Career Cruising with Kurt Kraczon – Laying the Foundation for a Successful Career in Aviation Management and Operations

WMU Aviation Management and Operations Student Kurt Kraczon
Posted by Tom Thinnes on

Aviation Management and Operations student Kurt Kraczon on the first day of his safety internship with Republic Airways. May 2023

Like for many Americans, Covid 19 did a pretty good job of "taketh away" for Kurt Kraczon, but it also did a bit of "giveth" for the WMU College of Aviation junior. 

Raised in Portland, an Ionia County community of about 4,000 folks northwest of Michigan's capital city of Lansing in the middle of the Lower Peninsula, Kraczon had most of his junior and senior years in high school impacted by the pandemic.  But instead of sitting on his hands with a "woe is me" attitude, he decided to gain some insightful and practical experience prior to enrolling in the college as a major in aviation management and operations. 

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And what Kraczon has learned during an internship first with UPS and then Republic Airways is that what is being taught in his major's courses is right on target with the real world of the aviation industry. 

Kraczon working in the cargo deck at UPS, ensuring cargo cans are in the correct positions.

Not quite certain of what career path he wanted to embark on, Kraczon had the foresight during his days at Portland High School (Class of 2021) to take part in an early-college program offered in conjunction with Lansing Community College.  As a sophomore, he started taking dual-enrollment courses, which meant he could earn an associate's degree as quickly as possible as part of some kind of a five-year, post-high school plan he was plotting.  All of this resulted in 60 college credits, a preview exposure to a future life-long endeavor, and the choice of a destination for higher education. 

His first '"decent job" was also the first step toward a career in aviation.  In November of 2020 -- while still an 18-year-old student at Portland High -- he joined a 65-employee UPS staff at the Capital Region International Airport in Lansing as a package handler.  "I was the youngest employee ever hired there," he says.  "It was supposed to be a temporary role to increase the workforce to keep up with the holiday demand for deliveries."  Hard to believe, but he "fell in love" with what he was doing and regarded the whole operation "as fascinating."  Better yet, his supervisors recognized that passion and the title of  "temporary" shifted with the new year to a full-time gig that extended until December of 2021. 

His initial plan to major in packaging engineering at Michigan State University was traded in for being enamored with what the aviation industry offered.  Kraczon checked out what the College of Aviation had to offer in February of 2022 and toured campus facilities under the guidance of the program's lead ambassador Braeden Leuder.  Clearly impressed with what he saw and learned -- especially the new Aviation Education Center at the college's operational headquarters that is part of the Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field -- he immediately notified his family that this was the place for him.  Selling points -- a magnificent facility, a renowned program, a feeling of comfort, and all still close to home -- a little more than an hour's drive away. 

Kraczon with his Mother and Father during his visit to the WMU College of Aviation. (July 2023)

And family, it seems, played a major role in seeding his goals.  Originally from Detroit, his parents moved to Portland shortly after their marriage and raised three children.  One sister is a sophomore at Clemson University while the other is still at Portland High.  "My passion for aviation likely began the same way as it has for others -- traveling," he says.  "I recall staring out large windows at the airport looking at the planes taxiing to and from gates.  The roar of engines fascinated me.  I seemed more excited being at the airport than in flying to any particular destination.” 

Kraczon was introduced to the thrill of travel early in his childhood.  "My parents made it a priority to take the three kids to as many different places as possible," he says.  "They showed us there was a big world out there."  Part of that "big world" was the "thrill of winning and the agony of defeat."  Destinations included baseball games at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, Rose Bowl games in Los Angeles, "white-outs" among the Penn State faithful, and countless gridiron tussles at "The Big House" in Ann Arbor.  By the time he was 21, his personal passport had been stamped by 37 of the 50 states. 

Along the way, he acquired interests in geography, maps and modes of transportation -- all part of the world of aviation.  But for Kraczon, the seed did not evolve into a blossom until his first 13 months of working at the Lansing airport where he got "up close and personal" running tug carts, belt loaders, and de-icing trucks.  As a valued crew member, he was often responsible for making certain the cargo containers were loaded in the proper sequence and that the weight was properly balanced.  Later on, he was designated the safety team's "Employee of the Month," and he still had not yet received his diploma from Portland High.  That's the kind of  accomplishment that eventually pointed him toward the WMU College of Aviation with the blessings of his family. 

The Lansing Airport gateway during Pfizer's first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines. Photo courtesy of the Lansing State Journal.

High on Kraczon's list of proud moments is that on Dec. 13, 2020, when the Lansing airport welcomed Pfizer's first shipment of the Covid-19 vaccines.  "It was a neat experience," he says, "that my building was part of this historic process and being able to help in getting the country back on its feet after the global pandemic."  Another "high" was when his folks traveled with him to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to check out a Boeing warehouse and watch one of the last 747s -- this one bought by UPS -- come off the assembly line. 

