SoCal Aviation Association

Mentorship Success Stories

If you are on the fence about whether or not you may need or want a mentor to guide you towards a career in aviation check out the following success stories from some of our mentee. The guidance, support and knowledge your mentor will offer you is invaluable. Like most industries networking and relationships are key factors to discovering job opportunities, your mentor will assist you in finding these opportunities throughout their network. 

Catrina Capistrant  - Pilot

I love to fly!  I have had a passion for flight and to be a part of the aviation community all my life.  As a child in Tucson, Arizona, I used to call out to the airplanes overhead and beg them to let me fly to wherever they were going!  I caught the bug for aviation early on and never had to hesitate when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. For me, the tough question was, “How?”

Like a lot of kids, my parents got divorced when I was young. I moved to Puyallup, Washington in the sixth grade with my mother, brother and sister. We lived very modestly and while my mother always encouraged me to pursue my dream of flying, she didn’t know the first thing about aviation. I did my best to get involved in everything I could find that would bring me closer to the sky. I was fourteen when I first had the opportunity to feel the controls of a Cessna 172 through my involvement with Civil Air Patrol. I knew then that I couldn’t give up on my dream.

As a teenager, I was elated to have found a high school with an aviation program and promptly transferred to Emerald Ridge High School my senior year to take advantage of every course they offered.  During my time at ERHS, I was introduced to an aviation professional who would become an invaluable mentor and lifelong friend. With his guidance, I was able to inaugurate an aviation club, start my flying lessons and obtain my first aviation job, working as line crew at Pierce County Airport.

Soon after meeting my mentor, he invited me to tour his flight department. I felt like Dorothy must have felt when she first entered the Emerald City, except this felt like home. It wasn’t just the beautiful, immaculate business jets or the lingering sensation of power and importance, but I was so impressed by the evident teamwork of everyone I came across. These were not just people doing their job. These were people just like me, passionate about the work they were doing.

Guided by the mentorship I received, I set clear goals and became introduced to a network of other business aviation professionals who have helped me to shape my career. Aided by scholarships, I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Science and a Minor in Business Administration from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in 2007.  Shortly after, I took the advice of another mentor through Women in Corporate Aviation and set out to be a flight instructor at Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire. There, I obtained a Master of Business Administration for Aviation Professionals. I then accepted a position in California, where I was initially hired as a flight instructor.  I found my Master’s courses to be insightful as I transitioned from Chief Flight Instructor to First Officer, then Captain in the Eclipse Jet on charter.

Most recently, I have enjoyed my success as a corporate pilot in the Falcon 900 and 2000 at KeyCorp in Cleveland, Ohio.  After a nine month interview process, I was hired in September of 2011. During my time at KeyCorp I have obtained two type ratings, completed Category II training, International Procedures Training, as well as myriad other safety and technical training. Perhaps my most valued experience, however, has been my involvement in developing the Cleveland Chapter of Women in Aviation, International. There, I have been able to grow as a leader and represent business aviation as I inspire other young ladies to enter the field of aviation. I have been honored to have the opportunity to offer them the same kind of mentorship that was afforded to me at their age. 

What began as a childhood fascination of flying and airplanes has developed into a broad spectrum of passions and values. While I am credited with having the determination to realize the goals I set forth, I have learned that triumphs are rarely attained alone. Teamwork is vital to great success. I am supported by my husband, a fellow aviation enthusiast, to follow our shared dreams and ambitions. We have shared our love of flight and adventure since we met in college. Through the continued support of my mentors, family and friends, I continue to grow as a business aviation professional. I look forward to becoming a leader in business aviation and continue to foster the love of flight through mentorship.

Benjamin Lipson - Pilot

It is believed that Leonardo da Vinci once said, “For once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward; for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”  I feel this quote is a perfect explanation of my love for aviation. 

Since I was a young boy, my parents have always encouraged me to travel the world and see the many different places this planet has to offer. While I was growing up I began to travel to these exciting places.  After every adventure I would reflect upon my journey; I always stated that the flight too and from my destination was the best part of the entire trip.  After one of my trips when I was 16, I convinced my father to buy a demo flight for me to experience the beauty of flight for myself.  I was hooked and there was no going back. 

