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ASU degree programs offer a flight plan for COVID-19 air travel recovery

August 24, 2022

Aviation programs set to fast-track students to airline industry careers

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2022 year in review.

As the U.S. braces itself for the next round of flight delays, cancellations and lost luggage expected for the Labor Day weekend, Arizona State University is welcoming the incoming class of prospective  students to its aviation degree programs, which include professional flight, air traffic management and air transportation management. 

COVID-19-triggered repercussions faced by the airline industry extend far beyond a pilot shortage, although that is a key factor. Commercial and cargo air transportation operations are experiencing shortfalls deemed “unacceptable” across all industry job categories last week by Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

To meet the growing demands for trained industry professionals, ASU’s robust roster of degree programs is sending its grads into the airline industry as pilots, airfield operations specialists, airline dispatchers, flight staffing planners and air traffic controllers. The program welcomed about 100 new students this fall.

“The entire pipeline fell apart,” Ryan Ewing, a 2021 ASU air transportation management graduate, says of the effect COVID-19 had on the industry.

Ewing, who now works out of Dallas in the crew planning department of a major airline, said all of the airlines are dealing with COVID-triggered turbulence.

“First, everyone underestimated the pandemic’s effect on staffing, including the airlines,” Ewing says. “It wasn’t just because pilots were offered early retirement packages, either. Training programs were right-sized to meet demand as capacity was scaled back. Pilots who were on any sort of pandemic-related leave and not necessarily retired had to log a landing every 90 days and/or undergo simulator recertification on their equipment type, among other bottlenecks in the training supply chain.”

Additionally, ground crews, flight crews and staffing planners were put on leave or let go, often not returning to their old positions.

But nothing gets off the ground without the pilots.

Among the perks that make ASU’s aeronautical management technology (professional flight) degree program attractive are its year-round Arizona clear skies, adjacency to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport with employment opportunities that include required flight time through the ATP Flight Training Center, a partnership pipeline to commercial airlines and a bachelor’s degree that makes a pilot more marketable than students of non-degree pilot certificate programs.

ASU flight programs prepare next generation for industry

Third-year professional flight student and instructor Kolby Feyen gives student Ah’sha Notah a preflight operations check on a Cessna 172R at the ATP flight line at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport on July 28. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Kolby Feyen, a third-year student in the program, has been working as a flight instructor for ATP since February, flying about 40 hours per month. He works additional hours at ATP between classes, leading ground and simulator sessions with students.

“ASU’s program is clearly mapped out, giving you a specific vision of what you are doing,” says Feyen, who researched pilot degree programs at other universities before choosing ASU. He also cited the program’s flexibility and anticipates graduating after three years with a degree and full certification.

The key for Feyen’s goal of graduating early is completing a range of certification requirements, many of which he has already accomplished, and logging his 1,000 hours of flight time.

“Kolby is completing his certifications as fast as anyone we’ve had in the program,” says Gregory Files, a pilot and Aviation Programs lecturer.

“ASU’s proximity to ATP at Mesa Gateway is a benefit for all of our students, allowing them to log their flight instructor time before, after and between classes by simply going across the street.”

For example, in addition to logging his monthly flight training hours, Feyen works at ATP between classes, leading ground and simulator sessions with students.

Accessibility to the airport is valuable for the transportation management and air traffic control students, as well as aspiring pilots, many of whom find employment and real-world experience in non-flight positions at the airport.

In most pilot certification programs, students are required by the FAA to complete 1,500 hours before getting a commercial flight certificate, according to Files.

“But the degree program enables students to get their commercial certification in 1,000 hours – cutting the flight time and related expenses by one third,” he says.

Another feature that sets ASU apart from other programs is the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ-200) flight simulator.

“It replicates the make and model of planes flown in regional airlines, which gives student a hands-on experience of what a flight footprint looks like,” Files says.

The 3D experience, complete with cockpit instruments and feedback systems, is the same as a flight experience “without the motion.”

In all, ASU has five different flight simulators, including one that is used for training air traffic controllers in the aeronautical management technology (air traffic management) program, and a high-altitude training chamber that features two hyperbaric chambers. 

