Careers in Aviation Expo featured a wide-range of speakers with different career paths

Guest speakers from left to right: Douglas Pearson Sr., Brigitte Lakah, Nicole Stott, Chris Thomas, April Allen, Ben Srock, and Marisha Falk

According to the Boeing Company’s industry forecast, more than 800,000 new pilots and 679,000 aircraft technicians will be needed over the next 20 years. With air travel increasing worldwide, career opportunities are also booming in aviation business and finance, airport management, air traffic control, aerospace engineering, aviation data analytics, aviation cybersecurity, and more.

About the Careers in Aviation Expo

Attendees get a group shot with some of the event speakers.

On Saturday, January 11th, Admiral Farragut Academy partnered with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to host a Careers in Aviation Expo for people interested in learning more about what it’s like to work in the aviation industry. The program included guest speakers from all over the world who each experienced their own way of finding their passion in the aviation industry. Their careers expanded from NASA astronaut to commercial airline pilot to private charter pilot to air traffic controller to airplane mechanic. We were so pleased that more than 200 people joined us and we had a combination of current and past Farragut families, students from nearby schools, community members, and ERAU and AFA alumni.

“My son loved the entire Expo,” said one attendee. “At age 11, he was engaged and wanted to hear everything that everyone had to share.”

Another attendee wrote, “I enjoyed the stories and advice. Really liked the breadth of speakers from maintenance to crew member to captain.”

Keynote Speaker

The event started with keynote speaker Nicole Stott who is an AFA current parent, an ERAU graduate of ‘87, and a retired American Engineer and NASA Astronaut. During her 27 years at NASA, she served as a Flight Engineer on ISS Expedition 20 and Expedition 21 and was a Mission Specialist on STS-128 and STS-133. Today, Stott is the Space for Art Foundation Director.

“I come here today because of love… I love it when the things you love come together,” says Stott, referring to her love of both Embry-Riddle as a graduate and Admiral Farragut Academy as a parent, and how the two brought her to be here today.

“Aviation is a wonderful way to lead to so many opportunities, and space is one of those.”

“So like with everything, it all starts with inspiration,” said Stott. She grew up going to the Clearwater Airport with her family and watching her dad build and fly small airplanes. She would fly with him and that exposure to flight is what started her journey. She recalled her memory of watching the first moon landing and being in awe of the idea that there were people there. “I thought astronaut was this cool kind of thing… but I didn’t think astronaut was something I could do. Not because anybody told me I couldn’t do it, but it just seemed like one of those things that other special people get to do…” Mentors encouraged Stott to apply for the astronaut program and to ‘just pick up the pen and fill out the application’. “I would not have done it on my own. So I encourage you, please take control of the things you have control over because the opportunities really do open up for you.”

Stott didn’t get selected but she stayed persistent and two years later was selected into the Class of 2000 at NASA. “There’s not a checklist to get into the program,” Stott says as she shows the picture of the diverse Class of 2000 group. “Not one of us got here the same way… There are oceanographers, geophysicists, fighter pilots, test pilots, engineers, medical doctors, biologists. I mean, it’s this whole mix of people.”

Her most memorable moment? “Looking out at Earth and calling my family. As a mother talking to my seven-year-old son on the ground from space. I mean, who thought that could ever be possible?”

In this video, Stott reminds us that “we must respect each other, our planet, and all of the plants and animals that inhabit it. That we live on a planet, we are all earthlings, and the only thing that separates us from space is this thin blue lining of atmosphere.”

Panelist Speakers

Stott’s presentation followed with an interactive panel discussion with other professional pilots and individuals with aviation industry experience. Panelist speakers came from all over the world and included:

  • Chris Thomas (AFA ‘87N), JetBlue Airways Pilot, GEICO Skytyper Airshow Pilot, and Prevailance Aerospace UPRT Instructor Pilot
  • Brigitte Lakah (ERAU ‘86), UPS Air Cargo Pilot
  • Douglas Pearson Sr. (AFA ‘66S), Federal Aviation Administration, Air Traffic Controller
  • April Allen (AFA ‘00, ERAU ‘18), JetBlue Airways Pilot, Former Private Charter Pilot
  • Ben Srock (ERAU ‘14, ERAU ’17 M.S.), Textron Aviation Customer Experience Manager, Aircraft Mechanic
  • Marisha Falk (ERAU ’08, ’10 M.B.), Lear 60XR First Officer at Part 91, VP Private Jet Charter at Paramount Business Jets, Former ERAU Jet Dragster Driver

Questions that were asked throughout the event included:

You will need to listen to the recording to hear all of their answers.

