Interview with Jason Petrait – CoE Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing Director

By Kellie Hale
Kellie: Tell us about yourself? What is your educational and professional background?

Jason: I’m a Northwest native and I found my passion for getting people good jobs when I lucked into work at South Seattle College (SSC). Like a lot of adult job seekers, I’d bounced around without a real career path. Then I got to SSC, started working with manufacturing students, and found that everything from resume building to administering classes to working with teachers felt right.

I’d always loved helping people get jobs. It hadn’t occurred to me that that could be a job. I got a BA from University of Washington, then when I was at SSC, I was urged to get a graduate degree. I use my Masters of Public Administration from Seattle U every day.

Kellie: What drew you to the Center of Excellence for Aerospace & Advanced Materials Manufacturing?

Jason: When I started at the college I got to know the manufacturing, maritime, and constructions Centers. They seemed–and are–such an important connection point across industry and education. No one ever sat me down and told me what the Centers do. It was just obvious how important it is that people work across colleges and programs, with industry.

I’ve always had a passion for flying. Being lucky enough to grow up here I got to fly on a seaplane at a young age. To look down on land and water, and then land on the water! I still remember.

Kellie: What should people know about your Center?

Jason: We’re dedicated to being that link between industry and the colleges, ensuring that what we’re teaching across our system is meeting industry need. I’ve only been in the role 3 months, but I’m pushing us to be informed by data, to understand the demand story in industry and the supply story coming out of the colleges, to lean into the advances happening in electric and green aviation. We also want the Center to play a central role if colleges are looking for grants or other resources like national information or technical assistance.

Kellie: What is interesting about aerospace?

Jason: What isn’t! Just take the “space” part of aerospace, what’s happening in private space flight, satellite deployment, and rockets, much of it right here
in Washington. Then there are the advances in drone technology, getting lighter and cheaper and used in everything from firefighting to agriculture to construction. In my first week I had a chance to tour Eviation in Arlington. They’re getting ready to flight test a fully-electric airplane in the coming weeks, and to see what they’re working on is amazing. Such elegant lines on the plane, paired with a big huge battery pack–3000 pounds if I recall correctly. To walk in a hangar and see one of the most cutting-edge planes in the world, I thought,“Wow I am in the right place!”

Kellie: Is your industry popular? What kind employment opportunities are there for people? How so?

Jason: Aviation and aerospace have such a long and rich history in Washington State. We’ve been worldwide leaders for a hundred plus years. Sometimes we forget other parts of the country don’t have this rich flying heritage paired with good jobs and possibilities for advancement.

The jobs pay well, and there are opportunities for anyone from high school graduates to Masters-level engineers to find a calling in the industry. We at the Center especially appreciate the role apprenticeship plays in aerospace. We see that as a path to the middle class and living wage employment. And we’re proud many of the apprentices in Washington are also community college students!

Kellie: Where does education go from here in terms of online and grounded courses, along with making sure students are provided with the resources need to so they succeed in their classes/programs?

Jason: You left the toughest question for last. In manufacturing and aerospace, hands-on is essential. Students must learn and do with their hands. But there are classes that can be successful online. Coming into this role, it’s been amazing to learn how Everett Community College, our host college, pivoted in such an uncertain time. That said, it’s been fun to see students back on campus.

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