I started my training when I was still in high school and was fortunate enough to be admitted to the Mt. San Antonio College Flight Training Association.  It was there that I met my first mentor, Russ Calverley, who soon became my flight instructor.  It was by chance that he ended up taking me on as a student, but I am grateful everyday that he did.  I ended up going from my discovery flight to my Certified Flight Instructor License within a little less than 3 years.  It is quite rare, but I kept the same instructor for each of my following ratings.  From my Private Pilot license through my Multi Engine Instructor’s license Russ has encouraged me and helped me become the pilot I am today.  Russ has not only taught and encouraged me throughout my training, but also turned out to be one of my best friends.  This is a friendship that I will keep through the rest of my life. 

Finding the perfect flight instructor can come with its challenges; however, paying for flight training is another major hurdle.   To pay for my flight training, I have consistently worked two to three jobs at one time.  One of these jobs has been working on airport operations fueling airplanes at a local airport near my house.  I have met many mentors and friends being at this airport for so long, but one other person especially comes to mind when talking about mentors and that gentleman is Kyle Kerekffy.  I met Kyle when he flew the Falcon jet into the airport I was working at.   He was generous enough to give me a tour of the airplane.  We talked for hours about airplanes and he answered the abundant amount of questions I had about flying.  After that night, we began to email and we kept in touch on a regular basis.  He has encouraged me and given me priceless advice throughout my training.  We have also been able to maintain a friendship still to this day. 

So far, I have been able to attain my Multi Engine Commercial license, CFI, CFII and MEI ratings.  I have plans to go far in aviation.  I have had opportunities to flight instruct in the greater Los Angeles area, ferry aircraft across the country, and personally fly for clients who own airplanes as well.  I have only been involved in the aviation industry for about 4 years, but I can say that it has been one of the best things to happen to me!  I look forward to seeing where this career will take me and I am forever grateful that I can pursue a passion that I love. 

Kyle Kerekffy - Pilot & Entrepreneur 

My Grandfather and first aviation mentor: Charles Piester let me hold the control yoke of a Piper Cherokee (in flight) when I was a 5 years old.  My mother, a licensed private pilot and my father, a Navy pilot (who bravely flew over Vietnam) also took me flying and taught me about the wonderful world that exists above ground level.  From those early flights, I developed a love and passion for flight that exists to this day.

I believe that Everyone can benefit greatly from having and being a mentor.  Probably my greatest mentor and friend to this day: Bob Franicola (a 25,000+ hour pilot typed rated over 18 military, commercial and civilian aircraft) told me when I had 350 hours of flight time “Kyle, you can do whatever you want in Aviation, if you want to see the entire globe piloting a Gulfstream, a Boeing 777 or supersonic aircraft someday, it’s yours for the taking but will require some hard work”.  That one sentence of encouragement and advice that came from a respected aviator laid the foundation for my successful and rewarding career in aviation as a corporate pilot.  I’ve got to mention a few mentors that helped me greatly along the way: Dennis Beecher, Russ DeFrancisco, Mike Trebbe Sr, Larry Beck and John Hovis.  I have made it a goal of mine to give back to aviation and have been fortunate to mentor many others over the last 18+ years. 

In my experience, unfortunately some of the millennial generation has entered an age of self-reliance, and can lack face to face networking skills that are still incredibly valuable in the workplace today.  It is my hope thru the SCAA Mentoring Committee that we can continue encourage young professionals to consider a career in business aviation and specifically to tap into the power of being and having a “mentor”.  The future of aviation? The sky’s the limit.    

Matt Pietrowski - Pilot 

My aviation story began when I was a senior in high school.  I had finished all of my college applications and was accepted to Embry Riddle, Florida Institute of Technology and Daniel Webster College.  At the time I was 100% set on moving to Daytona Beach, FL and being a student at Embry Riddle. 

One day in the winter I received a phone call from an unknown number that would change the path of my future.  On the other end of the line was a DW senior named Mike Lundquist.  We chatted for a bit about lacrosse, flying and college life in New Hampshire.  At the end of the conversation he invited me up to stay with him and his roommate for a weekend, watch a hockey game and check out the campus away from the admissions staff, which I accepted.  Mike impressed me.  He had a professional demeanor and maturity well beyond his 21 years of age.  After the weekend I knew I would be bypassing the sunny beaches of FL and heading north to NH.