  • How did you choose your career path? 
  • What are some of the pitfalls students should avoid? 
  • What advice can you give to people interested in pursuing your career choice?
  • What is your most memorable aviation experience or career highlight  
  • What would you do differently if you had to do this all over again?
  • What is a typical workday like for you?  What kind of hours and schedule do you have?
  • Where do you see automation impacting pilot careers in the next 15-20 years?
  • What is your advice for parents when there is an unfortunate event in the aviation community and how to explain it to their children and keep them inspired in aviation?

Here are our panelists’ answers to some of those:

Marisha Falk: “My dad loved aviation and working on cars,” said Falk who followed in his footsteps. “With my passion for speed, aviation, and cars (go-karts in particular), I got involved in racing jet dragsters through Embry-Riddle, which led to me getting many of my next jobs as a pilot. I wouldn’t change a thing because part of not living in the past is learning from our mistakes and always pushing forward.”

Ben Srock: “I grew up on a farm so my first experience with mechanics was with tractors and machinery,” said Srock. “When I was a teen I took a flight with a friend from a small airport in Virginia, and I fell in love with aviation. But when I got into the Navy after high school, I chose an electronic focus, because it was what I knew very little about. I’ve always had a passion to learn about what I didn’t know. When my wife kept hearing me talk about aviation, she encouraged me to get my license, and I did. I still fly for pleasure, but from that, I combined my love of aviation and working with my hands into a career as an aircraft mechanic.”

April Allen: “I grew up with aviation. Both of my parents were private pilots,” said Allen. “We would attend Sun ‘N Fun every year since I was little so I had an interest in aviation right away. I got to fuel that interest while at Farragut in the aviation program. Afterward, I attended the ATP Flight School, at which you basically eat, sleep, train, and fly.” From there she went on to fly for a charter company and now she’s at JetBlue. “I didn’t have the goal to go straight to flying for airlines, but your path can be very different (from what you imagine it might be).”

Douglas Pearson Sr.: “I had every intention of having a long career in the U.S. Air Force,” said Pearson. But when his son was born, he didn’t want to be apart from his family for all the time that was required. From the influence of a friend, he applied and took the test for Air Traffic Controller, and two years later was offered a job in Jacksonville, where he remained for the duration of his career. Throughout his time, he was in charge of training and supervising new air traffic controllers. “With the decisions we have to make in the time we have to make it, we have to be able to make decisions that are right the first time. Being an ATC was the most rewarding 30 years of my life.”

Brigitte Lakah: “I am a first-generation immigrant from Egypt,” said Lakah who moved to New York during her teenage years. “I learned English and after graduating high school I went straight to Embry-Riddle. I found I belonged among aviators. I didn’t know anything else, I just knew I loved airports. I was fascinated by every moving part of the airport.” Her dad had been a pilot but his father, her grandfather, would not allow him to continue. Her father took her flying once as a child and she was hysterically laughing and crying with love and joy afterward. “I love the camaraderie, the language speak, it’s just different. There’s nothing like it.”

Chris Thomas: “When you come to fly for a major airline like JetBlue, it stops becoming a job and becomes a career,” said Thomas, who came to a love of flight through his father, a Navy pilot. “As a Captain, you are the person setting the stage for the first day of someone’s career.” As a new hire at JetBlue, they do six weeks of simulation and emergency training. “They’ve never pushed the thruster and you are the first person to witness that, and you can see the smile on their face. It’s sort of like I get to be part of the first day of the rest of this person’s life.” Thomas also flies part-time as an aerobatic pilot with GEICO Skytyper Team, and is also an instructor on “Loss of Control” for Prevailance Aerospace. “Through this, I get to fly with people from other countries and from all branches of service. This past year my dad (Scott Thomas AFA ’63N) and I, also a GEICO Skytyper, did a photoshoot with the Blue Angels, and never in my life would I ever think that a Blue Angel would call me on the radio and request permission from me to refuel; that was a really cool moment.”

Careers in Aviation Expo Admiral Farragut Academy and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Special Thank You

Rob Ewing, ERAU ’94, Director of Aviation at Farragut, Event Creator and Moderator

Bart Graham, Sr., ERAU ’94, ERAU Tampa Bay Alumni Network Leader, Event Creator and Moderator

And all of our guest speakers!


Want More?

Click here to see pictures of the event.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the event.

Click here to view the presentation.

Learn more about Aviation at Admiral Farragut Academy

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