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Greasy Hands & Complex Problem Solving – 2020 Scholarship Winner C. Owen Ritzman

2020 ARSA Scholarship winner C. Owen Ritzman, Southern Utah University

In November, ARSA awarded its 2020 scholarship to C. Owen Ritzman of Southern Utah University. Ritzman is an AMT student whose love of getting his hands dirty is matched only by his excitement at solving complex engineering problems.

The grant is part of Choose Aerospace’s 2020 Aviation Maintenance Scholarship and Award Program. ARSA and its partner organizations combined to sponsor more than $25,000 worth of scholarships, textbooks, training systems and testing fee credits for educators and future aviators.

Ritzman took the time to share the impact of his experiences so far and his hopes for the future. His answers to a few simple questions illustrate his curiosity and commitment to hard work; a story that began in his father’s garage and will hopefully continue in shops or hangars for decades to come.

(1) What made you decide to pursue aviation maintenance training? 

When I was five or six years old, my dad bought a new truck and invited me to help him put the running boards on. I can’t imagine that I was really any help, but I specifically remember being so proud that I had gotten grease on my hands from helping. I colored black spots on my hands with crayon for a few days so that I could show all of my friends how cool it was!

As I got a little older, I told my parents that I wanted to be a car mechanic. They lovingly suggested that I keep that as a hobby. Through high school, I went through a lot of different degree and career plans. Engineer, national park ranger, wildlife biologist and even helicopter pilot. I quickly discovered that the last one made me sick. But when I was investigating piloting at Southern Utah University, I discovered the newly founded AMT program and that quickly proved to be the answer to my love of mechanical work and my desire to not be limited to an auto shop for my whole life.

(2) What experience or experiences did you have before you started at SUU that have been most valuable to you during school?

I would consider two things of most value to me prior to my experience here at SUU. The first is the countless hours I spent in the garage with my dad or on my own, learning the ins and outs of how cars worked. Without that basis of how tools work, how engines work, and how to problem solve, I would be lost in aviation.

I would say the critical thinking I was able to learn in high school is of even more value, however. Aircraft require a higher level of precision than anything I ever wrenched on in my driveway. Being able to have the mathematical, reading, writing and communication skills I learned through high school have been invaluable to me in AMT school. Though I wouldn’t have entered this field without my mechanical background, I would never last without the critical thinking ability.

(3) What have you found to be most surprising/unexpected about AMT school?

Greasy hands are still cool…

Before I started AMT school, I didn’t realize how fragile aircraft actually are. As I have had the chance to work hands-on, I have discovered just how easily something very important and very expensive can break. I had always imagined aircraft being tough, solid, and hard to break, but mindlessly pushing on the wrong thing can do extensive damage. 

Because of this, we spend much more time in classroom instruction than I ever expected. I came prepared for an environment where we would rarely be in lecture but quickly realized that without that time, we would be wasting precious resources once we actually began hands-on work. It was well worth the wait too!

(4) Other than becoming an ARSA member, what are your goals for life after school?

Of course, at my age, plans are constantly changing, but my biggest goals after I finish my schooling are to be able to support a family and live somewhere that I can admire every day. One of the most attractive things to me about working with aviation was the amount of versatility it offers. There is work to be had all across the country. Granted, young inexperienced workers often have to take what they can get. But I am confident that as I gain more and more experience, this field will lead me to the exact places that I want to be. 

(5) To help ARSA’s members understand the value of the scholarship, tell us about the expenses you have to cover while at school.

In all honesty, in AMT school, expenses rack up quickly! I was fortunate enough to be offered an academic scholarship from SUU that covers a large part of my standard tuition. However, because of the amazing access we have at SUU to hands-on learning, the fees associated with classes add up to about 160 percent more than an average student would be paying here.

Another thing that added up very quickly was tools. Despite spending hours working on cars, most of the tools I used were not mine. I would estimate that I have already invested about $1,200 in tools. Some of these are very basic, cheap tools to get me through school, and others are high-end precision tools like torque wrenches.

On top of all of this, there are normal living expenses: gas, groceries, rent, car repairs, dates, recreation, etc. Scholarships like the one offered by ARSA make a huge difference in mitigating these expenses. They make it possible to afford the education while still taking care of everything else. And trust me- the money you pay is well worth the education!

(6) If you learned that someone was considering school/career choices and they asked you about aviation maintenance, what would you say?

If someone was considering aviation maintenance, I would tell them that it’s a pretty fool-proof option. There will always be work in this field, so long as they are willing to do just that— work! But even more enticing, it provides an opportunity to do genuinely important tasks every single day. There are few feelings better than seeing your own effort and knowledge put into action. And what better way for it to be in action than flying through the air?

To learn more about the Choose Aerospace Scholarships and Awards Program, click here.

For more information on ARSA’s broader efforts to support industry career development, visit

Ritzman’s inspiration at work…

Previous ARSA Scholarship Winners...

9/22/16 - Professional Inspiration - 2016 ARSA Scholarship Winner Tony Tran

September 22, 2016

In March, the Northrop Rice Foundation announced that the 2016 ARSA Scholarship had been awarded to Tony Tran of Chaffey Community College in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Tran was selected out of 37 applicants to receive the association’s annual award.

There is a satisfaction for me when I make a repair. The only way I can describe it, is by comparing it to the feeling an artist gets when he or she completes a painting. I treat every job I do like it’s my masterpiece. – Tony Tran

Photo courtesy Tony Tran.