As it turned out, Kraczon was not finished with UPS.   In November of 2021 came an offer to fill a vacant supervisory position.  Not bad for a 19 year old who would become the youngest person of his ilk to fill that post.  By Christmas, he was wearing higher-up UPS colors, which he wore for the next nine months before heading to the Western campus in August of 2022 to begin course work.  He brought with him experiences as an operations load supervisor and as a representative of the enterprise's human resources unit.  When not active on the airport's exterior, Kraczon oversaw reports, training checklists, new-hire paperwork, and security assessments.  He also polished his IT skills, which didn't hurt as he launched his Western days near the end of summer. 

Kraczon and members of WMU's Women in Aviation chapter during their visit to Southwest's operation at Chicago Midway. (February 2023)

Not too far into those days, Kraczon jumped right into the extracurricular aspects of college, joining the WMU chapters of Women in Aviation Inc. (WAI), the American Association of Airport Executives, and Alpha Eta Rho, the fraternal organization that links the aviation industry with higher-education institutions.  "I view it as a great way," he says, "to meet people and seek career opportunities.  I am really inspired by WAI.  Prior to Western, I was not aware of the small percentage of women in the aviation field and I am pledged to see that number grow." 

Lueder's legacy as a program ambassador also came into play and Kraczon joined its ranks in November of 2022.  "I quickly knew I wanted to do that," he says, "giving me some great experience and a chance to learn even more about our program while connecting with faculty, staff and fellow students.  At first, it was a challenge to get up to speed with the other two programs -- aviation flight science and aviation technology -- but it is exciting to learn something new every day.  I also enjoy taking part in recruitment events." 

What also had not dimmed for Kraczon was his visionary casts on what lies ahead.  In he fall of 2022, he began looking for another internship -- this one different than the first.  And, following the spring semester, he landed one this past summer with Republic Airways as a safety intern at the regional operation's headquarters in Indianapolis.  Republic, with partnerships as American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, flies its 230-strong fleet of Embraers out of 10 hubs.  Step one was to familiarize himself with Republic's mission, goals and company values.  Step two was to never be a fly on the wall, but to be actively engaged in whatever chore he was assigned.  The almost-immediate lesson was -- the importance of safety in the industry.  If there is something above and beyond the No. 1 priority, safety occupies it, Kraczon learned. 

Kraczon in front of a brand new E175 United airplane in Indianapolis. (Aug 2023)

From making certain there are effective tests for bacteria on the potable water aboard an airliner to checking -- and double checking -- maybe even a third time -- that each aircraft is schedule for no-doubt-about-it maintenance procedures, Kraczon got exposed to what must happen.  He took part in required Federal Aviation Administration surveys at both the Indianapolis International Airport and the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.  Other duties took him to the airport serving the Louisville region in Kentucky.  How did he do?  Republic has booked him again for the summer of 2024.  Kraczon is seriously considering focusing his career on aviation safety. 

Thanks to the camaraderie of his fellow ambassadors, Kraczon said he never lost a beat regarding what was happening in Kalamazoo during his months in Indy.  "Several reached out to me to keep me in the loop and see how my internship was going," he says,  "It was almost like I had not even left Kalamazoo.  We kind of stick together and support each other." 

Kraczon after obtaining his de/anti ice certification and spraying his first MD-11 before departure.

As he advances toward his degree and a job with an airline "in a fun city," Kraczon intends to continue pursuit of not only more professional resume boosters, but also his love of traveling, trying new foods at innovative restaurants, keeping fit, and enjoying sports, particularly college football.  He has been more than a watcher.  At Portland High, he lettered in baseball, basketball and tennis, with the latter being his most rewarding sport as the team captain and leader.  He credits much of his internship success to those activities. 

Other than his major classes -- such as the one in aviation safety taught by assistant professor Selim Ozyurek and in which he could probably serve as an in-class resource, thanks to his Republic experience -- Kraczon has enjoyed the course in global international studies taught by Thomas Kostrzewa, who is probably one of the most traveled faculty members currently at Western.  "We discussed third-world countries and learned about technology's advancements that have affected culture and society," he says.  "He has lots of stories about his world travels.  Several international students were enrolled and Dr. K would speak in their languages." 

Classes like that and the career path Kraczon is on has inspired him to conclude that the world continues "to become a lot smaller," he says.  "I want to be able to say I have seen and experienced such wonderful things we have here on this planet."  No matter where the future takes him, Kraczon wants to make himself available to serve as a bridge to success for those students who follow in his footsteps.  And not in just promoting gender diversity in the industry. 

In his opinion, the factor that makes the WMU College of Aviation so special is its faculty and staff.  Together, they stimulate and engender the success of the students who choose to call it their home away from home. 

For most of the souls who clog along on the road of life, the legendary words of Charles Dickens in "Tale of Two Cities" -- the best of times and the worst of times -- have rung true for Kurt Kraczon.  But no matter.  It is now his time.