From PUC to the Friendly Skies

We asked Matthew Gheen, ’98, who currently works as an airline pilot for United Airlines, to share about his experience at PUC and his journey from tragedy to success.

How a forest fire changed my path…
I started college in August 1992, at Shasta College in Redding, Calif. That same evening, a large forest fire started and burned down our family home, along with almost 400 hundred other homes. I did not return to class the next day and instead, over the course of the next three months, helped my family pick up the pieces and get back on their feet. It was during this time, I started to re-think my decision to attend Shasta College. I was invited to visit some friends of mine who were attending PUC. While there, I met Dr. Russell Laird, head of the department of industrial technology and Reinhard Jarschke, the director of the flight school. These conversations changed my decision (they were so convincing) and I decided God wanted me to go to PUC. I signed up right away and started in January 1993.

I chose industrial technology and management with an emphasis in aviation as my degree. My experience in construction and mechanical things led me to this degree, but my true passion was with the emphasis in aviation. It was the department of aviation that excited me the most. I wanted to fly for a living.

Financially, however, it wasn’t easy. As I look back, I realize God was always there, but I had to work hard, working about 30 hours per week in-between classes, making sure I always had summer jobs, and applying for school loans each year. I even had to pause flying for a while to focus on school but was able to resume after four years, in order to complete the classes I needed and graduate with an aviation emphasis.

PUC’s foundational emphasis on God allowed me to keep a close relationship with Him while I was there. The opportunities for academic growth and character development are also a big reason why it is such a wonderful school.

What I am most thankful for…
As I think back, I am most thankful God led me to my wife, Melissa. In October 1993, I went on a PUC Business Club camping trip to Yosemite Valley and expected to hang out with my two close friends that weekend. Melissa and I were in the group that chose to hike Half Dome and I noticed her at the start of the hike. We ended up talking along the way and throughout the remainder of the year, we dated. I found out later that although she is scared of heights, she forced herself to climb the last part up the face of the rock to the top of Half Dome, just to impress me. She still continues to impress me to this day. We are just about to celebrate 21 years of marriage and have two daughters who are excited about attending PUC when the time comes.

Matt and his wife Melissa in an airplane at PUC.

Where flying has taken me…
After college, I started accumulating hours by flight instructing. I then flew freight and had just landed when the 9/11 tragedy rocked the world. This unfortunate event, along with the recession a few years later, brought commercial aviation to its knees. This time period is often referred to as the “lost decade” in the pilot world because there was very little movement for most pilots. I intended, after PUC, to fly for a commercial airline but instead found myself flying for an air ambulance fixed-wing company. This job was extremely rewarding; it brought a chance for me to see the first responders at their best, and to give people, at their most vulnerable point, a fighting chance to live. I believe God lead me to this position and am so grateful to have had this type of experience.

I flew air ambulance for seven years. During this time, the regional airlines (the small commercial airline carriers) started to pick up hiring. (The major airlines were still not hiring very much and some still had thousands of pilots on furlough.) In order to be more competitive for the major airlines, I chose to start applying for a regional airline job. Flying at a regional level was going to take a huge financial sacrifice but it would give me some additional experience the major airlines would likely want to see, considering the competitiveness of the industry.

We took on a cross country move and was at a regional airline for two years. We then spent a short stint at a low cost carrier and God, to our excitement, landed us a major airline job. In fact, we had multiple offers, multiple doors were opened, and we were faced with a big decision. Truly, a tough but a good position to be in.

As we all face our journeys, it is important to realize how our foundation in God is so key. There’s twists and turns along the way, but God always has a plan. God is always there leading.

A recent photo of Matt in his “office.”

This entire road began at PUC. I credit the college for:
Helping further solidify my Seventh-day Adventist religious beliefs,
Starting my path in aviation,
Placing me in an environment of similarly-minded religious individuals,
Giving me the opportunity to meet my wife and best friend,
Many friends,
4 ½ wonderful years with many fond memories, and
Expanding my horizons.

Every time I fly into San Francisco International Airport and we arrive from the north, I am looking down out the window for PUC. On those clear days when I do see the campus on the hill and the little runway in the trees, it brings back such a rush of memories. I had so many great times in the short years I was there.

Thank you PUC!
Matt Gheen

Matt and his beautiful family on a recent family vacation.

Five Reasons to Consider Majoring in Aviation

Did you know PUC is one of only two liberal arts colleges in California to offer a degree in aviation? That’s right! The airport in Angwin is even located on campus, and we also have a Frasca 180, a flight simulator that allows students to train for inclement weather and other hazards without ever leaving the ground. Pretty cool. Students who major in Aviation at PUC can earn multiple certifications, and our Private Pilot and Instrument courses are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a 141 Pilot School. PUC offers both an AS and a BS in Aviation, and graduates can work doing a variety of occupations within the field. You can learn more about PUC’s Aviation programs by reading through the Aviation Department’s page on our website.

PUC students "fly" the Frasca 180 flight simulator.

PUC students “fly” the Frasca 180 flight simulator.

If you haven’t yet figured out yet what you want to study in college, here are five reasons why you may want to consider majoring in Aviation!

Many Career Possibilities
In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BOL) estimated there were about 104,000 pilot jobs in the United States. Aviation graduates can work within the field doing a variety of occupations; from commercial or airline pilot to working piloting cargo, sightseeing tours, sky divers, assisting with aerial photography, assisting with rescue services, and more.

You Aren’t Chained to a Desk All Day
The BOL estimates airline pilots fly approximately 75 hours per month on a varying schedule, in addition to performing other duties about 150 hours per month while commercial pilots usually fly between 30 to 90 hours per month and may also have an irregular schedule.

It’s important to keep in mind some pilots may also spend a significant amount of time away from home, depending whether their flight assignments have overnight layovers. One nice perk though – if you work for an airline, typically your hotel, meals, and other travel expenses are taken care of by the company. Nice!

An aerial view of Angwin-Parrett Field, via Google Earth. Note PUC's main campus to the bottom left!

An aerial view of Angwin-Parrett Field, via Google Earth. Note PUC’s main campus to the bottom left!

Earn a Good Paycheck… Eventually
According to the BOL, the median annual wages for airline pilots was around $114,000 in 2012, while the median annual wage for commercial pilots was about $73,000. It’s important to note those are median numbers however, meaning there are pilots who make a lot more, and a lot less. The Air Line Pilots Association estimates most airline pilots start at about $20,000 per year.

Pretty Decent Job Prospects
While airline pilot jobs are expected to decline about seven percent between 2012 and 2022, commercial pilot employment is projected to grow about nine percent. However, the BOL is quick to note that there is potential for job opportunities when pilots retire, as they are required to retire when they turn 65.

Travel Near and Far
If you have a taste for adventure and enjoy new experiences, a degree in aviation may be for you. Obviously, a major perk of working as a pilot is the potential to travel, depending on the occupation you have within the field. Whether you work as an airline pilot and regularly jet to exotic locations like Paris or Tokyo, or work regionally as an air ambulance pilot, there are always new sights to be seen. The sky is literally the limit!