The NextGen of A&Ps

For the new generation of aerospace industry technicians: commitment required, along with updated training strategies.


U.S. military veterans make up a significant portion of the freshman class as well. While some could obtain a sign-off based on their military experience, they know the importance of a college education in addition to the A&P certification. Cary Honor served in the U.S. Navy on an aircraft carrier. “I came back to my hometown school. Sometimes I feel stretched, but I realize it is for something better.”

Justin Ports was an Air Force crew chief on large transport aircraft. “My father is an A&P, so I grew up in civilian/military aviation. I juggle 30 to 40 hours of work each week and 25 hours in school, so study and class prep time is limited.”

The nontraditional student

Other students are more “non-traditional.” They include “older” students who are retraining after careers in other areas. Cynthia Evans has experience in a variety of fields including health care, the National Park Service, and as a certified sheet metal worker in the aviation industry. Pamela Ledford also has some aviation background. “I worked for Cessna Aircraft and found it to be rewarding and challenging. I find so much interest in being part of something so critical and big.”

Other “nontraditional” students include those who were victims of the downsizing of the automotive industry. Joe Brown explains, “When I lost my job at Chrysler I decided to find a new career in something I enjoy. Going to school full time has been very challenging. I have a wife, a child, and a mortgage to take care of and not being able to work full time has made things difficult.”

Shannon Anderson, another former automotive industry employee commutes each day from Wisconsin. “I like the idea of having a career in a solid field and the opportunity to get an associate degree along with my licenses. The class hours I spend put a burden on the time I spend with my family.”

Other students have traveled much further to get here. Vedran Grozdanovic’s family came to America from Bosnia. A second-year student, he has just a few weeks left before graduation. “I always knew I wanted to work with my hands. Between school, work, and personal responsibilities your schedule is pretty much filled seven days a week.”

Billman explains that the RVC program has traditionally been able to place just about all of its graduates within a few months of completion, once they get their licenses. After almost 30 years, Billman still enjoys his job. “The most important reward is seeing graduates succeed in the program and, more importantly in their aviation careers. Many of our graduates are working in supervisory positions throughout the aviation industry.”
Educational challenges

The educational process has its own unique set of challenges. Aircraft become more complex with new techniques.

Billman explains: “Students’ computer/electronic media skills have significantly improved and their expectations have advanced. Instructional changes have had to focus on the utilization of audiovisual and computerized technology and significant changes in how course content is presented such as Powerpoint, CBI, informational databases, FAA/manufacturers’ software, and use of the Internet.” Obtaining current components, equipment, and special tools is expensive for any program.

With the help of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Billman and his NSF team have developed several computer-generated learning modules, including a turbine engine starting simulator which it has shared with a network of other A&P schools throughout the country.

Accreditation and transferring credits

And for the instructional staff there’s more to having a successful program than cutting-edge delivery methods and current equipment. In order for students to be able to transfer their credits to a four-year school, the program must be part of a college that has achieved national accreditation. Fortunately, Rock Valley College is not only accredited by the North Central Accreditation Association, it also is part of an statewide agreement with the other Illinois public colleges and universities that provides a seamless transition from a two-year to a four-year institution.

A student graduating with an associate degree will be accepted with junior-level status to any of Illinois’ four-year state institutions. This allows the RVC students who wish to pursue careers in engineering, business, education, or other fields to easily make that transition.

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