Growing field with strong job prospects, sources say
On Jan. 19, Ryan Sullivan took his wife flying for the first time.
The trip was special because the couple was in a private plane and Sullivan was in the cockpit, piloting, realizing a dream he had ever since he was a boy.
That dream became a reality for Sullivan, a 30-year-old Carroll University student, after he enrolled in the school's relatively new aviation science minor. Sullivan completed the program, earning his private pilot's license, and was commended for the achievement at a brief ceremony on Jan. 18.
"Basically I wanted to be a pilot ever since I was a little kid," Sullivan said. But, he added, "you don't have to want to be a pilot to take this minor."
Carroll added the aviation science minor in fall 2015 through a partnership with Spring City Aviation, a local business, and has been working hard since then to ensure the program takes off, said Jess Owens, Carroll's senior public relations strategist.
As part of the courses, students receive classroom instruction as well as flight training at the Waukesha County Airport. Aviation degrees help students become pilots – recreational, private and/or commercial – as well as work in airport management or air traffic control, as mechanics, or in other areas, according to the school.
Sullivan, who described himself as a latecomer to the program, didn't enroll until last spring. He's one of a small group of students working toward their minor in aviation science, and said he hopes the program can grow.
"I think there are a lot people out there interested in aviation science," he said. "They just haven't heard about (this minor)."
Growth is certainly a possibility.
According to Boeing and the U.S. Department of Labor, there is an increasing need for pilots. Boeing said last year that approximately 28,000 new pilots will be needed each year over the next 20 years to keep pace with travel demands and the increase in plane size, which need larger crews.
Not just for pilots
But the program isn't just for those who want to be future aviators.
Tim Tyre, an adjunct professor and director of Carroll's aviation science program, said that the minor has the potential for wide application – within and outside the aviation profession.
"Aviation in my own experience as an instructor is a very complex field that has a direct relation to academics because it's about operationalizing very complex things, especially under some degree of stress" he said.
That kind of environment emphasizes the application of complex thinking to decision-making, a skill that Tyre said is valuable in any job.
But the variety of careers available to someone who pursues the aviation science minor and is looking for a job in that field is also vast.
"There are opportunities, lot of them," Tyre said. "Taking a minor like this doesn't mean that you're just training to be a pilot."
The fact that the program is a minor, not a major, at Carroll was important to Sullivan, who's also working toward an undergraduate degree in computer science.
Flying is his dream, but he said he likes the idea of having another skill set as a back-up plan in case something in the future ends up precluding him from being a pilot. (There are a number of physical and health requirements for the job.)
"But if that's your major, that's all you've got," Sullivan said.
Still, he is looking forward to reaping the benefits of the program – namely fashioning a career out of what was once only a childhood aspiration.