Alumni Career Spotlight: Steve Dorton

Steve DortenSteve Dorton is currently a Human Factors Engineer at Sonalysts, Inc. working on various projects, primarily with the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Human Systems Integration (HSI) group.  He is an alum from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  He attained his Bachelor of Science in Safety Science (class of 2009) and Master of Science in Human Factors & Systems (class of 2011).  While at Embry-Riddle, Steve completed a safety coordinator internship and multiple academic projects, and he served as a graduate research assistant with the Department of Human Factors, researching integration of unmanned systems into the national airspace system for the FAA.  In addition, Steve was an active member of the campus community.  He served as a member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) and chapter president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), and he held multiple executive positions within the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

What do you do as a Human Factors Engineer for Sonalysts, Inc.?

My job entails performing a wide variety of duties across an even wider variety of technical areas. Currently, my prime responsibility is providing Human Factors Engineering services to the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Human Systems Integration (HSI) group. In the short time I have been here, I have performed applied research and systems engineering analysis across a wide variety of DoD acquisitions and research projects. Whenever the Navy or Marine Corps wants to develop, acquire, or modify a system, I work with other researchers to determine whether the system adequately accounts for the capabilities and limitations of the warfighter. The systems I work with range from handheld radios to software suites, or an entire Warship. In addition to all of that, I am currently standing up a Human-Autonomy Interaction Laboratory and performing basic and applied research on autonomous systems and developing technologies to increase the DoD’s capabilities. At any given time, I am working on three to five projects across different domains, which makes my job novel and always interesting.

How did you land your position?

Allison Popola, a fellow Human Factors & Systems (HFS) alumnus, had introduced me to her boss at a conference we were attending. With her help, I was able to secure an interview and ultimately attain my position here. After a rigorous round of interviews, I was extended an offer, which I excitedly took.

How do you enjoy working for a small government contractor? What are the advantages of working for a smaller company?

I cannot stress enough how much I enjoy the freedom of my job, which is primarily afforded by the small size and flat, matrix oriented structure of my company. We adopt a “kill what you eat” mentality, meaning that if you find a project or funding areas that interest you, then you are free to lead that project should you win it. The outcome of this policy is that I am free to research whatever interests me, so long as I am willing to put in the work to find it. Instead of being a cog in a large machine, I am free to pursue what interests me and have a large amount of autonomy (pun somewhat intended). I also get to spend most of my time with customers, be it attending meetings, working in a lab, or collecting data in the field. More importantly in a research-oriented field such as Human Factors, a primary advantage of being with a smaller company is that it is much, much simpler to have Internal Research & Development (IR&D) resources allocated to a technology or capability you would like to develop. I have been afforded a great deal of freedom and opportunity, which I strenuously believe is a core advantage of working for a smaller company.

What advice do you have for Human Factors graduates seeking full-time work in the field?

NCM_0067Having seen a decent amount of resumes thus far, the single most important thing I can say is to highlight your experiences. Of course, the prerequisite for this is to get out there and do stuff in the first place. List projects that you have worked on, what your role in that project was, and the project’s outcome. It is far more important to know that you did a functional analysis here, and data collection there, than it is to know that you made the Dean’s list five times. Smaller companies that allow a lot of freedom are especially attentive to whether or not you have done research or applied work, so that they can be assured you are a self-starter and will not need too much supervision. Your resume should tell a story of what you have been doing, up to the time at which they are reading it. If it paints a clear picture and you talk to the right people, you can circumvent the tedious process of key wording and shamelessly jamming your resume with metadata.

Secondly, be passionate about what you do. I will gladly work with somebody with less skills and experience that is fired up over what we are doing than somebody with immense knowledge that does not care. When the going gets tough, the people who care are the ones that work the hardest. Science is a grueling process, so if you can convey a genuine sense of interest for your field throughout your resume and interviews, then you are going to make an impact on the people who are hiring.

Finally, be professional. ERAU has an entire department dedicated to doing nothing but making you marketable and ready for a career. If you pay as much as you do for tuition, then you should take advantage of these resources (that is, above and beyond a resume check before the career expo). In no other aspect of your life would you pay so much for something and then use such little of its features. Know how to write emails and letters to prospective employers. Have an experience-oriented resume that has been reviewed by experts. Be punctual and dress appropriately for interviews. These are all very basic things that somehow seem to be overlooked on a regular basis.

There are many other considerations, but those three things are the most salient advice I would have for somebody trying to gain full-time work in our field.


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.

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