Hagerstown Campus Celebrates Ten YearsEdward Molek
For ten years, the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics in Hagerstown, MD, has strived to meet the demands of the aviation industry and the need for skilled technicians. April 29th, 2011, marked the first classes held in the region to educate future aviation technicians. Since its opening, the Hagerstown Campus of PIA has become a vital pipeline for the industry, upholding PIA’s standards of excellence, and raising the bar itself. As the only FAA Part 147 training facility in Maryland, the school has become an essential asset in the state’s aviation industry.
Early in 2006, Greg Larsen expressed interest in building an AMT school. As the business development manager for the Hagerstown Regional Airport, Larsen teamed up with development expert Anne Anikis to explore its viability. Centrally located to three major airports and several industry partners, the proposal for a facility was brought to PIA’s administration. Spearheaded by Dr. James Mader, then Director of Education at PIA, the foundation of PIA Hagerstown was formed. Operating out of the former Fairchild factory, the administration set out to overcome the challenges of beginning a new campus in unknown territory.
Pittsburgh instructors Tom O’Keefe Sr. and Butch Adams traveled to the campus shortly after its opening to lay the groundwork for the educational experience for which PIA is known. “I got a call to report down at the Hagerstown Campus the next day,” says Adams. “I met up with Tom O’Keefe Sr., and never looked back. Tom took charge and I started to teach the first class. We had 13 students.”
As Campus Director, O’Keefe brought 25 years of experience with PIA and the industry to the Hagerstown area. O’Keefe returned to PIA Pittsburgh to resume his teaching duties, where he continues to serve as Instructor for 5th quarter Airframe students. Butch Adams assumed the position of Campus Director shortly after and has played an integral role in Hagerstown’s continued growth. “When I took over, enrollment was growing, and our two classrooms and one shop was not enough to accommodate the incoming students.” The idea of a change of location began to be entertained, and aviation businessman and developer Dave Rider became a crucial part of that vision.
Dave Rider, of Rider Jet Center in Hagerstown, became a lifelong partner of PIA until his passing in 2019. As PIA began seeking out new training facilities at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, Rider utilized his experience in construction to offer PIA a better option – building a facility from the ground up. “Dave Rider was instrumental in making PIA Hagerstown what it is today,” says Gary Hoyle, Director of Campus Operations. Hoyle traveled to Hagerstown with Suzanne Markle to explore facility options and said that Rider was so eager to undertake the project that he started on a handshake. It was this relationship that led to the establishment of PIA’s current facility, which opened in 2013. With 18,000 feet of brand-new class and shop areas, PIA began a new era of training in the Hagerstown region.
Operating a campus, though largely based on the educational experience it can provide, requires support outside its walls as well. Director of Admissions and Outreach Roxanne Ober, who at the time was the sole Admissions Representative on campus, was able to bring those outside connections to PIA, forming the pathway for strong relationships with government officials. Those connections proved essential to the growth of the campus, facilitating Hagerstown’s transition to its new building. Through the support of various parties, such as the Washington County Commissioners Office, PIA has been able to impact the Maryland Area. “For ten years, PIA has been retooling and retraining their students for a career in aviation and related industries,” says Jeff Cline, President of the Washington County Commissioners, “More importantly, PIA has been the catalyst as a positive life–changing experience for their graduates.”
Shortly after the move, PIA Hagerstown received its first recognition from the Accrediting Commission of Careers School and Colleges (ACCSC) as a ‘School of Distinction’. This recognition would be followed by several other honors, including recognition as the #1 Two-Year Trade School by Forbes Magazine in 2018, and a ‘School of Excellence’ distinction in 2018 by ACCSC. PIA was recognized as one of the nation’s top Military Friendly® Schools in 2021, earning a Silver designation. The Hagerstown Campus has been honored to provide an education for over 60 veterans during its first decade in operation.
PIA has also sought to ensure that students can understand their work and educational opportunities after graduating. PIA has established articulation agreements with Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, WV, and Hagerstown Community College, allowing students to continue their education after graduation from PIA.
Over ten years, PIA Hagerstown has continued to prove it is a powerhouse in the world of educating aviation technicians. Suzanne Markle, President and CEO of PIA, recalls her thoughts on the campus after its initial transition. “Given the challenges we encountered early on, we are proud of the steady growth that we have experienced at the Hagerstown branch after getting our team in place and locating to a new facility.” That steady growth has resulted in PIA Hagerstown having to utilize waitlists for several classes, ensuring that the facilities can handle the increased demand for aviation training. Markle sees the continued expansion of Hagerstown in the long-term plan for the institution as a whole.
Thus far, PIA Hagerstown has had the privilege of educating 25 graduating classes since 2011, with 89% of those graduates securing employment directly following program completion. Graduates have been able to secure local and nationwide employment with several notable organizations, such as Piedmont Airlines, Southwest Airlines, the Maryland State Police Command, Boeing, GE Aviation, and more. Over the last ten years, partnerships with aviation organizations have been critical to addressing the increasing demand for aviation technicians. One such partnership with Piedmont Airlines has allowed the regional carrier to consistently remain in PIA’s top employers’ list across all its campuses. Kevin Dallaire, Senior Manager, Technology and Strategy at Piedmont, expressed well wishes to the campus. “Congratulations to PIA – Hagerstown on their 10-year anniversary. As the only certified A&P program in our home state of Maryland, we are extremely proud of our long-standing relationship,” says Dallaire. “Your school continually certifies quality students who are well prepared, both technically and professionally, for the workforce. We look forward to many more years of a successful partnership.”
It is an honor to have served the Hagerstown Community for the last ten years. Through the support of the local community, government officials, and industry professionals, PIA Hagerstown has grown into a leader within the aviation industry. We look forward to continued relationships with our community and welcome everyone interested to learn more about an education at PIA’s Hagerstown branch campus.