Graduating Student Success Story: Krystel Parra

Krystel Parra is a recent graduate of the Aerospace & Occupational Safety undergraduate degree program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), Daytona Beach campus. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Occupational Safety Management at ERAU, Worldwide. Krystel also works full time as an Internal Evaluation Program Auditor in Spirit Airlines’ Safety Department.

KrystelBelow is a brief description of Krystel’s current position at Spirit Airlines and how her ERAU education helped her obtain this role:

As an IEP Auditor, I am part of the Internal Evaluation Program (IEP) in Spirit Airlines.

We provide a high level surveillance and evaluation of how well the company’s processes and procedures are performing in respect to safety. I work with Spirit’s business partners and Team Members in all types of operational departments to ensure that our customers get from point A to point B as safely as possible by performing evaluations, risk assessments, and providing corrective actions to the operational parties.

My Bachelor of Science in Aerospace and Occupational Safety degree gave me the tools that are required in the safety profession. While in Spirit’s Safety Department, I use what I learned in the classroom and apply it to the workplace. For example, when performing evaluations of workplace conditions, my knowledge of federal regulations learned from classes such as Environmental Compliance & Safety, Industrial Hygiene, and System Safety provide me the tools I need to successfully perform my duties as an IEP Auditor.


Alumni Career Spotlight: Nick Kleoppel

Nick (pictured, right) with the Cape Air Safety Team

Nick (pictured, right) with the Cape Air Safety Team

Nick Kleoppel’s aviation career started at a small FBO in Lee’s Summit, MO where he began flight training for his Private Pilot certificate.  This led into a passion for aviation, which drove Nick to Embry-Riddle in the fall of 2005 to begin the Aeronautical Science program.  Nick graduated in 2009 with his bachelor’s degree as well as his Commercial certificate in both Single and Multi Engine Aircraft with Instrument Rating.  During his undergraduate studies, Nick participated in the Dispatcher program offered through the University and attained his Dispatcher’s certificate.

Economic uncertainty was still looming overhead and there were very few promising jobs available; so in the fall of 2009, Nick chose to continue his education at Embry-Riddle through the Master of Science in Aeronautics program. Nick specialized in both Airline Operations and Airline Management, making it a point to take safety-related classes to support the operations and management curriculum.

After graduating in December 2011, Nick accepted a position with Cape Air as a Part 135 Flight Follower with the option to move into a Part 121 Dispatcher position.  During his time as a Flight Follower, the Cape Air Safety Department was beginning to incorporate new safety programs and needed assistance implementing them.  Nick was asked to participate in the Internal Evaluation Program (IEP) with conducting station audits and editing checklists.  Because of the expansion, the Safety Department was looking to hire a full-time position to manage many of these programs.  Nick joined Cape Air’s Safety Department in December 2012 as the Safety Programs Manager.

Tell us about your current role at Cape Air and how you obtained this opportunity

As the Safety Programs Manager, I primarily manage the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and IEP programs as well as participate in general safety investigations, projects, and campaigns.  On the ASAP side, I facilitate Event Review Committee (ERC) meetings between company, union, and FAA representatives to discuss safety reports and develop corrective actions.  I track all ERC corrective actions and recommendations and ensure their implementation.  When in the IEP manager role, I develop checklists, audit schedules, audit plans, auditor training, and any other documents needed to successfully conduct audits and evaluations.

I was able to connect with Cape Air through a network of professors/friends who knew many of the individuals working at Cape Air.  Their recommendations and references provided me the foot in the door I needed to get my aviation career up and running.

As a recent graduate now in the aviation industry, what were some challenges you encountered. 

One of the greatest challenges I faced upon searching for a career was the “catch 22” of the aviation industry.  Most aviation jobs sought by recent college graduates with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree require experience in order to get hired; however, there are limited opportunities that provide the experience you need.  Many college graduates with bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees may not want to take entry-level positions because of the education and degrees they have received.  Many may believe they deserve supervisor or management level positions.

Another challenge was looking for jobs in the Florida area so that I could remain local and not have to relocate.  The problem arises when so many students graduate from Embry-Riddle each year with the same degrees and flight experiences.  Most aviation jobs in Florida receive multiple applications from ERAU graduates who all have the same resume.  There is very little that separates each resume besides the name of the applicant.  Both of these challenges make it difficult to get your foot in the door with a company.

