning aviation industry for the next few years. Eventually, I would like to relocate back to Montreal and resume working for ICAO in safety. Personally, I’d like to fill the few remaining spots in my passport and run a race in a foreign country.