In the eleventh episode of Futureproof Focus Podcast, Dr. Sharon B. De Vivo, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Loretta Alkalay, regulatory consultant, aviation attorney and adjunct professor at Vaughn for an inspiring conversation about what sparked both her love for aviation and her passion for drones.

Loretta Alkalay: An impressive career

It is not every day that you meet an attorney who has a 30-year background with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), let alone one who is a professor and an avid drone enthusiast. Meet Loretta Alkalay. If you are wondering how she has done all of this—and then some—she has a remarkable story to tell.

“It all began at New York University, where I was studying for my law degree,” she said. “One semester, I took an aviation class as an elective. That was all it took to spark my love for aviation and the law. I was hooked!” During her second year of law school, Alkalay kept her excitement of aviation in full swing by working for a law firm that handled aviation-related cases. She then went on to interview at the FAA, where she was hired and served as an aviation attorney for the next 30 years.

Then, in 2011, Alkalay decided she wanted to share her knowledge of aviation law and took a position at Vaughn College, where she co-taught a class. “It wasn’t until I began teaching at Vaughn that I became interested in drones,” she explained. “The students would play drone videos in class. I was thrilled to see what they could do.” Adding a love of photography to her list of passions, Alkalay said she could not wait to buy a drone that was outfitted with a camera. “I bought the first one that came to market,” she said excitedly. “I love taking still photography—specifically abstract Earth photography. I love the view of Earth from above. It’s amazing.”

Preparing students for careers with drones

Alkalay is excited about where the future of drones is headed. “There are so many career pathways with drones that students can take,” she stated. “Any jobs that were done by a helicopter or aircraft can be done by a drone today.” She said that in addition to drone pilot jobs in delivery and surveying, there are several other careers in areas of drone technology that students can pursue, including: software, photography and sensors.

Attracting more women to uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV)

As an institution steeped in diversity, Vaughn is committed to help attract more women to the field of engineering and aviation. Alkalay pointed out that although the barriers to working as a drone pilot are few, the number of women currently entering the field is still low due to low awareness, compounded by it being a historically male dominated field. She mentioned how Vaughn is working with local high schools to recruit more girls to its FAA-UAS Certificate Program with the help of a FAA grant. “I’m grateful to be able to participate in the high school program,” she said humbly. “The issue I am seeing is that we are starting too late. I believe we must introduce drones to children at an earlier age and eliminate the stigma of it being an overly technical and mathematical field.”

As a professor of drone law and an expert in the field, Alkalay offered suggestions on ways to recruit more women into the field of uncrewed aerial systems. These include:

  • Make the workplace more accommodating for women. Discrimination and harassment in technology fields is still prevalent. Women must feel more welcome and comfortable working in the field.
  • Make the pathway to the field clear and simple.
  • Highlight the myriad of career opportunities to create excitement.
  • Introduce drones as a viable career path to students at a younger age – and find ways to make it fun, such as creating games and races with drones.

Tips for success

As one of the most popular professors on campus, Alkalay is excited about seeing her students succeed—especially in a field that continues to grow and evolve so quickly. She offered some advice and helpful tips for students who are looking to get involved.

Ways to prepare for a career in UAV

  • Use LinkedIn to connect with people working in the field.
  • Take drone courses, such as those taught at Vaughn.
  • Join the UAV Club at Vaughn for hands-on experience building and flying drones and participating in competitions.
  • Consider this field even if you are studying flight, maintenance or air traffic control. Knowledge is transferable.

Tips for success

  • Be on time.
  • Always be prepared.
  • Have integrity.
  • Know your subject matter.
  • Ask questions.

Looking towards the future

Alkalay is excited to proclaim that the sky is literally the limit for aspiring students seeking a career in this exciting and futureproof field. “Anyone who has a drone license or a specialty in drones will be hired immediately,” she stated. “There are so many opportunities for our students now.”

As a fan of drones herself, DeVivo strongly believes that the time for students to consider a career in the field of uncrewed aerial systems is now: “The field of uncrewed aerial systems is constantly—and quickly—evolving. As new technologies become available, it’s making for a fun and fast-paced field to pursue—not to mention the incredible earning potential and awesome career trajectory.”

Do you want to become an uncrewed aircraft systems operator? Vaughn’s cutting-edge UAS design, application and operation certification program can prepare you for this exciting career. High school students can learn more about our program here. Happy flying!

Listen to the podcast in its entirety here.