Marc O’Brien, program chair of aeronautical management technology, cites the program’s long-standing relationships with major airlines, which offer pathways to becoming hired as a pilot.

“Students generally start as first officers for a regional or cargo airline, which fly shorter routes with smaller aircraft,” O’Brien says. “After two or three years they are upgraded to captain at the regional, and with another two or three years in that position, they typically move on to the major airlines.”

Being part of a pathway program at ASU has many benefits for graduates. For example, Envoy Air and Piedmont Air are regional divisions of American Airlines. Endeavor Air is a subsidiary of Delta. SkyWest provides regional service for Delta, United and American Airlines, among others. ASU was one of four universities selected as launch partners with Southwest Airlines’ Destination 225° program.

“Quite a few airlines send representatives to speak to our flight safety classes on Tuesday evenings in the conference room in our Simulator Building,” O’Brien says. “It’s an opportunity for students to ask questions about career paths and for the airlines to get to know our future graduates.

“Our students have many opportunities to navigate airline employment channels. Capstone projects and internships often include working directly with airline personnel to tackle an industry challenge, and many graduates who are now pilots and aviation industry professionals come back and teach classes on a regular basis."

For Ewing, who started his aviation career at Mesa Gateway in airport operations as a second-year student and worked through graduation — later working for a private air shuttle — a huge attraction of ASU’s programs is its sense of community.

“We all knew each other regardless of which degree program we were in, and we remain connected after graduation," Ewing says. "I have a classmate from the same program that I still meet for lunch in Dallas at least once a month.

“A few months ago I was standing in the gate area of a regional flight from Dallas to Phoenix via Durango, Colorado, and saw a pilot who looked familiar. He came up to me and said, ‘Are you Ryan?’ Turns out he graduated a few years ahead of me.

“And the captain on the flight? He was an ASU grad, too.”

Top photo: Second-year aeronautical management technology (professional flight) student Billy Kitchen (left), faculty member Greg Files and recent graduate Taylor Hayslett (right) go through pre-flight checks in the CRJ 200 cockpit simulator on ASU’s Polytechnic campus on July 28. The FAA accredited program has more than 100 new students for fall 2022. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

ASU team plays key role in $100M initiative to foster equitable improvement in the arts

August 24, 2022

A team of researchers, collectively known as the Community Orientation Action Research Team (COART), has been selected to provide research support during the first phase of the Wallace Foundation’s new five-year arts initiative focused on arts organizations of color.

The initiative was created as part of the foundation’s efforts to foster equitable improvements in the arts.  Two women seated next to each other at a table. One of them writes on a paper while the other looks on. At a Learning Community event hosted by the Wallace Foundation, Christina You-sun Park (left), assistant director for ASU's Studio for Creativity, Place and Equitable Communities, works with Elena Serrano, program director at Eastside Arts Alliance. Photo by Claire Holt

The COART team includes researchers from Arizona State University's Studio for Creativity, Place, and Equitable Communities (otherwise known as the Studio), the Equity Center at the University of Virginia and ASU’s School of Social Transformation

The team is led by Christina You-sun Park, assistant director of the Studio, Sherica Jones-Lewis, director of community research for the Equity Center, and Mako Fitts Ward, assistant professor in ASU’s School of Social Transformation, with initial support from Ascala Sisk, former senior policy fellow at the Studio. 

The organizations’ work and research are focused on a guiding question: Facing strategic challenges, how can and do arts organizations of color leverage their experience and histories of community orientation to increase their resilience, while sustaining their relevance?

ASU was awarded $948,000 for Phase 1 of the project, which is 18 months, with a possibility of being selected to continue to Phase 2. UVA's Equity Center will receive a subaward totaling $358,398 of the above Phase 1 funds.

The role of the ASU-UVA COART team is to work with the 18 nonprofit arts organizations receiving funding, which represent a diverse range of artistic disciplines, geographic locations and communities served. 

