Faculty Spotlight: Gregory Zahornacky

Greg ZGreg Zahornacky is an Assistant Professor in the College of Aviation and teaches the Aeronautical Science Capstone Course, Operational Applications in Aeronautical Science and additionally, Electronic Flight Management Systems and Crew Resource Management. Greg is also on the development team of the new Airline Operations Center that is being constructed on the second floor of the College of Aviation. Greg has been in commercial radio broadcasting for over 20 years and has his own show Monday through Friday from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm on WIKD-FM 102.5 in Daytona Beach.

What motivated you to pursue a career in aviation, and when did you know that you were interested in that field? Who encouraged you to chase your dreams?

When I was the young age of 7, my father asked me if I wanted to go for an airplane ride at a local airport outside of Pittsburgh, where I grew up. My answer to him was a resounding “NO!” I was afraid to go up in “that thing” and refused to go. Fast forward 7 years, and my father decided he wanted to take an introductory flight to potentially attain his pilot’s license with a neighbor who was a flight instructor. He asked me if I wanted to go with him, and this time I said, “sure, why not?” Once we were airborne and flew for about 20 minutes and landed, I had made my decision; I wanted to fly airplanes! The aviation “bug” had bit me…HARD! From that point in my life at age 14, I had a defined direction and felt overwhelmingly compelled to pursue it. I thank my father and mother for their support, because without their encouragement (and money!), I could not have achieved my goal of being a professional airline pilot.

If you could go back to your college days, what would you do differently? Why?

If I could turn the hands of time back 38 years to when I was an undergraduate, I would’ve most certainly APPLIED myself more so! At the time I started my undergraduate program, all I wanted to do was fly, and I did not care so much about the academic portion of aviation! In the mid 1970’s the Aeronautics degree program that I was in did not have the classes that Embry-Riddle has today. I was never exposed to courses at that time such as Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Electronic Flight Management Systems, mainly because CRM did not exist and all of the flying that I did was in “round dial” aircraft. Today’s technologically advanced aircraft have “glass cockpits” which give pilots more pictorial situational awareness. The reason I would’ve been more studious is because I could’ve learned so much more from the professors I had at that time. They brought with them a wealth of knowledge, and I, foolishly, never allowed myself to partake of that precious resource.

What is the biggest highlight of your career so far?

I have been so very fortunate to have MANY highlights in my career(s)! In my aviation career, it was the day that the airline pinned on my Captains wings after passing my check ride on the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80. Directly related to that event was when I was able to take my parents and my wife with me on a trip with the airline, with me as the Captain of the jet that they were riding on! In my radio career, it was when I finally achieved my very own radio show after years of being part-time.  In my new career as faculty member of Embry-Riddle, it was the day that I got the phone call asking me to come in and interview for the position of Assistant Professor and the subsequent offer of employment. There have been many other highlights in each of the careers that I have had the honor of doing, and those would range from flying Hollywood celebrities, to flying charters with professional sports teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. In my radio career, it would be meeting some of the biggest names in the recording industry from REO Speedwagon to Aaron Tippin. In my current career as an Assistant Professor, the highlight would have to be the students. I have met so many fine young men and women. They remind me of myself at their age, because you can see the wants and desires in their eyes to be airline, corporate or military pilots. I have been able to watch their progression from graduation to airline pilot status in just a few short years. The gratification of knowing that I may have had some small part in their success is a feeling unlike any other. I am proud of every single one of our graduates; they are focused and resolute in their career paths.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future would be to continually educate myself and stay in touch with the airline industry as a whole. Through the power of networking, I have been able to stay in touch with many of my colleagues that are still flying for a living. By keeping in touch with them, I am able to see and understand what the airlines are doing in terms of their economic trends and the type of aircraft they are flying. This allows me to deliver the most recent and up to date information to my students so that when they leave Embry-Riddle to pursue their passions they are familiar with those trends. Other than that, I have found a home with Embry-Riddle. The colleagues that I work with are all consummate professionals, and I enjoy working with them on a daily basis.


Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Tim Wilson

Dr. WilsonDr. Tim Wilson is the chair person of the Electrical, Computer, Software, & Systems Engineering (ECSSE) Department at the Daytona Beach campus, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

1. Can you tell us about your background and what motivated you to come to Embry-Riddle?

I grew up in rural middle Tennessee. My home town, Centerville, Tennessee, is the only incorporated town in all of Hickman County. When I was growing up, Centerville had a population of 2500 people; Hickman County, 12,500. I was able to get into MIT but didn’t succeed the first time, so I dropped out and tried to make a living as a performing musician for a few years. I supported myself in a number of interesting jobs, including typesetting and delivering radioactive pharmaceutical. No, I don’t glow in the dark. Seeing people younger than me who had graduated college and were now my boss motivated me to get my rear back into school, and MIT was gracious enough to let me back in for a second chance.

While I had pretty much been a physics major in the first go-around; when I went back, I wanted to study electrical engineering (EE) because I had been playing synthesizers (and other keyboards) as a musician. I was successful beyond my imaginings on that second time around and got straight ‘A’s except one ‘B’ in a complex variables math class. Plus, I got to work at MIT’s Experimental Music Studio doing undergraduate research (via their UROP, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the equivalent of our Ignite! program). I ended up going to graduate school, working at the Research Lab for Electronics in the Speech Recognition Group for my master’s degree, and then in the Auditory Research Group for my doctorate. For the master’s degree, I modeled how the firings of the auditory nerve work, and for my doctorate, I investigated a model of the mammalian inner ear to try to understand whether prior observations of the change in stiffness along the inner ear’s length could account for the frequency selectivity of our hearing.

I got a position at the University of Memphis after finishing my doctorate in 1994, stayed there for 6.5 years, and was looking to move starting fall 2000. I ended up at ERAU serendipitously. My mom lived in Daytona Beach and was in poor health, so we wanted to relocate closer to her. I looked online (this was spring 2000, so online position listings were still somewhat new) at an IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers) jobs site, and there was a listing for someone to teach electrical engineering courses for the BS in Computer Engineering program. That one year visiting appointment turned into a tenure-track position, followed by tenure, then promotion to full professor eventually.

I served as Vice-Speaker of the Daytona Beach Faculty in academic year 2006-2007 and then was elected Speaker for the two-year term in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. I was appointed chair of the newly formed Department of Electrical, Computer, Software, and Systems Engineering starting in January 2010. The department was formed by merging the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering with the Department of Computer and Software Engineering.

In addition to my ERAU duties, I serve on the Board of Directors of the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, the DiscoverE (formerly known as the National Engineers Week Foundation) Diversity Council, and the American Society for Engineering Education‘s Diversity Committee. Seeing that engineering education and employment reflect the diversity in American society is a passion of mine.

2. As the Department Chair, can you tell us some of the highlights of the Electrical, Computer, Software, & Systems Engineering (ECSSE) Department?

Sometimes people wonder what all the areas of our department have in common — we have undergraduate degrees in computer engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering, and computer science — but it’s really pretty straightforward: they all deal with common technologies that are by-and-large invisible. You can’t see the electrons moving in wires; the transistors in modern computing devices are incredibly tiny; we communicate over invisible radio frequencies. A computer program may be visible text, but it often translates into incredibly fast electrical signals representing the ones and zeros of binary logic, and large software programs, like large systems of any type, have an organizational and implementational framework that’s pretty much just an organized collection of concepts. So whether we’re dealing with the basic units of electricity or the structure of complex systems, we’re still dealing with stuff that’s largely invisible. All those are quite distinct from the structures that make up an aircraft or spacecraft or the motions of those through the atmosphere or space, but the aircraft and the spacecraft both depend on the invisible electronics, radio, software, and systems engineering to get up and get back down safely.

But even though the engineering domains deal with “invisible” stuff, we pride ourselves on giving students hands-on opportunities from the get-go. We want our programs to take students to better and better approximations to engineering as it’s practiced in industry, so we move from simple team-based projects in EGR 101 through coursework involving individual and team projects, until the two-semester multidisciplinary capstone course.

We like to think that we graduate engineers, not graduates with engineering degrees. One of our Industry Advisory Board members once told me that he liked hiring our graduates because they were used to working like engineers when they graduated. That made me really proud.

