Amy Gearhart Bahrani never would have predicted a career in the airline industry when she sat in our classrooms and offices talking about theories of international relations. “I had no idea my current role existed even two years ago, and I can honestly say that’s been my pattern so far,” she writes. After working for a few years as a Business Strategy Consultant for Accenture, Amy now works as a Flight Operations Communications Manager for United Airlines in Chicago. “I am part of a team that ensures our 12,500 pilots have the information they need to be successful in flight. This includes operational and regulatory information critical to safety. I engage heavily with different operational departments within United, and help package together information from different angles to make it relevant and actionable for our pilots. I’ve always been interested in the intersection of business, regulation and technology. Somehow, I’ve stumbled upon my dream job.”
How did Amy, who successfully pursued a Master’s degree in International Relations in Wales, land at United Airlines? “My interest in international relations easily transferred to the working world through regulatory and trade matters. My post-graduate internship in International Trade Compliance was with an aerospace manufacturer, and before long I was traveling to Russia and France frequently for work,” she notes. “I learned quickly that business travel was something I enjoy immensely – seeing different countries, working through different cultural business norms, and getting to stay in nice hotels on my company’s dime … all that is pretty cool. I later transitioned to consulting, where I focused on the aerospace and defense industry, and further pursued my new passion for aviation at United Airlines.”
Amy has a lot of excellent advice for others who might wish to follow a similar trajectory. “I cannot overstate how important mentors are. I didn’t know any professional corporate women before I joined my first company. I didn’t know how to take meeting notes or what appropriate professional attire was, or even how to build an excel formula. These innocuous unknowns often combined to make me once again feel uncertain or like a fraud – but at every turn strong leaders supported me. Find someone whose job or skill-set intrigues you and reach out. You’ll be surprised how willing others are to help you on your own career.”
But Amy also knows the value of extending yourself to help others, something she practiced even as an undergrad at UW Oshkosh.
“Just as important as it is to find a good mentor, it’s important to be one yourself. Does your classmate not understand the assignment? Help her. Does your internship buddy continually show up late and has a bad office reputation? Consider getting coffee and helping him realize his error. Peer mentorships and feedback can have a huge impact on your career.”
Amy places a lot of value on her degree in political science and the relationships she forged here. “My degree in PS was everything for me; I gained writing, argumentation, research and oratory skills, but I also gained confidence. It wasn’t a forgone conclusion that I would even attend college, so I can honestly say I was not the most confident of freshmen. But with the support of Professor Slagter and Professor Scribner, I really felt that I could want more for my life and that I was capable to working to make whatever that was a reality.”
As we’ve seen in so many of our alums, the path to a rewarding career often isn’t linear. And it’s often very different from what you have planned while a college student. “My steps were very simple: I went where my curiosity led me,” Amy writes. “My mantra is that as your knowledge and skills expand, you must let yourself gravitate to where your interests are sparked and where you can drive value. Don’t be worried if that path isn’t something you studied for or know that much about – if you’re driven, you’ll be successful.”