Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Ema Marter, who was once a young student struggling to charter a course to her future, it meant winding up behind the controls of an airplane at age 16, thanks to the Ulster BOCES Career & Technical Center’s Aviation program.
But how does someone with a dream of flying actually get wings so young, especially since across the aviation industry in the United States, fewer than six percent of all pilots and flight engineers are women? With a father working as a commercial pilot, flying was on Ema’s radar from a young age. She started flying alone as a passenger on commercial flights at age 12 in order to visit family. Enjoying the whole flight experience, Ema felt excitement whenever she flew. The Ulster BOCES Aviation program was a perfect way for her to nurture her interest in flying while in high school.
In 2013, she finished her two-year Ulster BOCES program, completing the challenging curriculum and logging the necessary flight time to receive her private pilot’s license.
Fast-forward to today, she has amassed nearly a decade of experience in the aviation and aerospace industries. She is currently employed as an associate program manager for Moog, Inc. Space & Defense Group in Buffalo, New York, where she oversees client proposals regarding missile, naval, and control-system defense products. Among other responsibilities, she facilitates bids, strategic collaborations, estimates, and cost reviews.
“Before I attended Ulster BOCES, I did not have much of a direction regarding what I wanted to do, but once I started flying, I had to show up to class and do my work in order to fly, and it was rewarding,” she said. The responsibility of flying a plane is “monumentous,” she said, and drastically life-changing for a high school student. “I had to pay attention because if I didn’t, I would be putting my life in danger.”
To earn flight time towards licensing, a student must be high-performing. Aviation students train on virtual flight simulators and equipment in the classroom. Ulster BOCES partners with Richmor Aviation in Kingston to give the students time in the skies.
Ema also said that although she wouldn’t have guessed it at the time, the technical writing portion of the Aviation program was extremely useful for the writing she does at her current job, as it was in her previous positions.
Anxieties soared before Ema’s first solo flight when she began to experience tremendous self-doubt, jet-fueled by the pressure of her upcoming license test. Unsure if she could even do it, Ema went to her then-BOCES aviation instructor and personal mentor, April Albanese. “Her response was super pivotal at that point because she reassured me in a way that no one else could,” says Ema, noting the significance of having a female teacher when the aviation industry was so male dominated. Feeling both validated and reassured, Ema got back in the cockpit. She was successful with her flight and in passing her license test.
Ema went on from the Ulster BOCES Aviation program to Dutchess Community College, where she studied Aviation Science, served as the president of the Hudson Valley Aviation Club, and worked as a receptionist at the flight school. She later obtained her bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University at Buffalo.
“My pilot’s license was the ultimate gift from BOCES–what I most appreciate BOCES for–and will always appreciate,” she said. “I am also grateful to BOCES for connecting me to women in the industry who are always going to be part of my life in some way.” Those women are Albanese, the Richmor Aviation flight school director Lisa Litts, and classmate Angelica Dickerson, who is the current instructor of the BOCES Aviation/Drone program (drone-piloting was added to the Aviation program several years ago).
Professionalism and work ethics are Ema’s top strengths, and she credits BOCES for fostering those traits, allowing her to garner them at an earlier age than most of her peers. When situations become challenging, Ema employs those traits and professional boundaries as well.
Passion for the industry is Ema’s motivation. She appreciates combining her technical and interpersonal skills, and sees herself going further in business development with her current company. While her dream goal once was to venture into outer space, Ema has decided there is enough on Earth to enjoy for now. She ultimately desires to one day work for herself in the aviation field.