Sparking Mt. A’s B.Comm Aviation program

Captain Tom Machum boasts over 26 years with WestJet and years of teaching at Mt.A

Inspired by my enriching experience in Captain Tom Machum’s class last semester, I, as a Commerce major, found myself drawn to explore the intersection of aviation and post-secondary education. Eager to dive deeper into this fascinating overlap, I recognized the unique opportunity to leverage Machum’s expertise in both domains and interviewed him to gain his perspective.

Machum embarked on his Mt. A journey in 2015, enrolling in a Commerce program with a focus on the Business of Aviation (COMM-4381). He recognized a critical gap in the program and engaged in discussions around 2013 with stakeholders overseeing the Bachelor of Science in Aviation program. He advocated for the integration of a business-focused course in the aviation program. In 2015, his persistence paid off as the course was introduced, initially as a special topic course offered for third- or fourth-year students. Following its success, the Dean of Social Sciences pushed for the pivotal establishment of a dedicated B.Comm in Aviation program at Mt. A.

Before pursuing flight training to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot, Machum obtained a diploma and worked in electronic engineering.. This unconventional path stemmed from his mother initially forbidding him from pursuing aviation. However, determined to achieve his goal, he used his earnings from the engineering sector to fund his flight training. Starting as a flight instructor, he eventually progressed to flying for a regional airline.

With over 26 years in the aviation industry, Machum now reflects on significant changes in the industry: He notes a shift towards heightened security measures onboard planes, contrasting with a more relaxed atmosphere in the past. Despite improvements in onboard security, airport harassment levels remain unchanged. Processes for obtaining airport security passes have evolved, and Machum recalls a time when cockpit doors were left open, inviting passengers to greet the crew—a practice now restricted due to security concerns. He also notes that the world seems more connected contemporarily with the available worldwide flying connections. When asked about memorable experiences at WestJet, Machum emphasizes the significance of interactions with people stating, “I do not care where you end up, it is people that can make or break the experience.”

Fascinated by Machum’s ability to juggle multiple responsibilities, I inquired about his approach to managing his demanding workload, which includes flying for WestJet as a senior pilot, serving on the WestJet Pilot Selection Committee, teaching COMM-4381 at Mt. A, and writing r for the Piper Flyer Association. He highlighted “disciplined time management” as the key to handling these diverse commitments. Despite the demands, he mentioned dedicating 6–10 hours of preparation for each class at Mt. A, emphasizing the effort required for his various roles. In terms of teaching,he explained that he feels an obligation to the students almost as a “stewardship”, and recognizes the appreciation of the aviation students especially for his expertise and presence at Mt. A.

Machum shared that humor in lectures engages students and helps him gauge their responsiveness, especially in his three-hour seminar class. Additionally, as a witness myself, he does a flawless Donald Trump impression in his classes (if it links to the material). When asked what his time at Mt. A has taught him, Machum emphasized continuous learning and the opportunity to refine his course after each semester. I queried whether there was anything unknown about him to his colleagues and students, Machum pondered before reassuring me that he is a “what you see is what you get” kind of person.

I asked Machum if he envisioned a greater involvement in teaching after retiring from WestJet. He hinted that he may be in the position to assume increased responsibility at the university, especially within the aviation program. To conclude the interview, I asked Machum what one thing he hopes students would take away from his course. He emphasized “be curious,” clarifying not to be skeptical but rather encouraging students not to take things at face value.

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