3. What skills/strengths make our graduates stand out in the work force?

First, they get a top-notch technical education. Second, on top of that, they get the knowledge and experience of real-world engineering. There aren’t many undergraduate programs in the USA, including the top notch schools like my alma mater, that put as much emphasis on systems thinking and engineering processes. Our graduates know not only that what they’re working on is part of a bigger system, they understand how it fits into the bigger system. Our graduates know what engineering requirements are, how validation and verification are practiced, how a system is decomposed into smaller sub-systems and then how those sub-systems integrate into a larger working system.

Finally, while they may not be experts at it, our graduates have some familiarity with system development in a regulatory environment. You can’t just write a piece of software or build a piece of hardware and put it on even a general aviation aircraft, much less a transport category commercial aircraft or a military aircraft. Given how little graduates of other programs know about any kind of regulatory framework, our students stand out and are valued by aerospace and aviation employers just for being aware of how regulations might impact system development.

4. What new initiatives or research is the ECSSE Department participating in?

As far as new programs go, we expect to launch a new area of concentration for the BS in Computer Science and a new MS degree starting this coming fall, both called Cybersecurity Engineering. Those programs will focus on the technologies of cybersecurity: encryption, white-hat hacking, secure software and hardware. There are an increasing number of jobs these days in those areas, and with the attention, good or bad, that the NSA is getting as well as the growing demand for professionals in the field, we’re glad the programs are getting launched. There’s an entire subfield there of cybersecurity for aerospace: how to ensure that digital communications between flight crew and controller aren’t subverted; how to make GPS and ADS-B (Automatic Dependant Surveillance – Broadcast) more secure; how to keep bad hackers or enemy personnel from accessing on-board computers.

Our faculty are engaged in some pretty sexy stuff. The research in aerospace cybersecurity, mentioned above, will also involve development of standards for developing and operating cybersecure systems, and one of our faculty, Dr. Remzi Seker in particular, is involved in setting those standards. We have faculty investigating what’s called “passive sensing”, where instead of the traditional ping-and-return direct radar or ping-and-respond secondary radar, the location of a plane is determined by comparing its reflection of existing radio-frequency signals, say satellite radio or digital broadcast television as the illuminators, with direct reception of those same signals. Our Dr. Billy Barott is a leader in that area; he’s serving on one NATO committee on the topic as well as on the Digital Avionics Technical Committee of the AIAA (American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics). Our Dr. Richard Stansbury does work involving putting ADS-B on commercial launch vehicles so planes and controllers will be able to tell where launch vehicles and spacecraft are in real time. And our Dr. Shafag Jafer and Dr. Keith Garfield are developing modeling and simulation tools and capabilities that apply to everything from the electric power grid to computational tutoring agents. Finally, our Dr. Massood Towhidnejad is director of the NEAR (Next-Generation Embry-Riddle Advanced Research) Lab, through which numerous members of our faculty work on FAA NextGen projects ranging from integration of unmanned aircraft to making it possible for flights on intercontinental routes to talk digitally to both American and European flight controllers.

Our students participate with students from other College of Engineering programs in the AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) competitions, including the RobotX boat for which ERAU was one of a handful of teams selected to compete. We have students, including the electrical lead, involved in EcoCAR. Our students attend and present papers and compete at IEEE and AIAA conventions. Also, Dr. Jafer and Dr. Garfield are spearheading our efforts to reach out to young women and turn them on to engineering and computing careers. We got ERAU to join the National Center for Women in Information Technology’s Academic Alliance, and we host an awards ceremony to celebrate the performance of young high-school women in computing courses. We also send a group of our students each year to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

We’ve just relocated to the third floor of the Lehman Building, and we’re looking forward to new opportunities like a radome on the Lehman roof for better investigating radar. We’ll have a new improved lab for student projects. And there will be a cool cybersecurity lab on the Lehman first floor. So we are very excited about what’s happening with our programs.

Faculty Spotlight: Lisa Davids

Lisa DavidsLisa Davids is an Associate Professor in the College of Engineering and serves as the Program Coordinator for the Department of Engineering Fundamentals on the Daytona Beach Campus.

