Barry Butler is president at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, combining his love of aviation with higher education as he seeks to make the institution fertile ground for future inventors and innovators
How did you get into aviation?
My father was an air force pilot. As a kid, I loved going to the air base with him and attending weekend air shows. I was one of those kids who could identify aircraft by the sound of their engines. I went on to earn my bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. My passion for aviation has only grown over the years.
How has your career progressed?
I have always been an educator. I spent 33 years at the University of Iowa. I was the dean of engineering and ultimately the provost. I knew of Embry-Riddle's international reputation, so when they launched a presidential search, I saw a compelling opportunity to combine my love of aviation and higher education. As a part of Embry-Riddle, I get to be a part of aviation history and its future and that is an honour.
What are the highlights of your career?
As an engineer, I worked on developing a solid propellant combustion analysis program that optimised airbag inflators and occupant restraint systems.
My interest in transportation safety continues as the president of this university, where safety culture on our flight line goes beyond Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. We are the only flight programme in the country to participate in three FAA self-reporting safety programmes: flight, fleet safety, and aviation maintenance science. We are also the only university flight operation to pass an intense, second-level international safety regulation process (IS-BAO).
One recent highlight will have far-reaching benefits to the industry. Under an agreement with Airbus, Embry-Riddle will offer educational programmes at Flight Works Alabama, a new aviation experience centre that will build workforce capacity across aviation and aerospace. We broke ground in late 2018. The new campus will offer undergraduate and graduate degree programmes, high school dual-enrolment programmes and aviation-focused professional education.
What are your responsibilities?
I am accountable to students to provide a community that is discovery driven, where they can develop and test their talents. I am accountable to the faculty to provide the resources it needs to mentor the next generation of inventors and innovators. I am accountable to the industry to prepare a workforce for a complex, global industry that is critical to our economy and security.
How is Embry-Riddle evolving to meet the students' needs?
We want our students to launch successful careers, so we work closely with leaders in the aviation industry to ensure that our programmes build skills that are in demand. This has led to pioneering degrees, such as spaceflight operations and aerospace physiology. Our newest degrees, now in development, will focus on aviation cybersecurity and data analytics for aviation.
Embry-Riddle now offers more than 100 associate, bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in its colleges of Aeronautics, Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and the nation's first College of Security & Intelligence. Faculties from all of our colleges work with industry advisory boards to make sure we are providing the most relevant coursework and the latest tools – from simulation software used by industry leaders to the most advanced unmanned aerial systems, our Penguin C fleet.
We also work closely with industry to move students into internships and co-op jobs. Major employers select us to participate in accelerated and preferential hiring programmes for pilots, engineers and information technology graduates.
To meet the needs of different types of students – first-generation students, veterans transitioning to civilian life, or international students, we have become a leader in quality, affordable online education. In 2019, US News & World Report ranked us in first-place for online bachelor's degree programmes.
What challenges does the university face?
We need to provide access to education so industry has access to talent. As a university educating the next generation of aviation and aerospace professionals, we have to focus on ways to keep our great programmes accessible to all — so that we maintain a pipeline of the best and brightest going into our field. This means being fiscally responsible, working hard to raise scholarship funds, and placing our graduates in high-paying jobs after graduation so they have a high return on their investment. It hurts when you meet talented young people who decide not to pursue their lifelong dreams because the cost is beyond their means.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Our students keep me inspired, whether I am finding out more about their research and entrepreneurship, going out with the rocketry club for a launch, or just listening to the questions they have for the guest experts we bring to campus for our Speaker Series. I regularly hold open office hours, so students can come in and talk to me. I enjoy hearing directly from students. I am proud of the talent and commitment I see every day.
Sometimes I have to say no – even to great ideas. When you have this much ability and passion concentrated in one university with several campuses, there is no shortage of possibilities or potential. I wish we could fund every research programme, add the latest equipment to new labs and double the occupancy of our Research Park. Realistically, we have to be disciplined about our priorities, so sometimes the right answer is "no" or maybe "not yet".
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Source: Flight International