Alumni Career Spotlight: Erin Gormley

Erin Gormley, DB 1997/WW 2005

As an undergraduate Aerospace Engineering student, Erin Gormley knew she wanted to work for the National Transportation Safety Board. She got her start as a Co-op student, working for the NTSB in Washington, DC during her junior year, and was offered a position when she graduated in 1997. The rest is history, as Erin has continued her career with the agency as an Aerospace Engineer in the Vehicle Recorders Division. In addition to her BS degree, Erin received a Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle and has a Private Pilot Certificate. Erin recently came to campus to serve on the Alumni Industry Panel, providing valuable advice for the students and alumni who attended. Additionally, she is a supporter of the Embry-Riddle Co-op Assistance Program and serves as a mentor for Women in Aviation.

Many students and alumni dream of working for the NTSB. How did you make it happen?

 It was a personal goal to pursue a career at the NTSB, so when I was a junior at ERAU, I applied for a summer internship position at NTSB Headquarters in Washington, DC.  While waiting to hear back, I introduced myself to an alumnus speaking on campus who was an NTSB investigator and told him I was still interested.  I had tentatively accepted a position with another agency for the summer since I had not gotten a response, but he encouraged me to hang in there and I finally got word back that I had gotten the job.  I spent 2 semesters working as a Co-op student in the engineering division.  I worked hard, volunteered for any task going, and tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could to better prepare me to continue working in accident investigation.  Upon graduation, I was fortunate to have numerous interviews and job offers in the industry, in part because of my Co-op experience.  When the NTSB offered me full-time employment, I jumped at the chance to follow my dream, and I have been with them ever since.

What do you do in your role as an Aerospace Engineer – Flight Recorders?

During major aircraft accident investigations, I serve as a Group Chairman for either the flight data recorder (FDR) or cockpit voice recorder (CVR) group that convenes.  My role is to serve as a subject matter expert in these areas and lead a team of industry representatives in obtaining factual data that might be critical to the investigation.  The information is first extracted from the physical devices, processed, converted, analyzed and then synthesized with various data from other disciplines to help paint a cohesive picture of what was occurring at the time of the event and, depending on the circumstances, aid in determining the underlying causes. Other responsibilities include providing technical assistance on minor incidents and foreign investigations, serving on standards committees, and providing outreach to the aviation safety community as necessary.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?

Each of the investigations I have worked provide me with unique insights and experiences.  Doing flight tests and ground tests to try to replicate scenarios is a lot of fun because it gives me an inside look at a wide variety of aircraft types and systems, sometimes in conditions beyond which they were designed to operate.  Working overseas always lends a fascinating perspective to my job because the laws, processes and cultural experiences vary from the way we do things here in the US.  One memorable experience that stands out was working following the events of September 11, 2001.  The NTSB does not lead investigations on criminal cases, but we were asked to provide technical assistance in this instance.  I was staged at the Pentagon to help recover the recorders there and subsequently worked on data recovered from various other sources.  It was a surreal atmosphere in DC that week, and it was an honor and a privilege to be performing an important public service during such a trying time for our Nation.

What advice do you have for students and alumni seeking opportunities with the NTSB? Federal government in general?

The STEP program (formerly Co-op) allows the Federal Government to hire students after having completed a certain number of hours working in their specific area of study.  Participating in this program or an alternative (summer student, intern, volunteer, fellowship) is a great way to get exposure to an employer, show them your abilities and mutually decide if it is a good fit.  Any internship or industry experience is beneficial when looking for employment. Federal service is sometimes overlooked because the salaries at entry-level are not as competitive as private industry, but the generous benefits offered are worth consideration when weighing decisions.  Applying for a job with the government can be daunting, but I would say to be persistent.  Reach out to as many people as possible through alumni networks, LinkedIn, and professional societies to find out about openings and get advice on how to improve your application.  Use these resources to determine the ultimate requirements for the job you hope to pursue and strive to achieve that experience.