What motivated you to pursue an engineering vocation, and when did you know you were interested in that field?  Were there professionals who encouraged you to attain that goal?

My dad was a foreman for my grandfather’s pool construction company (Burley Built Pools), and he and my uncle used to work on the construction blueprints together; I remember being fascinated by the drawings and wondering how they knew where to put things and create those detailed and complex drawings.  I believe that started my interest in design.  When I was in junior high (middle school), one day our toaster broke at home.  Before my Mom went to get a new one, I had taken it apart, figured out what was wrong and fixed it.  That was the first time I showed signs of mechanical curiosity and learning how things worked…I was starting to become an engineer before I knew what engineering was.  By the time I was in high school, I enjoyed my mathematics and science courses the most.  I excelled at chemistry, enjoyed physics, and couldn’t get enough of math.  My counselor suggested engineering, and I looked into it.  Mechanical Engineering sounded the most intriguing to me so that is what I pursued in college.

Tell us about your background and what motivated you to pursue your vocation as a faculty member at ERAU?

Becoming a professor at ERAU was never a goal before I started teaching here.  I knew I enjoyed tutoring and explaining ideas and processes to people as I was a graduate assistant and enjoyed that part of the job.  I, in fact, did look for a few teaching jobs before landing my project engineering position for an organization that, at the time, was owned by Westinghouse.  This organization was responsible for the design, fabrication, installation maintenance and disposal of the nuclear power plants for our Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers.  This was an exciting job and truly a wonderful experience.  The only problem was that it was located in up-state NY, and I was a native Floridian (actually, native Daytonian).  This new weather and culture was so different to my husband and I that we never quite adapted to it.  So when our son was born, we decided to move back to Florida to be near our families.  Once we moved back here, I had an interview for an adjunct position for ERAU.  I taught one section of Fluid Mechanics, and that was it; I was in love with teaching.  Since then I have been promoted to Instructional Specialist, then Instructor, to Assistant Professor and now to Associate Professor and currently serve as the Program Coordinator for the Department of Engineering Fundamentals.

Why did ERAU develop a First Year Program for Engineers?  What advice would you give to First Year Engineering students?

The College of Engineering at ERAU decided that a First Year Engineering Program would be essential to properly prepare students for their future engineering coursework.  It was also driven by the desire to ensure as common as a first year curriculum as possible (common across all engineering degree programs), to allow students to transfer between degree programs without losing credits, or to afford them the chance to consider all of the programs offered here before settling on a decision by the end of their first year.  The best advice I can give to first year engineering students is to practice and study all of their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses everyday.  Whether they have assigned homework or not or whether they’ve finished their homework or not, they should rework problems, reread their chapters and practice (for short bursts of time) the subjects everyday.  This is how one not only becomes proficient, but it increases their ability to recall the concepts at will.

What are the highlights of your career so far?

Creating enduring friendships and professional relationships with some of the amazing students who have walked through the doors of ERAU.

What advice would you give students about the importance of participating in clubs/organizations as part of their educational program…and are there specific ones you would encourage?  Tell us about your involvement with some of the clubs for which you’ve been the faculty sponsor.

Becoming involved in your University’s co-curricular programs is essential to your success both as a student and as a professional.  I always recommend that students should become involved (over an extended period of time) in at least one student chapter of a professional organization (for example, Society of Women Engineers or American Society of Mechanical Engineers) and one hands-on, design-oriented competitive organization (for example, The Women’s Baja SAE team here at ERAU).  The professional affiliation is excellent for introducing students to members of the professional field and providing networking opportunities.  Most memberships come with a journal subscription, giving students insight and cutting edge news into the professional field in which they are interested.  The hands-on competitive clubs provide engineering students the chance to apply the theory they’ve learned to a full-cycle project.  It often times requires that they learn beyond the introductory concepts covered in class and requires they practice their teamwork skills.  It is in this environment that students truly learn what it means to be an active engineer as a part of an engineering team.  They learn skills that simply cannot be taught in a traditional classroom setting but are best acquired through trial and error and through the struggle of doing it themselves.

You’ve won a number of teaching awards.  Name some and is there one you are most proud of?

