Flight Plan

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Shanna Lowe '06, now at Signature Flight Support in the Twin Cities

When aviation students earn their diplomas, the public generally pictures them lifting off their careers with airlines like Northwest, American, Southwest or another commercial carrier. That’s not surprising, as most college aviation programs do, in fact, point students to exactly that career path. 

Another career option – business aviation – receives less attention, with the result that few young people know about the career opportunities offered by businesses that have their own aircraft, flight crews, maintenance technicians and other aviation support.

At St. Cloud State University, aviation majors are prepared for commercial aviation, but they also are encouraged to think more broadly. Assistant Professor Tara Harl has, in fact, developed a unique student/industry partnership with corporations in the Twin Cities that literally opens hangar doors to students. 

SCSU faculty members work with corporations to outline their project needs, all of which give students on-site lab time at corporate facilities as well as the benefit of mentoring, assessments and contacts. Student teams have tackled business aviation assignments on aircraft and organization mergers, on jet acquisition and on pilot succession and hiring. The teams wrap up their projects by presenting them to company management and their classmates, followed by mock corporate interviews for feedback and further mentoring.

The partnership program has given more than 100 SCSU students the chance to work on business aviation projects at 3M, Target, General Mills, Cargill and seven other large Minnesota businesses over the last four years. Businesspeople have been incredibly generous with their time and expertise, saying to students, in effect: “This is what our industry demands ... and, yes, you can make it with hard work – let me show you how!”

Aviation businesses are benefiting from the partnership, too. They can rely on SCSU students for on-site help when and where they need it, as well   as a direct line to experienced graduates enthusiastic about business aviation as a career.

After Harl and industry partners like Dave Maib, head of Target’s corporate flight department, brought the partnership program to the attention of the National Business Aviation Association, the national organization decided to make the SCSU student/industry program a model for similar programs across the nation. 

Kent Ramquist, former director of USBank flight operations, helped Harl design the program as a way of creating a pipeline that businesses like his could tap for well-prepared graduates.

Kevin Flood, a field service engineer with responsibility for about 200 Cessna aircraft in the Midwest and Canada, says he does himself a favor when he works with SCSU aviation students. “There has to be a strong pool of talent coming into the industry, and the quality has to be topnotch.” SCSU graduates come into the workforce, he says, “prepared to do the job.” 

Flood credits the quality of the students’ training to the dedication of SCSU faculty members who could, he pointed out, earn more in the business world. “They’re not doing it for the money, they’re doing it for the kids,” he said. “How could you not respect people like that?”

Flood also gets a kick out of the students’ enthusiasm. “These kids live and breathe flying,” he said, recalling that as a teenager he had pictures of airplanes on his walls instead of pop star posters. It’s an attractive career choice: “You’re making your living on the wind.”

From SCSU to the Canadian Air Force

A long week of demonstrating her skills in a flight simulator, written tests, interviews and fitness tests ended happily for job applicant Melanie Pudsey ‘05. The SCSU aviation graduate is now an officer with the Canadian Air Force.

Pudsey, who lives in Ontario, Canada, began basic training last August. It will take two years to get her wings, after which she hopes to fly fighter jets and, eventually, perform with the Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds aerobatic team.

The young woman came to SCSU on a full hockey scholarship, but also was a natural for the aviation program. Her grandfather was a fighter pilot in the Canadian Air Force and her father is a flying enthusiast (he bought his Cessna 172 from the SCSU Aero Club when students replaced it). A member of her family is a Canadian Air Force pilot and another is an air traffic controller.

Competition for the Canadian Air Force fighter pilot crew is stiff, as it is for the 85-pilot aerobatic team. But Pudsey honed her competitive skills as a four-year standout on the Husky hockey team, then as a player on Canada’s top female team, the Toronto Aeros.

At SCSU the aviation major had a tight schedule: she played Division I hockey for four years, worked at the campus greenhouse for two years, tutored students taking aviation courses and logged enough flying time to earn her pilot’s license, all in addition to regular coursework and typical college-student activities.

“Everything was something I really wanted to do,” Pudsey said of the demands on her time. But it was only because her professors cared and were flexible, she said, that she managed to do it all. Now she intends to do all it takes to become a Canadian Air Force fighter pilot.

On his way up the ladder

Benjamin Quinn

When aviation major Benjamin Quinn walked across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree in spring 2005, there was no need to wonder what he’d do next. The young man had been hired – the day before commencement – by an aviation company with the world’s second-largest fleet.

“It was a nice little graduation present,” said Quinn, formerly of Westfield, Wis., now a technical marketing analyst with Netjets in Columbus, Ohio. The company, which has more than 600 aircraft in its fleet, sells fractional ownership in 14 types of jet aircraft ranging from the Hawker 400XP to the Boeing Business Jet. If you’d like 50 hours of flight time a year on “your own” jet, equipped with crew, the package is yours for $2.6 million.

If you’re thinking about the proposal and have aircraft performance questions, Quinn’s the man to call. As one of four Netjets technical marketing analysts he provides the technical information needed by sales and marketing, acts as a liaison between marketing and flight operations, and works directly with prospects to answer their questions.

“I’m lovin’ the job,” said the 25-year-old. Quinn also is one of just 25 businesspeople, the rest averaging 10-15 years of experience, from around the country chosen to participate in the MBA executive program at Ohio State University.

“The aviation world is like a small town – everyone seems to know everyone,” said Quinn, so the internship and networking opportunities initiated by SCSU aviation faculty members are invaluable. “Where else would I get the chance to connect with people who run flight departments at places like Target, General Mills and the Metropolitan Airports Commission?” Their help put him several steps up on the career ladder. Now he’s climbing on his own.

- Margie Proell

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