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FAA internship provides once in a lifetime experience

October 19, 2010

Jennifer Hilton was bit by the aeronautical bug when she was just a teen. Her father’s love of aviation rubbed off on her and she knew she wanted a career in the field. Now majoring in Air Traffic Management in the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus, Hilton is set to graduate this December.

ASU’s Air Traffic Management program is one of two in the world that has air traffic control (ATC) tower and radar simulation. This facility allows students like Hilton the chance to apply what she has learned in the classroom and gain experience. In addition to her schooling, Hilton participated in a summer internship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that served to solidify her career path.

With guidance from instructor Roger Mandeville, Hilton found and applied for the internship through the Student Transportation Internship Program for Diverse Groups (STIPDG). The program offers paid internships to students who wish to learn more about jobs within the Department of Transportation.

Hilton was chosen as one of 107 out of 3,000 applicants.

“Opportunities are few, due to the security and nature of the job, however, Jennifer was highly recommended by all of her instructors because she had completed classes for tower and TRACON,” says Mandeville.

Shortly after learning of her assignment at the Northwest Mountain Regional Office in the Safety and Standards Branch of the Airports Division in Renton, Wash., the change in weather was quite a shock for the Phoenician.

“It rained for the entire first month I was there,” says Hilton, of her new location.

The weather did not dampen her spirits, though. The internship turned out to be one of the best experiences of her life, according to Hilton.

“As a future air traffic controller, the hands-on experience and the chance to work in the field offered invaluable knowledge,” she says.

During her internship, Hilton was able to learn more about runway safety, field operations, airport fire fighter training and the FAA. “The fire chief running the training let me wear the gear and observe the drills from the sidelines,” says Hilton “I was in the room, in my protective gear, while it was on fire just observing the firefighters complete this training exercise, and it was the most intense thing I have ever done.”

As part of the internship Hilton also completed a research project studying the effects of integrating Air Traffic Control NextGen technology at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. At the end of the summer, Hilton, along with the other 106 interns, were flown to Washington, D.C., to present the results of their research.

Hilton also received an award from STIPDG for outstanding intern while in Washington, D.C.

Of the whole internship Hilton says, “I believe what helped me the most was my open-mindedness. I was able to put myself in positions where I could make the most of my time here.”

She feels the internship has given her opportunities many students never receive, and she has begun building a network of resources she can use throughout her career.

Mandeville agrees. “It would take someone working in the ATC field ten years to get the exposure she gained during the summer.”

The last hurdle for Hilton before graduation is passing the Air Traffic Selection and Training (ATSAT) test. To become an air traffic controller she must do well on this test, regardless of her past education and experience.

Though stressful, Hilton feels that her internship has taught her an important lesson about options. “Air traffic control is my first choice but if for some reason I mess up that test, there are other options, it’s not the end of the world, it’s not the end of my career with the FAA, and it’s not the end of my career in aviation.”

Written by Tana Ingram

Media Contact:
Christine Lambrakis,
Office of Public Affairs