Alumni Career Spotlight: James Sulton, III

James speakingJames 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.

Alumni Career Spotlight: Joanne Soliman

Joanne Soliman, DB 2007

Joanne Soliman is living the dream of Safety Science graduates, working for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, DC as an Operations Research Analyst in the Office of Accident Investigation and Prevention. While working on her BS in Safety Science and Master of Science in Aeronautics, Joanne gained relevant experience by completing two FAA Aircraft Maintenance Division internships through The Washington Center. Additionally, prior to accepting the position with the Federal Aviation Administration, Joanne worked for PAI Consulting, a consulting firm that contracts with the FAA.

How did you get your job with the FAA?

I applied for my current position through the USAjobs.gov website. The application process in itself is long and daunting. Outside the normal realms of a job application, FAA applications have a section known as Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) which require written answers. Your answers should reflect your ability to execute the duties of the position. However, prior to my application ending up on my hiring manager’s desk for review, it underwent a screening process which is designed to essentially eliminate applicants who do not meet the requirements stated in the position description. In my case it was based both on education and experience. A month after I made it through the screening process, I received an invitation for a face-to-face interview.  In total the entire process from application to swearing-in took about five months.

What is the secret to your success?

I feel the secret to my success thus far has been learning how to fail. It is not only a humbling experience, but it has also helped develop my character as a professional. It has forced me to ask questions when a process I’ve used for completing a task has not produced the necessary results.

What is one piece of career advice you would like to share?

If anything, I have two pieces of career advice. The first would be to get an internship while you are at ERAU. It will give you the opportunity to really understand what is happening in our industry and to take those skills that you have learned in the classroom and apply them to real-life situations.  Secondly, continue to learn; employers want to see that candidates and employees are either developing or sharpening the skills necessary to be successful in their positions. If a learning opportunity comes by, don’t pass it up.

What three traits or skills have made you the most successful in your career?

Organizational Skills: If you are not organized, then I encourage you to get organized.  Being unorganized is a good way to make a bad impression, not to mention the exorbitant amount of time wasted fumbling through thumb drives searching for your part of that project which needs to be delivered to your colleagues or boss. I wasn’t always very organized, but I realized very early on how critical my organizational skills would be to my success in my career. I know where everything is at in my desk, so if someone asks me for a document that they need, I know just where to go to get it.

Critical Thinking Skills: My job requires me to look through thousands of pieces of data every day. I have to be able to sort through the information and analyze the relevance and meaning and relate it to the project or a safety concern which may arise.

Networking: I was surprised at first at the number of ERAU Alumni who lived and worked in the DC area. However, once it became obvious that there was a vast ERAU network here, I began reaching out to people I had not only gone to school with and remembered seeing around campus, but to alumni who attended the Worldwide campus. My networks not only led me to my current position, but I have developed excellent working relationships and friendships.

Alumni Career Spotlight: Julie Schell

Julie Schell, DB 2001

Julie Schell has worked with the Career Services Office since her days as a student. As her career has progressed over the years, Julie has remained in close contact. In her current position as Safety Manager for US Airways Express/Piedmont Airlines, Julie promotes internship opportunities to Embry-Riddle safety students and has taken on several ERAU interns over the years.

Julie shares her story and offers some great advice for students and alumni alike who are seeking opportunities in the aviation industry.

How did you get where you are today? 

After completing my undergraduate degree in Biology, I began flight lessons on the weekends near Boston, where I lived at the time.  When weather and general life issues slowed my dream of obtaining my commercial pilot certificate, I decided to flight train full-time at ERAU.  I relocated to Daytona, where I continued my flight training in Deland at what was then called ERAU CATER and began the masters program in Aeronautical Science with a specialization in Safety.  After completing an internship at the FAA FSDO in Columbia, SC, I graduated with a MAS in Safety and a private pilot certificate.

In order to break into the industry, I took a job as a Shift Manager at the US Airways Express / Allegheny Airlines Boston station.  Because of my safety background, I focused on building the local safety culture and participated in the company-wide safety committees. Through my safety work and networking, I was promoted to the Safety Specialist position at company headquarters in Harrisburg, PA.   After spending a few years in this role, I moved to Washington, DC and worked as a contractor at FAA Headquarters.  I worked on such projects as the Whistleblower Protection Program, NASDAC (predecessor to ASIAS) and the FAA.Gov website redesign.

I returned to US Airways Express (Piedmont Airlines) for my current role as Safety Manager which I have held for the past six years.  I wear many different hats in my current position.  Most of my time is spent supporting the safety goals of the Customer Service Department.  My responsibilities include being a safety information resource, investigating ground damages to aircraft and on the job injuries, moderating safety meetings, and ensuring our ground station personnel receive and understand safety related information. For example, in the event of a ground damage, we complete an investigative call which results in findings and, more importantly, preventative measures. This is a safety fact finding call only; it is separate from any disciplinary investigation.   My other duties include assisting with emergency response planning, auditing, following-up on regulatory agency violations and developing and presenting training sessions.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career to date?

The highlight of my career is imparting safety information to the variety of people that work in the industry.  To me, it is absolutely critical that I make every effort to ensure the safety of our employees, passengers and assets.  This is accomplished through a multi-layered safety committee system, extensive training and investigations.   Everyone plays a role in setting a safety culture at a company; the safety department’s role is setting those expectations and making sure that everyone understands their responsibilities.

Another highlight was participating in an NTSB incident involving a nose gear up landing.  I had the opportunity to investigate the incident and determining probable cause.  It was a fascinating and educational experience.

What qualities do you find to be the most valuable for those working in the field of aviation safety?

In working in the regional carrier world, the most valuable asset is prioritizing workload based on risk levels.   Because airlines are so dynamic, new tasks develop all the time.   Depending on the size of the company, you may have multiple areas of responsibility that all need your immediate attention.  Teamwork is essential in getting the job done.

Successful aviation safety professionals are passionate about safety and are willing to go the distance to see measures put in to place to ensure a safe environment for everyone.

Enjoy what you do and you will never consider it “work”.

What advice do you have for candidates who are seeking work in aviation safety?

Network! Network! Network!    Career fairs and industry conferences are good places to network.  This industry is very small and all interactions you have with aviation safety professionals are important.  To make these connections, introduce yourself and have a firm handshake.  Then listen and ask questions, never assume you know best and collect business cards for future reference and to jot down a few notes from the conversation.  During these events you can network with many people in a short time span and these notes will trigger your memory of the conversation.

Internships are a valuable way to learn more about the industry.  Very few people get internships without applying.  Prepare your professional resume using tools like Eaglehire.  During your internship, it does not hurt to be the first person in the office and the last one to leave at night.  Always volunteer to take on projects and to help others.

Due to the small size of the industry, we generally have contacts at other companies where you have worked.  Always leave a good impression.

Persistence pays off.   Because this industry is competitive, do not get discouraged if finding an aviation safety job takes time.

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