Inspiring aviation professional faces turbulence head on
Traci Clark (’95, aviation) is determined. Encountering resistance over her 25-year aviation career, she has made it her mission to stay the course. It’s part passion, part stubbornness and a lot of hope for the future. Along the way she has prioritized mentoring students while happily crossing paths with other Buckeyes.
“It has not been easy,” she said. “There’s times when I thought about leaving the industry, but it is genuinely about my love and passion for all things aviation-related”.
The 50-year old has winged her way – “it was a lot of God and a little luck,” she says – to a distinguished career in aviation management. Now, she is a year into her tenure as senior advisor to the associate administrator for airports at the Federal Aviation Administration.
From taxi to takeoff
For Clark, whose father was an employee at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the field of aviation was a logical choice. She grew up tagging along with him at work where her passion for aviation sparked.
Later, Clark prepared to launch her career when she enrolled in the aviation program at The Ohio State University College of Engineering. Despite facing numerous challenges in college and beyond, she maintained her trajectory.
“It has not been easy. There weren’t a lot of people that looked like me in this program and in the industry,” she stated.
Some things, though, were easy, such as deciding which aspect of aviation would be her focus. “I think it’s very important for students to understand themselves,” she said. I knew I wanted to go home every day, so airport management seemed like a natural fit.” She encourages current students to consider that “there’s so much diversity in the field of aviation, there’s so many things that you can do.”
Clark’s very first job at an airport was the often thankless position of answering noise complaints. With that in mind, she shares this advice for new aviation professionals: “Take every opportunity given, because eventually it’s going to lead to the next opportunity.”
Reaching 30,000 feet – together
Experience has taught Clark what it’s like to feel alone in a crowd, even among like-minded professionals. However, she perseveres as a trailblazer and role model for other women and minorities.
Representation matters, she says. “If you can see it, you believe you can do it, too.”
Clark is also optimistic about changes she’s noticed over the years. “The industry is getting better,” she said. “I just want people to know that they can do it, too. It’s not going to be easy; there are going to be days when it’s difficult, when they feel discouraged. But, it is a rewarding career and it is possible for anyone who wants it.”
Clark makes time in her very busy work schedule – she currently visits airports all over the country each year in her senior advisor role – to participate in outreach efforts. She was a panelist at The Ohio State University Center for Aviation Studies’ 2022 Industry Night, an event reaching hundreds of Ohio State aviation students. In partnership with another Buckeye, she participates in the impactful Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals’ Cleveland ACE Academy for youth.
And, in spite of the challenges that Clark faced as a college student, she’s overwhelmingly grateful to be a Buckeye for Life.
“The brand and the network that is Ohio State has really been significant in my career,” she said. “When you come across a Buckeye that’s from the aviation program…you have a shared experience and there is a level of confidence in each other. I’ve been given so many opportunities and made so many connections just based on being a Buckeye – we’re everywhere!”
She’s enthusiastic about the positive changes Ohio State’s aviation program has made since she was a student.
“I just want to thank OSU for developing platforms like this to increase awareness and exposure to careers in aviation,” she said. “I’m proud of the progress it’s made and will continue to make moving forward.”
Blue skies are in view for Clark. She is navigating forward and supporting those who are ascending behind her.
Her words of wisdom to early-career aviation management students?
“It’s easy to get discouraged.” Believe in yourself and your dreams, she said. “You have to believe it yourself, because everyone won’t. People are going to tell you you’re crazy; they’re going to tell you, you can’t do it…It’s often because people haven’t seen it done before – they don’t know what’s out there.”
She also encourages students to seek out those who have gone before. “Find a mentor, don’t be afraid to ask questions and take advantage of every opportunity given to you,” Clark said. “Having someone to encourage you, support you, advocate for you is going to be critical in the career success.”
by Holly Henley, communications specialist, The Ohio State University Airport