Math Teacher to Mechanic

Project Description

Samantha Cortese

Myrtle Beach Branch Campus, SC
Program: Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT)
Employment: StandardAero, A&P Mechanic

Samantha Cortese didn’t expect to become an aerospace mechanic, but that’s mostly because no one had ever suggested a career in the trades when she was growing up.
“In high school, the traditional career advice was: ‘you’ll make more money with a college degree than you will if you go to a trade school,’” says Cortese. So she enrolled in a four-year college, earned her degree in Mathematics, and got a job as a high school teacher.

Unfortunately, while Cortese loved math, she found that having a predictable daily routine wasn’t for her.

She considered changing careers to become a pilot, but she didn’t think enlisting in the military or racking up hundreds of hours of flight time was the right fit. Instead, she enrolled in the A&P program at PIA’s Myrtle Beach Campus, where she earned her A&P certification.

“It was a very different experience for me, because I had never worked on cars or other machines before,” Cortese says. “It was a whole new style of learning. But one of my mathematics professors in college used to work in Lockheed engineering, and he taught me that if you can figure out the answer to a problem one step at a time, you can always solve it. So being a mechanic is really all about math, which I love. I just never would have thought to apply it in this way.”

Today, Cortese works as an A&P mechanic at StandardAero—where she notes that she earns a higher salary than she did as a teacher, proving that traditional career advice isn’t always perfect.

Cortese is currently the only female technician in her department, which is typical of the industry’s current gender ratio. 2018 FAA data reveals that just 3.4% of all airplane mechanics in the U.S. identify as female. But Cortese has noticed more girls and teens expressing interest in becoming mechanics during high school and middle school tours of her facility, which bodes well for the industry’s future. She hopes to see even more women hired as A&P techs over the next decade, as many older technicians are approaching retirement.

“Being a mechanic is a great career for people like me, who know they wouldn’t be happy at a desk job where every day feels the same,” says Cortese. “This job is always interesting. One day I’m in the shop disassembling an or rebuilding an engine, the next day I might be running rebuilt engines in planes, and the next day I’ll be on the removal and reinstall crew. There’s always a new problem where I get to reverse-engineer a solution. It’s exciting.”