Photo courtesy Tony Tran.

ARSA caught up with Tran this month to ask him about his life, career and aspirations. His inspirational responses illustrate the commitment to duty of AMTs around the world:

What made you decide to pursue aviation maintenance training? 

I always felt a connection to aviation since I was young. It started with my dream to become a pilot after I saw a plane for the first time. In fact, I boarded that plane when I traveled from Vietnam to the United States. In high school, I discovered my aptitude for science and math so I thought engineering was the best route for a career. I went to college, while at the same time served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. While in the Marines, I worked as a helicopter mechanic and I simply enjoyed the work I did with these flying machines. Engineering did not give me as much joy, so I dropped out of a University Engineering program and went to [Chaffey] community college for its AMT program.

There is a satisfaction for me when I make a repair. The only way I can describe it, is by comparing it to the feeling an artist gets when he or she completes a painting. I treat every job I do like it’s my masterpiece. I take particular care in my actions, and always make sure I do every job right to the book. Yes, it is frustrating. Yes, it is hard. However, I prefer to do this than sit in any office.

What experience or experiences did you have before you started at Chaffey that have been most valuable to you during school?

Aside from my experiences in the military, I believe my experience at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo was most valuable. There I learned the importance of time management, and picking what you love to do rather than picking something that you’re good at. Some people are fortunate enough to be good at something they love. However, for me, I did not have a love for Engineering, even though I was good at it.

During my time at Cal Poly, I learned that you can always get better at something, but you cannot learn to love something. I may not be the greatest mechanic, but I sure do enjoy fixing things.

What have you found to be most surprising/unexpected about AMT school?

I found that the education at my AMT school to be even better than that at a university. The instructors can convey and explain information just as well or even better than professors. They understand students a little better, and they can use that understanding to change up their teaching method as new generations of students come into their classrooms. Just because the degree or certificate can be perceived [by those outside the industry] as lesser than a bachelors’ degree, it doesn’t mean that the education received is any less.

Other than becoming an ARSA member, what are your goals for life after school?

After my certificate, I hope to work as a mechanic for an airline for a period of time. Furthering my education would still be on my mind. One way or another, I would work towards a bachelors’ degree in a field that has to do with aviation. Then one day, I would work towards a Masters’ degree, return to the education environment and to pass on my experience and knowledge to the next generation.

To help ARSA’s members understand the value of the scholarship, tell us about the expenses you have to cover while at school.

Asides from education tuition, student fees, and the costs of books being in an AMT program requires students to buy tools as well. In addition to tools, I would need to pay for my Airframe and Powerplant Written Exams and Oral/Practical Exams. The expenses I mentioned earlier are purely for my education, but in addition to those expenses, I have to take reduced time at work in order to go to school. That means, I would need to rely on Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Grants to pay for rent and other bills while I attend school. Those are the unforeseen expenses of going to school.

NOTE: Scholarship money is primarily for tuition and fee payment, with the student receiving any remainder funds from their school. Assistance with tuition payment frees up student funds – or limits debt burden – to cover other expenses.

If you learned that someone was considering school/career choices and they asked you about aviation maintenance, what would you say?

I would say aviation maintenance is a dynamic and growing industry. At the same time, aviation maintenance gives you a sense of duty. In my experience so far as a student and as a former helicopter mechanic, the jobs can change day to day. Furthermore, the industrial technology is growing so fast that there are new ways to perform our jobs every year.

People all over the world rely on aircraft for transportation, recreation and mission support. The uses of aircraft expand as time moves forward, and again technology feeds into the aviation industry continuously with this aspect as well. Jet liners are becoming more fuel-efficient and can carry more and more people. Flying has almost become the most practical way to travel. With more people taking to the skies, it is our duty to make sure they’re safe up there. That is our duty as aviation mechanics.

Anything else?

First of all, I would like to thank ARSA for the help they have provided for me. Most importantly, ARSA supports several students each year, and I would like to thank your organization for that as well. I mentioned earlier that this world needs aviation mechanics, and many people dream of working on aircraft. Any contribution that ARSA makes has already made a huge impact for students everywhere and the aviation industry.

I know because it certainly has made a difference for me.

4/2/15 - 2015 ARSA Scholarship Winner – Paul Mart, ERAU

April 2, 2015

On Mar. 4, the Northrop Rice Foundation announced the 2015 ARSA Scholarship had been awarded to Paul Mart of Daytona Beach, Florida. Mart is an AMT student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU).

Mart is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Maintenance with a concentration in maintenance management in addition to minors in aeronautical studies and flight. Before arriving at ERAU, Mart earned credits at Green River Community College and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Mart has a passion for advancements in industry-leading avionics and an interest in business aviation. His goal is to someday be Director of Maintenance at a corporate flight department, but Mart understands the work ahead and looks forward to it. Crediting his parents, who immigrated to the United States from Romania, with teaching him invaluable lessons about hard work and sacrifice, Mart has a clear vision of where he’s going and what it will take to get there.

“It is clear that Paul will be a leader in the industry,” noted one of his instructors in a recommendation letter. “He has all the right characteristics that will help him be a great mechanic and [give him] the desire to grow.” Those characteristics, outlined across all of Mart’s recommendations, include effective personal skills, a meticulous nature and the highest level of integrity.

In short, Mart will be a great asset to the aviation maintenance community and the flying public. It is for people like him that ARSA supports this annual scholarship through NRF; those that will grow the industry, uphold the highest ideals of its work and keep the world safe in flight for years to come.

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