What helped me to get my foot in the door was my willingness to relocate and accept a position that may not fit my desired career path, along with my network connections.

NFA Group, Cape Air

NFA Group, Cape Air

Now that you are in a professional role in the aviation industry, what advice would you give to an upcoming graduate looking for their first career position?

Do not be afraid to accept an entry-level position to get your foot in the door.  I accepted the position of Flight Follower to start somewhere.  There was the uncertainty of career advancement in the field that I wanted.  The natural progression of a Flight Follower is to become a Dispatcher.  Though I enjoyed the experience of attaining my Dispatcher certificate and was willing to follow that career path, it was not what I wanted.    Therefore, I decided that experience was key, even if it was not on my desired career path.  Now that I have joined the Safety Team, I realize there is no such thing as invaluable experience.  The time I spent as a flight follower prepared me for the safety department by providing me the knowledge of how airline operations work in the “real world”, not a textbook.  Through that position, I gained experience working with maintenance, crew scheduling, and station agents.  I learned about weather delays, mechanical delays, passenger service and baggage handling.  Everything I experienced helped prepare me for the safety position.

Many of our graduates have to relocate for their career opportunities.  You moved from sunny Daytona Beach, FL to the Hyannis, MA area.  What advice would you give on relocating? 

Relocating for a job can be very tricky.  My wife and I traveled to Cape Cod for a weekend to check out the area and visit the Cape Air headquarters.  There are many months where the Cape is cold and grey,  but the summer months are simply breathtaking.  We were unsure how we would do living in a different part of the country, but were willing to try it!  If you are thinking of relocating for professional reasons, make sure you are willing to stay longer than a year.  Give the new job, location and yourself time to adjust; you never know where it will take you.  It takes time to meet people, learn about the surrounding area, and to “settle in.”  Every step in life is an adventure, make sure you take the time to stop and enjoy every phase.  Most people do not realize they are living the “good times” until they are over.

Alumni Career Spotlight: Suzanne (Robinson) Kearns

Dr. Suzanne Robinson Kearns, DB 2000/2002

Dr. Suzanne Robinson Kearns, DB 2000/2002

Suzanne Kearns is a professor who teaches Commercial Aviation Management students at Western University in Ontario, Canada. She is also a licensed airplane and helicopter pilot. She holds a Helicopter Pilot college diploma along with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Science and a Master of Science degree in Human Factors and Systems Engineering both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Additionally, Suzanne holds a Ph.D. in Education, specializing in Instructional Design for Online Learning. She has extensive experience as an instructional designer and is passionate about innovating human factors and aviation safety training.  She is the author of e-Learning in Aviation, a book published by Ashgate in 2010 and a new iPhone app called m-Safety.

What have you been doing since you graduated with your MS in Human Factors & Systems in 2002?

I graduated with my BS in Aeronautical Science in 2000 and my MS in Human Factors & Systems in 2002.  Shortly after graduating I was hired full-time as a professor at Western University, in their Commercial Aviation Management program, teaching human factors and aviation safety.  After I was hired I began my PhD in Education, with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning, which I completed in 2007.

Since 2007, I have written two books: Canadian Aviation, which is a textbook for university students who are new to the aviation industry, and e-Learning in Aviation.  I have also published four academic journal articles in The Journal of Human Factors, The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, and The Collegiate Aviation Review.  My current project is the development of a smartphone app that delivers pilot safety training, called m-Safety, which will be on the Apple App Store mid-April.

I have been married to Michael Kearns since 2004 and have three children, Katelyn (6), Sam (4), and Andy (15 months).

What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?

The biggest highlight of my career so far has been the publication of my e-Learning in Aviation book.  This book was published by Ashgate, a highly respected publisher in the aviation industry.  With Ashgate, you have to submit a book proposal and sample chapter which is put through an external review before the publisher agrees to publish your book.  Then comes the hard part – you have to do all the research and writing, which took me about 9 months.

After the book was published, I made connections throughout the industry with people who had read the book and were interested in collaborating.  It’s quite the experience to have people approach you, after having read your book.

What advice do you have for students and graduates who are interested in teaching in a university setting?

Teaching in a university setting offers a lifestyle with unparalleled flexibility.  I always dreamed of being a pilot, as I started flying airplanes and helicopters when I was 15, yet it was not until I completed an internship near the end of my ERAU bachelor’s degree that I realized how challenging the lifestyle of a professional pilot can be (as you are away from home so much).

