Dorine (Smith) ’91 Fahnestock had a goal in mind when she first arrived on the Hesston College campus. She wanted to fly, and Hesston could teach her how. Little did she know, Hesston would also be the place she would discover a career path she hadn’t planned.
Dorine didn’t visit campus before her move from Pennsylvania to the Kansas prairie. In fact, she had only heard about this small college with an aviation program a short time before from a friend who had gone through the program.
“It was coming up on July, and I had nowhere to go to learn to fly,” she said. “I heard about Hesston from a friend, and so I just came.”
She had already completed two years of ground school at Liberty University (Lynchburg, Va.), but Liberty did not have a flight training program at the time. She earned her private pilot license and instrument rating through Hesston College and was working on her commercial license when FAA representatives visited campus looking for students who might be interested in a career in air traffic control.
Hesston’s air traffic control program wouldn’t debut for almost 20 years, but that didn’t matter to Dorine. She was still determined to fly, but she took the test for the FAA’s training program in Oklahoma City anyway.
The flight training she received proved to be enough to get a passing grade on the test and into the Oklahoma City program.
“I truly believe you are a better controller when you are also a pilot,” she said. “Because I learned to fly, I have an understanding as a controller of what the pilot is doing at each point during a flight.”
That’s encouraging news for students enrolled in Hesston’s air traffic control program, who are required to obtain a private pilot license. In 2010 Hesston became one of 36 colleges across the country and the only Kansas college to be named to the FAA’s Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative.
After just one year of flight training at Hesston, Dorine worked as an intern in the tower at Wichita (Kan.) Mid-Continent Aiport, then as an intern in Kansas City before completing the training course in Oklahoma City. Her first two years as a certified air traffic controller were spent in Joplin, Mo., before returning to Wichita and Mid-Continent in 1993.
“I initially started with air traffic control because it was a summer job and they were paying me,” Dorine said. “It ended up being a job I love.”
It’s been several years since she has been the person actually flying a plane, and though she intends to fly again someday, for now she is happy to be directing the airline traffic.
“I enjoy the job because, although there is repetition with procedures, every day is different. It’s really a great job if you like the work and are willing to work.”