When visiting the Winter Haven Regional Airport, there is a great chance of being greeted by a Polk State College student or alum, with the fixed-base operator’s team of technicians completely comprised of Polk State Aerospace grads and students.
Polk State Aerospace utilizes state-of-the-art, real-world approaches to training in its associate in science and baccalaureate degree programs, with the College enjoying strong partnerships with industry leaders including the City of Winter Haven that fosters experiential learning and employment opportunities for students and graduates.
“As we search to fill positions at the airport, we recognize the value of those candidates that have gained aviation skills and knowledge from Polk State College’s Aerospace Program,” Airport General Manager Alex Vacha said. “Students and graduates of Polk State College Aerospace have proven to be safety-minded, proactive, and hardworking individuals.”
Students shared that the airport provides firsthand experience that connects to what they are learning in their courses, which are flexible and convenient to balance with work.
“Students and graduates of Polk State College Aerospace have proven to be safety-minded, proactive, and hardworking individuals.”
Winter Haven Regional Airport
Troy Heidel, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Sciences with a concentration in Aerospace Administration, called the flexibility and support of the staff and faculty at Polk State the “biggest thing” about the program.
“Especially with everything going on (through the pandemic), Polk State has been very accommodating,” Heidel said.
Cathy Jilbert, who achieved her Polk State Associate in Science in Aerospace Administration in May and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Embry Riddle, added that there is also a Polk State Aerospace community within the industry that provides extra support and networking opportunities.
Jilbert is a graduate of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy and took dual enrollment courses at Polk State before completing her Aerospace degree at the College. She noted that many of her CFAA peers continued their education at Polk State, and some are also employed with the Winter Haven Airport.
“We rely on each other and work together as a team,” Jilbert said. “We have a community.”
As operation technicians, Jilbert and her colleagues are responsible for a variety of tasks, from fueling airplanes and maintaining hangars, to landscaping and taking care of the runways.
“Every day is something different and we meet different people and pilots from all over and from all walks of life,” said Slade Rosamond who is currently pursuing an Associate in Science in Professional Pilot degree.
They also have valuable opportunities to apply what they are learning in the Polk State Aerospace Program to their work at the airport.
“The program isn’t purely about flying – it also teaches students a lot about the business of aviation,” Rosamond added. “It’s cool to be learning something in class and then to come to work and be able to share with others what I’ve learned and actually use it.”
Lucas Johnson who is pursuing an Associate in Science in Aerospace Administration agreed. Johnson, who holds his private pilot license, realized he didn’t want to fly.
“I want to be closer to home and discovered the opportunities that are available on the administrative side,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of niche jobs and room to grow into higher positions at different airports.”
Polk State’s Aerospace Administration Program prepares students who are seeking employment in the aviation, airline, and/or airport fields with the skills and experiences necessary to be successful.
Graduates may seek employment opportunities in the federal, state, or local government aviation fields, or find opportunities in entry-level airline customer service, operations, and air cargo jobs, and in mid-level management positions. Graduates will also find themselves qualified for positions in supporting aviation entities, such as suppliers and service providers for airlines and government aviation agencies.
“Polk State teaches you to think critically, and with the diversity of work here at the airport, we are learning firsthand how to respond to all the different situations effectively.”
Polk State Aerospace student and Winter Haven Regional Airport Operation Technician I
Brett Molick who is pursuing an Associate in Science in Aerospace Administration agreed with his peers and colleagues that their education at Polk State paired with the experience they are gaining with Winter Haven Regional Airport is preparing them for future success.
“There is no amount of training to prepare you for the job because it is so situational,” Molick said, “but Polk State teaches you to think critically, and with the diversity of work here at the airport, we are learning firsthand how to respond to all the different situations effectively.”
Polk State Aerospace Director Eric Crump expressed how proud he is of the program’s students and graduates.
“They take on a lot between work, school, and their life commitments. I love to watch them succeed and find their role in the aviation workforce,” Crump said. “Our awesome local partners, like the City of Winter Haven, provide not only jobs and income for our students, but also enhanced mentoring opportunities that extend learning beyond the classroom.”