By air and by ground: P-TECH student takes career plans to new heights

Submitted Photo Gavin Swanson and his father Jeff are pictured during the recent National Honor Society Induction Ceremony held at WNY P-TECH Academy in Dunkirk.

Special to the OBSERVER

Gavin Swanson’s passion in life is anything but grounded.

The Jamestown Public School and second-year WNY P-TECH student is following in his father’s footsteps — even if he plans on doing so at 38,000 feet.

“My plan is to become a commercial airline pilot,” Gavin said. “Any bachelor’s degree in engineering, aviation or meteorological field is outstanding for that field. I plan to use the P-TECH program and the Civil Air Patrol and pile it all into my resume to work toward working for a major airline someday.”

Aerospace has always been something that interested Gavin. An avid viewer of the Science and Discovery channels, Gavin’s passion began with NASA and really took off after a visit to a local air museum.

“My friends were interested in what was in space; I was interested in how we got there and how we figured it out, so the mechanical side of things, which has helped me in this program,” he said. “I went to the Air Museum in Jamestown, flew their flight simulator and I was hooked. After that, I joined the Civil Air Patrol; they gave me orientation flights to fly an airplane for free. It was then I thought this was something I need to do with my life.”

Joining the Civil Air Patrol to pursue a career as a pilot has benefitted Gavin in a multitude of ways. Over the course of three years, Gavin has reached the rank of Deputy Commander of his squadron, a role typically held by an older person. In the summer, he will assume the role as Officer in Charge at a Civil Air Patrol Encampment in Albany, where he will select a team and build curriculum for 200 students ages 12-18.

“I’m evolving from the initial flying opportunities to now building my leadership character and more of my character development, using the program for that aspect, more or less,” he said. “If you would have asked me three years ago I wouldn’t have said the same thing. I’ve come a long way when it comes to integrity and maturity in this school and a long way with the Civil Air Patrol and they’ve played hand-in-hand all the way through.”

By having freedom at P-TECH, Gavin has been able to combine his passion for aerospace with his everyday coursework. During his first year at P-TECH, Gavin utilized the resources available to create and submit a project to the New York State Aerospace Competition. Also having an interest in severe weather, Gavin designed a device capable of capturing data from a live tornado by using SolidWorks in his CADD class to design a prototype and conduct air flow testing.

“With help from Mr. Edwards, I was able to code an Arduino board with all different censors capable of gathering data like barometric pressure, altitude, temperature and X-Ray,” he said. “Mr. Bryant, our welding teacher, also assisted with the design of a launcher for the device.”

At the competition, Gavin was able to display the proof of concept in a 3-D print, three different prototypes showing the evolution of each and then the Arduino board that would gather live data.

His project placed first in the competition.

“I was able to use the resources at P-TECH for that. Had I not had the CADD computers or 3-D printers to practice on that project never would have come to fruition,” he said. “Even though the competition is over I’m still continuing to develop it and hopefully I’ll have a flying model by the end of the school year.”

Gavin’s dedication to his passion isn’t a surprise to his father, Jeff Swanson. Twenty-eight years ago, Mr. Swanson found himself in a similar situation. As an Auto Technology student enrolled at the Hewes Educational Center, he was able to secure work as an auto technician and soon after land his current job at Harley Davidson of Jamestown.

“The way my son, Gavin, is with aerospace is kind of how I am about motorcycles and Harley’s,” Mr. Swanson said. “When I went to BOCES I had a work study program where I could actually go to work and make money my senior year to pay for my motorcycle. When I got my first job with Harley Davidson I bought a bike on a payment plan through the winter and that spring I was hired as a full-time technician as an entry-level tech.”

Today, Mr. Swanson is the shop foreman for Harley Davidson of Jamestown. He knows Gavin doesn’t have to do what he’s doing or get there the way he did, but he’s encouraged by the opportunities he’s receiving and the path that he’s on.

“He’s going to have an associate degree in mechanical technology when it’s all said and done,” Mr. Swanson said. “Even though he wants to fly, he has a fall back. Either way, if he can get a decent job locally to pursue his passion then I think that’s a good program to be in. To be able to get that without being upside down in debt. It’s all working out so far.”

That it is for Gavin.

As President of the Dream It Do It Club and Vice President of the Student Council, Gavin is establishing himself as a leader at P-TECH.

“This school being smaller and more of a free atmosphere, it really builds integrity. You can either crash and burn or you can rise to the occasion and succeed,” he said. “On the outside, P-TECH may look hard and an unobtainable goal because we’re a higher level here, but if you come here and do the work and have an open mind to different teaching styles and learning methods you will succeed here. I think a lot of people could benefit from this program.”

Upon graduation from P-TECH, Gavin plans to enroll in a four-year college to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. In the meantime, he’s saving his money earned from his job at the Jamestown Airport to help pay for his private flying license.

For more information about P-TECH or to enroll, please contact Stephen Ruszczyk, P-TECH principal, at 672-3251, ext. 2801 or visit www.e2ccb.org.