I did not dream of becoming a professor, but I am very glad that my path led me here.  As a professor, your workload is distributed 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service.  The teaching requires about 6 hours of lecturing a week, plus office hours and grading.  The fun part of the job is the research, as you get complete flexibility over what you decide to explore, and it’s something you can do from home.  My interests led me initially to e-learning and now to mobile learning, which I think has enormous potential to improve aviation safety.  The service component of my job includes running the admission process for our aviation program and sitting on several university and industry-level committees.

For students interested in teaching at the university level, the best advice I can give is to consider whether or not you are interested in research.  It’s not obvious from the outside, but a professor is expected to spend just as much time conducting research as teaching.  Universities place a very high value on academic publications, such as books and journal articles.  As a student, if you want to work in a University, the best thing you can do during your studies is to try and get one or two papers submitted to journals and published.  The saying in the academic world is ‘publish or perish’, which means that if you don’t conduct research and produce publications it’s unlikely you will survive in the academic world.

How have your Embry-Riddle degrees opened doors for you in the course of your career?

My ERAU degrees have opened up many doors in my career, beginning with the ability to get a Master’s degree.  What I mean is that in Canada, most pilot education is at the 2-year college level.  I am an example where it is hugely valuable to have a 4-year university degree in aviation, as it allows you to build upon that education.  In my case, it allowed me to get a Master’s degree and eventually a PhD.

Also, unlike other academic disciplines (such as history or calculus) there is a very “real-world” component to aviation research.  I need to stay on top industry-happenings and trends as well as the academic literature in my area.  Having a degree from Embry-Riddle has given me the foundation upon which to build my career.  I absolutely would not be where I am today without the education I received from ERAU.

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 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: 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 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.

Co-op/Intern Spotlight: Augusto Espinosa

Augusto Espinosa, MS Human Factors & Systems

Augusto Espinosa experienced the best of both worlds during his year-long stint as an Environmental Health & Safety Intern with Momentive Performance Materials in New Smyrna Beach, FL. While many students must wait until after their internship is over to apply the things they learned in the classroom, Augusto’s internship was local, allowing him the opportunity to incorporate experience into the classroom and vice versa on a daily basis.

What’s more, this May, Augusto will be graduating with a Master of Science in Human Factors & Systems and a solid year of work experience in the field he has decided to pursue.

What kind of work did you do as an Environmental Health & Safety/ Manufacturing Intern?

I was in charge of managing the EHS department at a small chemical manufacturing plant. I worked with the plant engineer to re-design different packaging lines and chemical mixing stations. We applied ergonomic principles to make the work areas more efficient and safer for the operators. I was also in charge of conducting numerous audits of the site to ensure that our operations conformed with government regulations. Every week I would be working on a different project.

As a local intern, you were able to take classes while gaining experience. In what ways did this benefit you, both in the classroom and on the job?

Being able to take classes while during my internship was a huge advantage. I would go to class in the morning and work the rest of the day. It was specially rewarding to learn certain concepts and then be to able to test them in a real work environment. Furthermore, I received a considerable number of graduate credits for my internship while getting paid.

What advice do you have for students seeking an internship?

Don’t be afraid to look for internships in different fields. My internship focused mostly on safety. Despite being a Human Factors student, I adapted quite well to the job and I was able to bring something different to the table. My employers really appreciated that.

What are your plans upon graduation?

I have come to really enjoy my work at Momentive. For this reason I hope to be working in safety or industrial engineering after graduation.

Co-op/Intern Spotlight: De Paul Sunny

De Paul Sunny, BS Aeronautics

De Paul Sunny recently completed his third semester and second internship/co-op with JetBlue Airways. In summer 2010, he completed an E190 Training Program Developer internship with the airline. The following summer, he went back to JetBlue to complete a one-year stint as a Flight Safety Co-op, which he will continue even after his December 18 graduation with a Bache lor of Science in Aeronautics.

You are on your second internship and third semester with JetBlue Airways. What kind of things have you done in your roles as E190 Training Program Developer and Flight Safety Co-op?

Both the internships have given me completely different experiences in the industry. As an E190 Training Program Developer, I worked at JetBlue’s Flight Training Department known as JetBlue University (JBU) and took on several different projects that ranged from ensuring JetBlue’s compliance with aspects of FAR Part 142 to leading the project on upgrading our training certification system to utilizing the FAA’s IACRA system.

