Soar to Success

A plane soars through the open sky.

What can you achieve in an aviation career? Megan Ryerson, Ph.D. is a professor of transportation planning and engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. She has had a very successful career and was named Woman of the Year by WTS Philadelphia in 2015 for her dedication to mentorship and to actively recruiting women to pursue careers in aviation engineering by helping them to overcome any barriers to success.

“[Transportation] is such a dynamic field in which to make your career,” Ryerson told Fast Forward. “It’s hard to know at the high school or undergraduate stage just how fascinating and big the field of transportation really is.”

Megan Ryerson, Professor of Transportation Planning and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

Click a button to watch an interview with Megan Ryerson:

As a transportation professor, Ryerson does much more than teach. She also conducts research and works on various transportation issues, particularly in aviation. Recently, she was approached by a large airline that had a particularly interesting dilemma.

“They felt they were landing with a lot of additional fuel,” Ryerson told Fast Forward.

When an airplane takes off, Ryerson explained, it always carries reserve fuel as a safety precaution. However, this extra fuel is also added weight; if the plane carries more weight, it burns more fuel in flight. This means the airline spends more money and releases more greenhouse gases than it would if it carried less reserve fuel. The airline turned to Ryerson, a research expert, for help finding a balance. They wanted to know if it was possible to carry less fuel without sacrificing safety.

Ryerson and her team spent 14 months working on the problem. They collected data, rode along with pilots, and held focus groups with the airline dispatchers who fuel the planes. By the end of the project, they had the answers they needed and were able to help the airline drastically save on fuel expenses and reduce their carbon footprint.

“To me, it’s so fantastic when I can do research that supports real decision-making. That’s something very motivating about being an academic—a professor—in transportation,” she said.

In her spare time, Ryerson is also an active member of the Philadelphia chapter of WTS International, a global organization devoted to supporting and celebrating the success of women in the transportation industry. With chapters all over the country, WTS offers valuable resources for women who are pursuing careers in the transportation industry. This includes mentoring programs, networking resources, conferences, events, and a full-fledged career center. WTS also has a sub-organization, Transportation YOU, that’s tailored specifically for girls ages 13-18. Visit their website to find out if there’s a chapter near you.

In the meantime, check out our interview with Professor Ryerson to hear more of her advice for students thinking about aviation careers. Keep following Fast Forward for more news and information about the transportation industry!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 3 Issue 7 – Aviation