Oh man – this is one of those questions you really just love being asked, but are a little embarrassed to answer!   The most meaningful awards are those that recognize what I enjoy the most – teaching.  I have won several College of Engineering Faculty Member of the Year Awards, voted on and presented by the graduating class for that year.  Truly, those awards mean the most to me as they came from the students themselves, the ones with whom I am in the classroom the most.  I have also been awarded the Faculty-selected Outstanding Teaching Award.  Of course, I am very proud to have been recognized by my peers for my teaching strategies and style, but the student awards are truly the best to receive.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jim Ramsay, Homeland Security

ERAU Homeland Security program faculty

Dr. Jim Ramsay

Dr. Jim Ramsay developed the Homeland Security major at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach campus in 2006.  He has a background in biology, chemistry, and health administration, with a PhD in population health.  He serves as program coordinator and teaches a variety of Homeland Security classes. Additionally, Dr. Ramsay serves as the faculty co-op/internship advisor.  Career Services selected Dr. Ramsay as our very first faculty spotlight due to the rapid growth of the Homeland Security program and the popularity of the degree.  He gives readers great insight into the future of the major and potential career growth.

Can you tell us about your background and what motivated you to come to Embry-Riddle?

My background is varied. I have a BS in biology and chemistry, an MBA in health administration and my PhD is in population health (a joint program at the time in preventive medicine and industrial engineering). I’m a certified safety professional and actively serve on several national boards, including the Board of Scientific Counselors in the CDC (appointed by the US Secretary of HHS), the ABET Board of Directors and as the Chair of the Education Standards Committee in ASSE (which sets the academic credentials and accreditation standards for health, safety and environmental academic programs). I arrived at Riddle in June 2006 to begin the Homeland Security academic program on the Daytona Beach campus. Coming to ERAU in 2006 represented an opportunity for me to build something special from scratch with no professional guidance, given that there were just a handful of Homeland Security programs nationwide then. This was a compelling challenge for sure.

As Program Coordinator, can you tell us some of the highlights of the Homeland Security program?

Well the first thing that comes to mind is our phenomenal growth. I was alone in 2006 with no students. The Bachelor of Science in Homeland Security program at Embry-Riddle now offers over 30 sections of courses to over 600 students/semester with 7 faculty. We have the BS in Homeland Security, a minor in Homeland Security, a minor in Terrorism Studies, a minor in Forensic Accounting and a minor in Cybersecurity. Next summer, Homeland Security will move to the College of Arts & Sciences and become a department called “Security Studies and International Affairs” with me as chair. We will most likely add several programs as well, including at least one new graduate program in cybersecurity and diplomacy, a new undergrad program in risk management, resilience and critical infrastructure protection, and a language program, etc. This and the fact that we are considered a leading and venerable program in Homeland Security across the nation where several other schools have emulated our program. I’ve also published how I built the curriculum in a peer reviewed journal (Homeland Security Affairs Journal).

With your background in both industry and academia, what advice can you give to students wanting to pursue a career in homeland security?

Stay flexible and eager and assertive! The field is always in flux. Indeed, just last week the Government Accountability Office issued a report indicating that the name “Homeland Security” is not uniformly defined in the federal government, even after over a decade in existence! Hence students who are successful are always improving their resume, gathering credentials and higher degrees, and keeping their skill sets growing. There are tons of jobs out there in this discipline, and students who are flexible and assertive will find their way to opportunities.

What qualities would an employer look for in an ideal homeland security candidate?

Good question. It rather depends on the sector, but there are the usual suspects of good writing, speaking skills, professionalism, integrity and evidence of involvement. In addition, I’d say employers are generally looking for strategic planning, economic analysis and evidence of critical thinking skills/experiences.

What do you see as the future of homeland security careers?

Another good question! I’d say that Homeland Security is morphing, even now. Environmental security, resilience and sustainability and human security will become more important in the next few years. Homeland Security at one level is a horrible name since most of what happens under the pretense of “Homeland Security” is not security and not domestic…careers in critical infrastructure protection, emergency management, risk management and cybersecurity (as well as information assurance) will be plentiful in both the public and private sectors.

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