The NTSB is a small agency and with so many people passionate about the mission, vacancies are sometimes hard to come by.  I encourage people to follow USAjobs.gov and watch for openings, but to also look at all the available options.  Throughout the Federal Government and aviation industry, there are many exciting careers in aviation safety and accident investigation; the path to your dream career may take a different avenue than expected, but never give up on it.

Alumni Career Spotlight: Mark Lyden

Mark Lyden, DB 1989/1995

If you have graduated from Embry-Riddle within the last 15 years, there is a good chance that you know Mark Lyden’s name. That’s how long Mark has been coming to campus to recruit Embry-Riddle students for positions within The Boeing Company. These days, Mark is also an author, having published three books so far in his Do This! Get Hired! series.

Mark is as passionate about Embry-Riddle as he is about his work. A 1989 BS Aeronautical Studies and 1995 Master of Aeronautical Science graduate, he is a big supporter of his alma mater, both personally and as part of his profession. In addition to his recruiting visits, Mark also comes to campus to speak to students about job search strategies, writes articles for both The Avion and Career Services, serves on panels, and provides interviewing tips and advice, among other things.

You are famous at Embry-Riddle for both your role within Boeing and your series of Do This! Get Hired! books. What traits and/or skills have helped most to make you successful in your career?

What comes to mind is motivation and the determination to get something done.  A great idea is never great until it is implemented,  and most of the time you have to have a sustained motivation and determination to get that done.  I have discovered that the key to sustaining both are three things:  

First, do what you are passionate about.  Your career should be about something you like to do.  Yes, every job will not be that way all the time but the goal for your career is to find that job, that position, that you are most passionate about.  However, it is important to understand it will take you some time and it is a journey.  

Second, have a good life balance.  Give your life outside of work as much attention as your life inside work.  Take time for yourself, your family, and do those things you like to do.

Third, find a way to give back.  People get so busy with their lives that they forget about this one; yet in my opinion, this is critical for keeping perspective on your career and your life in general.  By giving back, I mean find an organization or charity that resonates with you and volunteer.  It is easy to give money and that is great as well, but it does not give you the same benefit, the same satisfaction as giving your time.  

What is the biggest highlight of your career so far?

It is so much fun for me to see candidates that I have screened or interviewed get hired into a job they love.  It changes their lives completely and in such an exciting and positive way.  For example, I took a big chance on an ERAU candidate about two years ago.  His grades were very low but he had a very compelling story as to why.  I ended up working with him and soon he got hired.  He has been with Boeing for less than two years and he has made such a contribution, such a positive impression on his bosses that they are recommending him for a promotion….for the second time in less than two years.  This is unheard of….and to think when I met him, no company would even interview him, let alone give him a job.  But he has a great passion and joy for his job and he sincerely appreciates the opportunities he has been given. Now, he is just one example and there are hundreds because I have recruited ERAU students for over 15 years now.  However, there is rarely a week that goes by when I don’t get a call or email from someone whom I have helped.  That gives me a lot of satisfaction.        

How has your Embry-Riddle degree opened doors for you in the course of your career?

ERAU is very well known and respected in the aviation/aerospace community. It was hard to see when I was a student, but the education you get from ERAU is a great one. Now, I don’t say this just because I am an alumni.  I say it because I have seen it.  I have seen how the ERAU education, especially one that includes internship experience, allows students to compete with the best students from other top schools.  ERAU students are consistently some of the top performers.      

Of all of the advice you have ever given to students and alumni, what would you say is the most important thing that they need to remember?

Two things.  The first one is attitude.  People like to work with others that have a good attitude and bosses like to promote them.  It is easy to have a good attitude when you like what you do.  So be passionate about your career and if you’re not, look to make a change. I never understood when people say “Don’t take your job personally.”  I do every day.  It’s important to me.  To put it another way, if you are a candidate looking for a job and after evaluating you I think you are a great, don’t you want me to take it personally whether or not you get hired?  

The second thing is to give back and help others.  Find a way to make a difference and go do it.  I promise it will be worth your time.

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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