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EAA Face to Face
By Glory Aulik, EAA 1186242, EAA Social Media & Community Manager
March 23, 2016 - I heard about MODAERO NextGen Aviation Festival back in October, just a few short weeks after starting at EAA while doing research on the millennial generation in the aviation industry. It caught my eye immediately as the perfect event to grab my generation’s attention and get us involved, because it sure grabbed mine. The thought of airplanes, networking, college kids, and music was enough for me want to attend. Little did I know, about 6 months later, MODAERO would be my first business trip, and my first time representing EAA face-to-face with our membership and aviation enthusiasts.
As we set out to depart, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement building up inside of me. Sitting right seat next to Kevin Loppnow, our pilot for the trip, with Tricia Rathermel, our tradeshow manager in the back. The entire three-and-a-half-hour flight down to Conroe, Texas, I was in complete awe of my surroundings, paying close attention to the radio communication happening between Kevin and the air traffic controllers. I was trying to absorb as much information as I could because any good student pilot knows the best way to save money is free instruction. Of course, I had my phone out most of the time snapping pictures and feeling a bit like a rock star.
We arrived at General Aviation Services in Conroe, Texas, and hopped off the plane into 80-degree weather. Unfortunately, we were dressed for the 46-degree weather we left back in Oshkosh with sweatshirts, jackets, and jeans. After shedding a few layers and securing our rental car, which to our surprise, happened to be a red convertible Mustang, (okay, now we’re all feeling like rock stars), we headed to the Montgomery County Fair Grounds to find our tent and set up camp for the next few days.
The next day our very own Young Eagles Chairman, Sean D. Tucker, was speaking to an audience of next gen aviators. This was special for me as I’ve never met Sean personally, but am well aware of the impact he has on Young Eagles. Multiple times during Sean’s presentation I got chills from the pure passion he showed for aviation and for sharing that passion with younger generations. At one point, my eyes filled with tears as he showed a video of Young Eagles first flights. Not only was it inspiring to see Sean in action, but it made me and everyone else in that room want to make a difference and help youth start their aviation journey. In a sense, it was the perfect way to kick off the event and inspire people to encourage next-gen pilots.
My excitement continued, but was paired with a little bit of nerves when it came to working in the booth for the first time. I interact with our membership and aviation enthusiasts on a daily basis, but as social media manager, it’s rarely a face-to-face interaction. I asked for some tips and tricks from Tricia and Kevin on what I should say or ask. As they answered me I could tell they were seasoned pros, giving me pointers from the hundreds of times they’ve done this before, but what I quickly learned is that it’s not about saying the right thing, it’s about connecting with people on a personal level and sharing our passion for aviation and EAA.
For the first few individuals who came to our booth I observed Tricia and Kevin in action. I was blown away by the amount of information, enthusiasm, and knowledge they had of EAA and aviation. Conversations flowed as individuals were asked about their aviation journey, if they knew about the EAA, AirVenture Oshkosh, etc. There were a variety of individuals who stopped by our booth: some were EAA members, some had only heard of EAA or AirVenture Oshkosh and some were unfamiliar with our organization altogether. The variety is what made it so exciting. The best part was we knew almost immediately if a current or past EAA member walked into our booth as they would proudly announce that they belonged to our family. Tricia and Kevin were quick to thank them for being members and I joined in as I learned from watching them. If I could explain what it feels like to hear a member exclaim their excitement for our organization, I would. But no words compare to that feeling and huge smile that spreads across their face as they begin to tell us about their many trips to Oshkosh, how they got started in aviation and then thanking us for what EAA does in their aviation community. Every time a member walked away from our booth, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy.
I left our booth for a brief moment and when I returned, Tricia was surrounded by a group of students. I thought to myself that this is the very thing we came to do. Tricia enthusiastically educated these kids about our Young Eagles program. Multiple hands shot up in the air as she asked who wanted to be a pilot. When I realized how monumental this moment was I jumped into action, grabbed my phone and started taking pictures to share what was happening on our social media platforms. I can’t help but think that very conversation could be what inspires them to start their aviation journey.
The next two days of the show, I was able to get some great networking in. For my job, I’m constantly looking for aviation news, resources, and content that will resonate with our audience. Boldmethod just happens to be one of those resources.
If you haven’t already checked these guys out, I suggest you do. They are pros on aviation quizzes, articles, and training courses for pilots and aviation enthusiasts and I have the privilege of sharing their content on a monthly basis. If I’m being totally honest, it felt a bit like being starstruck. During the interview process for my current position, I needed to create a template of a content calendar. Boldmethod editor Swayne Martin’s website and Boldmethod were the first resources I found with content I felt compelled to share. Little did I know that I would eventually be talking social strategy and content with Boldmethod partner Colin Cutler, co-founder Aleks Udris, and Swayne in real life. Not to mention, they are three of the most down-to-earth guys you’ll ever meet.
My next networking opportunity was with Blake, an individual who has grown up around aviation and has a wealth of knowledge regarding the industry. He’s a creative developer for Emotion Studios, a creative agency focused on, “building stories with emotion.” Once I found out that Blake understood the significance of storytelling in aviation, a collaboration opportunity was screaming at me. This is a next-gen aviator, like myself, who is ready to make a difference in the aviation industry. After our conversation, we both agreed MODAERO is exactly what we need to grab our generation’s attention. I walked away feeling ready to share the spirit of aviation.
The end of our last day came around quick, which meant the end of our trip. Tricia, Kevin, and I quickly packed up our booth and headed back to the airport. And just like that, my first business trip was over.
Next-generation aviators are out there, a demographic just waiting to be tapped into. The best part is that there is an even larger amount of people who are trying to get us involved, encourage us along the way, and see us succeed because we are the future of aviation. MODAERO NextGen Aviation Festival is exactly what we need to engage and inspire the next generation of pilots and enthusiasts. The mix of airplanes, music, and passionate young aviators is a concept that will spread like wildfire to the millennial generation. Just like any other aviation event, MODAERO will need to outgrow the growing pains. But if there’s one thing I know, it will do just that and hopefully exceed all of our expectations.
As for myself, I learned more in the five days I was on the road than the past six months at EAA. Why’s that? Because nothing beats face-to-face interaction, team building, struggles, and successes. Being on the road isn’t easy, especially when you’re spending days at a time away from loved ones. But there’s also something so incredible about interacting with individuals who are passionate about the very organization we are so fortunate to represent. This trip has taught me many different things and I’m bringing back valuable lessons to my adolescent career that will only help me grow to inspire others.
After we landed at OSH and went our separate ways from the Kermit Weeks Hangar, I couldn’t help but feel that this is exactly where I’m meant to be and what I’m meant to be doing.
Cheers to inspiring the next generation of aviators.