I think the most exciting part of the internship was that I was essentially “checked-out” in the A320 and E190 simulators to provide demos for business partners, crew members and other interns. It also meant that I could use the simulator whenever there were no activity and practice approaches into St. Maarten (beautiful!), fly a VFR trip to Boston from New York, or even see the New York City skyline.

I really enjoyed this internship and wished it lasted more than a summer. But in the end, it provided me with great experience and exposure in the industry and subsequently led to me getting hired as a full-time co-op at JetBlue in the Flight Safety department.

My position as a Flight Safety co-op is significantly different from my previous position. I work at JetBlue’s headquarters in New York on a full-time basis for a period of at least a year. In this position, I have been basically treated as a full-time air safety investigator looking into various flight events that may pose risk to JetBlue’s operation. As such, most of my daily duties include FAA and NTSB notification on events as applicable and performing initial risk assessments on events reported to the department by line pilots. I have taken part in several flight safety investigations where I had to collect and analyze flight data, conduct crew debriefs and coordinate with various departments within JetBlue to issue findings or recommendations to help mitigate areas of identified risk. The investigations conducted eventually lead to corrective actions implemented in various departments and sometimes even industry wide.

Being in this position has also increased my exposure to several key people in various departments because I am constantly in contact with various departmental heads for different events. Since most investigations involve either the FAA or NTSB, the exposure to these government agencies has also been great.

I am also sent to various industry meetings or conferences to represent JetBlue and provide feedback on industry wide actions. This year I was sent to the International Society of Air Safety Investigators Conference in Salt Lake City and also a Runway Safety Action Team meeting in Boston. I have also been able to visit the FAA Technical Center in Atlantic City to get information on an investigation that I was assisting with.

How have you been able to apply your internship experience in the classroom?

During my first internship I was a junior at Riddle and soon after the internship I had to take several classes that were directly related to the projects that I had done during the internships. During my internship at JetBlue University, I had to review the training materials on the Airbus A320 and the Embraer E190. This was a really great project because it essentially taught me the aircraft systems and it helped me in the Jet Transport Systems, Electronic Flight Management Systems and Aircraft Performance classes that I would take later.

On the other hand, since I am doing the flight safety co-op during my senior year and right before graduation, I have been able to apply more of what I had learned in my aviation safety classes such as risk assessment, crash-worthiness and safety in transportation to be better at the internship.

In either case, the benefit of an internship or co-op lies in the work experience it provides. Doing an internship will definitely enhance your view on things taught in the classroom and give a better perspective on the reality of concepts learned in the classroom.

 Do you have any advice for students who are on the fence about doing an internship?

Do it! I cannot emphasize enough the value of an internship! I am sure you have heard this before but I will say it again, an internship gives you a much better prospect of getting employed at the company of your choice after graduation. The contacts that you build during your internships will prove to be extremely valuable and an internship significantly increases your exposure to the industry.

Let me try to put it in perspective. I know several graduates that have wondered why an application to an entry-level job is sometimes rejected because “they don’t have enough experience.” I mean, that’s the whole point of an entry-level position right, to gain experience? Well this is where an internship could really help you out. It’s easy to see from an employer’s perspective how it is so much better to choose a candidate who is out of college with a degree and has work experience by way of an internship than a candidate who graduated, maybe a year sooner, without any experience.

I recently interviewed for a full-time position and I will say that the difference in the perceptions you have and the answers you give before and after an internship are like night and day. You understand the industry better, you know what the hiring manager is looking for, and you have a lot more experiences that you can pull from when forming your responses.

An internship may set you back by a semester or so but if your reason to get a degree is to get a job in your relevant industry, that additional semester you graduated early by will not help.

What are your plans after you graduate this month?

My short term plans are to continue working for JetBlue and gain some more experience. After this co-op is over, I plan to look for a permanent position within aviation safety. I am also entertaining the idea of getting a master’s degree in Human Factors while continuing to build my flight hours.

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.

What You Missed at the Annual Alumni Industry Panel

Students and alumni gathered on Thursday, November 4, 2011 to hear five Embry-Riddle alums talk about their respective careers and dole out valuable advice for those seeking work in the industry. If you were one of the smart ones who attended, you know how beneficial the event was for job and internship seekers.

