Kristy Kiernan, Ph.D., is transforming her passion for aviation safety and education into new opportunities for aspiring aviators.
A former U.S. Coast Guard aviation safety officer, Kiernan dedicates much of her attention to the unmanned systems industry – a booming market which Goldman Sachs has forecast as a $100 billion market opportunity by 2020. Through Kiernan’s leadership and the efforts of Embry-Riddle Worldwide’s Department of Flight, the university was recently recognized as the world’s first academic training provider to achieve the highest level of certification from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s (AUVSI) Trusted Operator Program (TOP).
“Commercial aviation has an incredible safety record,” said Kiernan, chair of the Master of Science in Unmanned Systems program. “Much of that is due to training and standardization. TOP gives remote pilots the chance to develop their skills and get certification that proves it. It also helps organizations develop the kind of safety processes that reduce risk – which is so important in a competitive marketplace.”
Kiernan and her colleagues realized early on that a strong program for remote pilots would benefit not only Embry-Riddle students, but also the industry as a whole. As the first, and so far only, university to offer TOP certification, Embry-Riddle will help students develop valuable skills and abilities while obtaining an industry-supported certification.
“We are the global leader in aerospace education, and TOP is one more way to build on that leadership position and continuously improve,” she said.
Another way Kiernan is creating new opportunities for students is through her involvement in Worldwide’s Women in Aviation chapter.
“Women in Aviation gives women and men the chance to come together to support each other and encourage the next generation of people passionate about aviation,” explained Kiernan. “Because our chapter is virtual, we are able to bring together women and men from all over the world for fellowship, fun, and education.”
Kiernan, a longtime Women in Aviation International (WAI) member who spent 12 years in the Coast Guard flying the Falcon 20 on search and rescue operations and law enforcement missions, recalls the importance of support and mentorship as a young adult.
“When I was in college and struggling to earn enough money for my flying lessons, I won a scholarship from the Eastern New England 99’s – the society for women pilots,” she shared. “I will never forget what it meant to me, not only to be able to pay for my instrument rating but to know that others more experienced than I had confidence in me.”
In its first few years, Worldwide’s virtual WAI chapter has established processes and a framework for its members to come together to learn from and inspire each other.
“This year, we have set a goal to offer a tuition scholarship to an Embry-Riddle Worldwide student,” Kiernan said. “We are really excited to take this on, because we all love this industry and want to give a hand up to others who love it too.”