James Sulton, III, Ed.D., is an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University alumnus of the Prescott, AZ and Daytona Beach, FL campuses. He worked towards an Aerospace Studies undergraduate degree on the Daytona Beach campus and transferred to the Prescott campus to finish his bachelor’s degree, focusing on safety. He came back to Daytona Beach to complete his master’s degree. Then, he received his Doctor of Education degree from Pepperdine University, where his dissertation was titled, African-American Women Pilot’s Perceptions of Barriers to Success in Flight-Training and Strategies to Enhance Their Presence.
After he graduated from Pepperdine, he became Principal of Aviation High School, which was a magnet school in Oakland, CA. Next, James pursued a career in air traffic control. He is now living in Manassas, VA and working as an Air Traffic Controller. Currently, he volunteers and assists in different events involving K-12 in the Virginia and Maryland areas. James and his wife wrote new curriculum, currently used in some Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC schools, to provide new topics surrounding aviation that remains within the guidelines of the core curriculum. He also co-founded AviationEd, Inc., an organization of aviation and education professionals committed to inspiring the next generation to pursue their career goals through mentorship, educational programs, and experiential learning.
Tell us about your career successes and how each one led to new opportunities.
In 2005, I had a unique opportunity to teach high school math to approximately 100 at-risk teenagers with special needs in Prescott, Arizona. The experience of working with students who were struggling to learn grade level material due to poor foundational knowledge sparked a passion.
I was intrigued by the social challenges that manifested themselves as academic shortcomings in the classroom. “Why were so many of my students struggling?” was a question I continued to ask myself. When I began to meet with the families of my students, I realized the level of needed support stretched far beyond the classroom.
So, in 2006, when Lockheed Martin hired me as a flight service specialist, I enrolled the support of my colleagues and started a volunteer network at a local high school. Lockheed was very supportive of our group as we provided tutoring, organized school events and activities, and partnered with their learning community.
After serving as a flight service specialist for Lockheed and a school board member at Oakland Aviation High School, I took a leap of faith and blended my passion for aviation with that of education and became the principal of Oakland Aviation High School (OAHS).
OAHS primarily served at-risk students – some with special needs – from the neighborhoods of east Oakland. Our academic program satisfied state educational standards in math, science, English, and social science using themes and concepts found within the aviation and aerospace industries while providing avenues for career technical education. In addition, we had unique partnerships with local colleges and community organizations that really enhanced our curriculum.
Today, I work for the FAA as an Air Traffic control Specialist at Potomac Consolidated Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility in Warrenton, Virginia. I remain connected to local and national aviation educational initiatives with an organization co-founded with my wife Jacqueline, AviationEd, Inc.
How have your educational achievements impacted your career decisions? How did you involvement in school help you achieve your goals?
From attaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees at ERAU to a doctorate in educational leadership, administration and policy from Pepperdine University, my collegiate education had an immeasurable impact on my career decisions.
Equally important to my coursework were the experiences I had as a college student outside of the classroom. Working as a camp counselor and coordinator at ERAU’s Summer Academy, teaching SAT preparation as a teacher at ERAU’s Upward Bound program, and the relationships I built with classmates provided marketable skills that I use every day.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Without a doubt, my most proud professional accomplishment was ensuring that each of our 40 graduating seniors at OAHS were accepted to college before attaining their high school diploma. With more than 50% of our students being first generation college students and 95% being eligible for free or reduced lunch under the Federal Title I program, I am extremely proud of being part of a team of educators that accomplished this goal.
For young people interested in STEM and aviation education, what advice do you have to help them on a path to success?
For young people interested, and for those that are not, I encourage them to take advantage of every opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career fields. In the next 10 years, there will be over 1 million jobs – many high paying – available in the STEM sector. In addition to career fields in the aviation and aerospace industries, STEM career fields provide access to exciting opportunities that are on the cutting edge of innovation.
It is also important to stay encouraged while pursuing your career goals and dreams. If you really want to be involved, do not take “no” for an answer and continue to pursue your destiny regardless of what may be said.
And, be sure to find a mentor as soon as possible. People who are in a position that you admire may have been where you are today. Reach out to people you respect as they may be willing to support you.
Finally, participate in summer and extracurricular programs every year. AviationEd, Inc. organizes a national scholarship search and sponsors at least two students to attend ERAU’s Summer Academy in Daytona Beach. Each year the award winners rave about the experience and many are eager to learn about how they can enroll as students in the university.