Over the years Mike and I grew close and I looked up to him like a brother.  I followed in his footsteps instructing at DWC before moving onto a regional airline.  A few years later, I contacted Mike because I knew he was flying Learjets for Air Net.  I eventually accepted a job at Air Net at the same time Mike was accepting a job with a major defense contractor.  After five years of sporadic communications I was landing in Bedford, MA and he saw the Learjet landing and decided to see who was flying.  Much to his surprise I walked into the FBO.  A few weeks later I was accepting a job and moving my family 400 miles north again, back to the cold of New England.

I was young and inexperienced with executive transport but I always knew I could rely on Mike.  Any time I had a question, no matter how silly it was I knew he would give me an honest and thoughtful answer.  I credit Mike with being a remarkable mentor and advancing my career at a rapid pace.  I could have never imagined that one phone call by a 21 year old to talk about lacrosse could have changed my life. 

I am now in a position where I hope to be a mentor to other young aviation professionals.  I urge college students and recent graduates to make an effort to avoid the over use of email, Facebook, Twitter and text for all communications.  Make an effort, as uncomfortable as it is, to introduce you to a stranger in an FBO lobby.  You never know how that one conversation could change your life.

“Behold the turtle: He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” –James Bryant Conant

Michael S. Hoffner - Airport Superintendent of Operations

I was raised with aviation and the love of flight.  I have now been working in aviation for more than 20 years and have had the good fortune of being mentored by a good friend and caring mentor, Mr. Curt Castagna.  His guidance has been invaluable to both my education and career goals and is directly credited to my current employment success.

During my studies at California State University Los Angeles, I took several classed taught by Curt and through his guidance and support; I was able to successfully complete University while working full time.  He also helped to guide me to Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) and my current position as Airport Superintendent of Operations, one of my favorite jobs.

I have also been able to give back by mentoring several of my current coworkers while they commenced through the process of getting hired with LAWA.  Being able to provide these individuals with the knowledge, information, and guidance that helped propel them through the rigorous hiring process of the city has given me great pride and a sense of camaraderie.

Sean Moran - Airport Noise Abatement Analyst

My first exposure into aviation was at the age of 2 when I took my first airplane ride from Oakland to Burbank. It was on southwest Airlines 737-200, and it was a sensory rush of  many different sights and sounds happening all at once. While the flight lasted only an hour, the experience has stayed in mind ever since.

As I grew older, I was fascinated by the many different airlines and airliners that flew into my local airport, San Francisco International Airport. The different colors and sizes of airplanes told the stories of people travelling off to distant lands for reunions and business meetings. The sheer grace of a 747 as she climbed away from the runway was mystifying to watch, no matter how many times it happened. I knew I had the passion for aviation in my blood, and I was hooked!

In 2007 while at my local community college, I discovered a course catalog for California State University Los Angeles and was excited to discover a Bachelor’s of Science degree program in Aviation Administration, and more specifically, Airport Management. I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area down to Southern California and in September 2010, I started the program at Cal State LA. During my time at Cal State LA, I became involved with the school’s chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives as the Public Relations Officer and eventually the Chapter President. I held various internship positions with the City of Los Angeles at Van Nuys Airport in the Airport Noise Office, as well as with the County Of Orange at John Wayne Airport in the Airport Operations office. Both internships helped me in my career path with my first job at the Ventura County Department of Airports and at my current position as the Airport Noise Abatement Analyst with the City of Hayward.

While at Cal State LA, I was introduced to many professors and mentors, one mentor specifically stood out during my college career, and that was Mr. Curt Castagna. Mr. Castagna made his goal clear to his students that no matter what path you ultimately decide to take in the aviation industry proceed down the path with confidence, integrity, professionalism, tenacity, and to have respect for yourself and your fellow peers. He taught me the importance of networking and how putting your best foot forward when meeting others can play a huge role in shaping one’s career. Mr. Castagna truly believes in the aviation industry and the positive future in store with recent college graduates entering the workforce. I am extremely honored to call Mr. Castagna a mentor and a good friend, and anyone who is guided by his leadership is made all the better in his or her endeavors.


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