Alumni panelists answered questions from both the audience and moderator, Lisa Kollar. After  the 90-minute long panel event, students, alumni, Career Services staff, and the panelists congregated in the COB Atrium to network and talk about job and internship opportunities. Job seekers that attended had the chance to stand out and get valuable facetime with prospective employers.

Panelists included:  

All five panelists did an excellent job of conveying to students and alumni the importance of completing an internship, the value of networking as part of the job search, and the fact that one’s career path may take many turns. They spoke of the Embry-Riddle community and how tight bonds are out in industry. Many said their companies regarded Embry-Riddle candidates as a preferred choice when making hiring decisions. They shared personal insights into their own experiences and offered sage advice to college students embarking on a career in the industry.

If you missed the event, we have you covered. You can view the 2011 Alumni Industry Panel discussion online now (panel discussion starts at 3:27 on the video). 

Alumni Career Spotlight: Aaron Deerey

Aaron Deerey, DB 2004

Aaron Deerey, DB 2004

Aaron Deerey is a 2004 graduate from the Bachelor of Science in Safety Science program at the Daytona Beach campus.  He has been working for the Lee County Port Authority in the state of Florida for 5 years.  Aaron enjoys outdoor activities like hunting and fishing, and he is active with mission and volunteer work with his church.  His newest hobby is trying to keep his pregnant wife happy!

Airport operations is a field of interest for many ERAU students and alumni.  Tell us about your experiences in this industry.   

As a Safety Science major, Airport Operations wasn’t really on my radar as I left Riddle in December 2004.  My first job after school was actually managing the cargo operations for Delta Air Lines out of DAB.  I made a whole $9.50/hour, and that was as a Supervisor.  After searching for more gainful employment for a year and a half, a buddy of mine (ARFF Battalion Chief at RSW) called me from home and told me about an Airport Operations Agent position at Lee County Port Authority, which handles both Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) and Fort Myers Page Field.  I applied and was hired.

For those folks that are unfamiliar, Airport Operations Agents run Part 139 airports.  My second day on the job was the airport’s full-scale aircraft accident drill.  I was attached to my trainer who was also assigned to be the Incident Commander for that drill.  I was told that when I was fully trained I would be expected to fill that role at a moment’s notice. Pretty heady stuff for an entry-level position.

I was trained to inspect the airport from the ground (literally) up, how to make quick decisions on a vast array of subjects, perform wildlife control, and so many other things that I hesitate to try and list them all.  That first year was like trying to drink information from a Crash Truck turret (1200 gpm), and RSW was the perfect learning ground.  I was surrounded by great people who knew everything (so I thought) and were willing to share.  I learned that no matter how much you think you know, you can always learn more and that there are no “standard days” in Airport Ops.

As I became more experienced, I eventually transitioned into a training role and was given more and more responsibility.  Today I’m the Supervisor of the Airport Communications Center and assist the Airport’s Emergency Manager with developing the airport’s emergency plans.

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

  1. Always be willing to learn.  You don’t ever know as much as you think you do, and anyone can teach you something if you are willing to learn.
  2. Flexibility. There are few black and white things in my line of work. There are literally hundreds of ways to get the job done, and your way is rarely the best; adapt.
  3. Teamwork.  In airport work, your team is everything.  They are your eyes, ears and conscience.  You will succeed together and fail together.  Those who want to fly solo need not apply.

What helpful hints would you give to other students and alumni seeking employment?

I’ve encountered many people that think they know it all and think they are entitled to the best of everything.  Don’t be one of those people.  Be humble but don’t discount your strengths.  Be flexible but know when to dig in your heals.  Learn to take constructive criticism.  Criticism is not a personal attack; work is not personal.  If someone cares enough to offer suggestions, take them and learn from them.

Also, never be scared to use your contacts.  If my friend, the Battalion Chief, hadn’t told me about the job and given me a recommendation, I’d probably still be throwing bags for Delta.

You often represent your company, Lee County Port Authority, at the Daytona Beach Industry/Career Expo.  What tips do you have for students and alumni who plan to attend this event?

  • Show interest and know why you are there.  Don’t walk up and say: “So what are y’all looking for?”
  • Ask smart questions, but don’t try to prove how smart you are in question form.  For example: “What type of schedule do interns generally work?” is a good question, but “Why does your fire department use Halotron I as the secondary agent instead of a potassium-based dry chemical like most airports?” is a question that makes no sense in the context of you getting an internship.
  • Be confident but not cocky.
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