Participating organizations are 1Hood Media; the Arab American National Museum; BlackStar; Chicago Sinfonietta; a collaborative comprising EastSide Arts Alliance, Black Cultural Zone and Artist As First Responder; Esperanza Peace and Justice Center; Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico; PHILADANCO! The Philadelphia Dance Company; Pillsbury House + Theatre; Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater; Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project; Ragamala Dance Company; Rebuild Foundation; Self Help Graphics & Art; Theater Mu; the Laundromat Project; and the Union for Contemporary Art.

Portrait of , assistant director for ASU's Studio for Creativity, Place and Equitable Communities.

Christina You-sun Park

Each organization will receive five years of funding to develop and pursue a project to address a strategic challenge. In the first phase of the initiative, COART will work with the arts organizations to develop a research plan that explores the relationship between community orientation, relevance and resilience through the grantee projects over the four years of implementation. 

“Phase 1 (of the Wallace Foundation initiative) is really a different method of working from how a lot of research is done,” Park said. “We’re making sure to take the time and space needed to set up the research on the right foot, in collaboration with the grantee organizations. This intentional approach of building a strong foundation for the work is embedded within all of the Studio’s programming and research.”

Founded in 2016 by Institute Professor Maria Rosario Jackson, who became the head of the National Endowment for the Arts earlier this year, ASU’s Studio for Creativity, Place and Equitable Communities is an innovative collaboration between Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. The mission of the Studio is to advance the integration of arts, culture and design in community development, planning and related fields in order to help redress historic inequities and create healthy, equitable, more just communities where all people can thrive. The program portfolio also includes a faculty academy, senior policy fellows, creative placemaking curriculum integration, Projecting All Voices fellowships and the Creative Measurement Lab.

"The research (that) Park is leading, in collaboration with the partners of COART and with support from Wallace, is putting into action not only what the Studio has gleaned through other programing, but what we aspire to do: to change industry standards through our mission," said Chandra Crudup, interim director for the Studio.

Portrait of , assistant professor in ASU’s School of Social Transformation.

Mako Fitts Ward

Traditionally, Park said, the research unit is separate from the arts organizations being granted funding.

But, she added, “Wallace wants to ensure that the outcomes of the research are helpful to the organizations. So even the things we’re talking about, the debate around the terminology, for example — instead of dictating that these are the terms that we’re going to research, we’re going to hear from the organizations themselves. This first phase is about careful intentional planning with the organizations, making sure the research is relevant and applicable to them and their communities.”

Park said that the approach is rooted in an acknowledgment that current national research hasn’t always benefited BIPOCBlack, Indigenous and people of color arts and culture organizations. Traditional data indicators for success, for example, don’t represent the true impact of these organizations — which calls for a reevaluation of what is considered “success.”

Park began working with the Studio in 2019. She earned her MFA in sculpture from ASU’s School of Art, then worked for the city of Phoenix’s Office of Arts and Culture, which is where she first encountered Jackson’s work.

“How arts and culture exist within communities has been an interest of mine for a long time,” Park said. “I got into creative placemaking through the way of reevaluating how we see metrics and really thinking about how structural inequities perpetuate issues for neighborhoods. I feel like the way I understood creative placemaking before I joined the Studio was very practitioner-based. The Studio’s programs have a different perspective on it, which is that in order for structural changes to take place, the burden can’t be just on artists and designers. The institutions need to change as well.”

Portrait of , director of community research for the Equity Center at UVA.

Sherica Jones-Lewis

“The Wallace Foundation’s goal is to identify field impacts through the sharing of the research,” Ward said. “However, for the arts organizations, the challenge is how do you participate in research on how your community engagement contributes to your organizational resilience without taking time and resources away from arts programming and other work? Our job, as the research team, is to create a collaborative process that doesn’t overburden the organizations while also meeting the objectives of the funder, which are to identify best practices and blueprints for the arts field.”

Ward said COART landed on the term “transformative action research” to describe their work.

“There is a strong desire for equitable partnerships between universities, community and sometimes corporate partners,” Ward said. “But the emphasis in those areas is always the action and how the action leads to change, with the emphasis on change. While the change is important, it’s all about process. How do theories of action ultimately inform the ability for arts organizations to justify the impact they make and articulate their impact? How do you create a process that is truly generative and iterative from start to finish? We are trying to figure out how you can hold both.”

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts