NTSB Chair Urges Students to Work Hard, Keep Learning and Ignore ‘Toxic’ Critics

The Honorable Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), shared career advice with students during an Embry-Riddle Presidential Speaker Series event. (Video: Embry-Riddle/Bernard Wilchusky)

The head of the federal agency responsible for investigating all major transportation accidents recently advised Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students to work hard, network, pursue lifelong learning, keep their options open and disregard “toxic” online critics.

“Do a great job at what you’re currently doing and then ask for a little bit more,” the Honorable Jennifer L. Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said, urging students seeking career advancement to “work really hard.”

Homendy, who counts more than 25 years of experience in transportation safety, shared candid recommendations for career success during an Embry-Riddle Presidential Speaker Series event on Feb. 26.

Questions for Homendy were prepared by moderator Shyan Khalil. The 2023 NTSB intern is a junior in Embry-Riddle’s Aerospace and Occupational Safety Program and president of the American Society of Safety Professionals group at the university’s Daytona Beach, Florida, campus.

After Homendy described herself as a lifelong learner, she proved that point by heading to a class immediately after addressing Embry-Riddle students, faculty and staff. Despite her many achievements, Homendy constantly seeks new knowledge. For example, she’s currently completing the requirements for a private pilot certificate, and she has earned various certifications across all modes of transportation. As chief spokesperson for the NTSB, she watches press conferences (her own and by others) to continuously refine her communication skills.

“There’s always something you can learn,” said Homendy, who went back to school during the pandemic to earn a master’s degree in Transportation Safety Administration. A member of the NTSB since 2018, Homendy added that she learns best if she can “see and touch something.”

Homendy was sworn in as the 15th chair of the NTSB on Aug. 13, 2021, after being nominated by the United States president and unanimously confirmed by the Senate. The NTSB investigates all civil aviation accidents as well as other major accidents across all modes of transportation to determine a probable cause and prevent similar events in the future.

Although she’s on duty around the clock, 365 days per year, Homendy described her work as an honor. She added that she is well supported by a competent and dedicated team.

At an accident scene, Homendy said her duty is “to the families, first and foremost.” She also communicates with any officials as well as news media on scene. The NTSB chair may be called upon to travel to multiple cities in a single day and handle media interviews at 4 a.m. Her phone is always on, with a ringtone that sounds like a locomotive.

Homendy said that she has never faced career barriers as a female executive, but she added that it’s best to avoid reading ugly comments on social media. She shared that online critics have at times referred to her as “The Blonde” or commented on her fingernail polish — assessments that her male counterparts don’t seem to face. “Social media can be awesome and a great way to communicate,” she noted. “It can also be really toxic.”

Student moderator Shyan Khalil (at right), a 2023 NTSB intern and president of the American Society of Safety Professionals group at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach campus, prepared questions for the NTSB Chair
Student moderator Shyan Khalil (at right), a 2023 NTSB intern and president of the American Society of Safety Professionals group at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach, Florida, campus, prepared questions for the NTSB Chair. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/David Massey)

A Safety-First Focus

Embry-Riddle Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Kelly Austin praised Homendy for taking “an activist approach to aviation safety” and for being “instrumental in ensuring that our aviation system is held to the very highest safety standards and remains the safest in the world.”

Following a string of runway incursions and other near-miss events last year, Austin noted, “Chair Homendy spoke to Congress on how these incidents should serve as a warning sign and emphasized the need to invest more in aviation safety technology.”

Often, Homendy said, people ask if she is afraid to fly. Her answer is always no. Every year, she said, some 43,000 people die in motor vehicle accidents, making road travel far more dangerous than air travel.

Homendy urged air travelers to wear seatbelts during flight. In addition, she said, just as with motor vehicle travel, small children should be strapped into a child safety seat aboard aircraft.

The NTSB has provided other recommendations for advancements, such as new safety technologies on the flight deck, to prevent runway events.

Following her discussion with Khalil, Homendy informally interacted with students and shared networking tips at a campus coffee shop on Feb. 27. Students should maintain an open mind about their career options, she said. Even if a particular position doesn’t seem exactly right, she said, ask for an informational interview, get to know that employer, and stay in touch.

The Presidential Speaker Series

In opening the Feb. 26 event, Embry-Riddle President P. Barry Butler, Ph.D., noted that the Presidential Speaker Series allows the university to bring “incredibly talented individuals to the campus” to address a wide array of aviation, aerospace and related topics.

“For the students in the audience, you will remember this throughout your careers,” he said.

Homendy’s appearance was facilitated by former NTSB Chair Robert L. Sumwalt, who is now the executive director of The Boeing Center for Aviation and Aerospace Safety at Embry-Riddle, with help from faculty member Dr. Kristy Kiernan, the center’s associate director.

The packed-house audience for Homendy’s appearance included philanthropists Cici and Hyatt Brown, who recently contributed a historic $25 million gift, which was matched by the State of Florida, to build the new Cici and Hyatt Brown Center for Aerospace Technology in Embry-Riddle’s Research Park. Also on hand was Embry-Riddle Board of Trustees member and Astronaut Hall of Famer Dr. Janet Kavandi, with her husband, John.

In a LinkedIn post, Butler thanked Homedy and Khalil, and he noted that the opportunity “surely left many students feeling energized about their career options.”

Past Presidential Speaker Series events can be found online.

Posted In: Aviation | Institutional News | Security Intelligence and Safety