From Combat Medic to Mrs. Utah and Beyond: Mother of Four Models Perseverance

Brittany Hollinshead poses in front of an airplane
Brittany Hollinshead, a U.S. Army veteran who works in safety management at a major airline, credits Embry-Riddle with helping her achieve her career goals. She is shown here at her undergraduate commencement ceremony aboard the USS Midway in San Diego, California. Next, she’ll be pursuing her master’s degree. (Photo: Brittany Hollinshead)

Brittany Hollinshead never imagined she would go from having a fear of flying to working in safety management for a major commercial airline, which requires her to fly weekly.

“I am a full-blown safety geek, and now, thanks to Embry-Riddle, I’ve landed my dream job,” said Hollinshead, a U.S. Army veteran who works in the Flight Operations Safety Management System department at a major airline. “I feel like I’m part of something bigger here and can make a difference working with the team towards one goal — to make aviation as safe as possible.”

The mother of four and former Mrs. Utah America, who currently lives in St. George, Utah, said her educational journey wasn’t easy, but she credits Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide Campus with helping her to achieve her goals. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Safety Management and will soon be pursuing a master’s degree in Aviation Safety.

“It took me five years to finish my bachelor’s degree, and it seemed like everything that could have gone wrong did,” she said. “We had a couple of family emergencies that resulted in me doing schoolwork in the hospital or on a plane, and it kind of felt like life just kept coming.”

At one point, to help her feel less overwhelmed, Hollinshead and her children made a paper chain that symbolized her degree path: every link represented a class.

“My kids and I ripped apart each chain with the completion of each class,” said Hollinshead. “I still have the last chain sitting on my nightstand as a reminder that I can accomplish anything if I keep trying and that, as a safety professional, my learning journey is never really complete.”

Brittany Hollinshead, shown here with her family, juggled her academics with raising four young children. (Photo: Brittany Hollinshead)

Career Pivot

After graduating from high school in Florida, Hollinshead joined the U.S. Army, where she served as a combat medic for four years.

“I was part of a forward surgical team in Germany, which was a specialized unit deployable to anywhere in the world,” she said.

Hollinshead left the military when she started having health problems, which led to her being diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). POTS is a kind of dysautonomia, or nervous system, disorder that disrupts autonomic body processes, like blood pressure and heart rate.

For several years, she stayed home to care for her four children, who now range in age from 10 to 18 years old, while her husband, Doug, ran his construction company. When Hollinshead eventually decided she wanted to pursue a career in aviation safety, in part to overcome her fear of flying, Embry-Riddle seemed like the obvious choice.

“I remembered in high school, anyone in aviation was going to Embry-Riddle,” she said. “The reputation of the school spoke for itself.”

Hollinshead started competing in the Mrs. Utah America pageant while working on her studies, which gave her the opportunity to shine a light on POTS.

“I felt that while competing, I could educate the community about POTS,” she said. “I was able to support a lot of people here with the disorder and spread a lot of awareness.”

Hollinshead was chosen to represent her state as Mrs. Utah America for one year, then went on to compete at the national Mrs. America level in Las Vegas. She said it was weeks of intense preparation and a lot of pressure to do well for her state.

“I was a couple years into my schooling at that point, so I was taking final exams in my hotel room at the same time I was competing,” she said. “It was really hard, but when you go back to school as an adult, you have to make these decisions on what you are going to do and what you are going to sacrifice.”

"Brittany is an incredible role model of a visionary student with grit,” said Dr. Nicole Bier, assistant professor in the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus.

Embry-Riddle Worldwide makes it possible for busy professionals and other nontraditional students to accomplish their academic goals, Bier added. The campus offers access to resources such as the COMPASS Mentor Program, the Eagles in Service Worldwide Club, supportive advisors and more.

There were times when Hollinshead needed to pause or slow down her studies, but the flexibility of the virtual program made it easy, she said, whenever life’s problems or complications arose.

“It’s been eye-opening for all of us,” Hollinshead said, of how her college experience has impacted her family — especially her kids. “For them, watching me get through school and land a job I love, I think it has shown them that the impossible is possible.”

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