According to WINGS, candidates for the annual award are nominated based on their influence at work, leadership in their communities and commitment to their profession. All boxes editor Matt Nicolls says Kearns checks off in spades.
“She's got such a passion for aviation if you look at her background,” he said, referencing the fact that Kearns began formal flight training at the age of 15, soloed on her 16th birthday, and had her private airplane and helicopter licenses signed off on her 17th birthday. “She's just an overall high achiever,” he continued, “and certainly someone who develops the young minds of tomorrow, so I thought she was perfect.”
Kearns completed the Helicopter Pilot Flight Program at Canadore College of Applied Arts and Technology before attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where she received a BSc in Aeronautical Science and a MSc in Human Factors and Systems Engineering. She completed her PhD through distance education while teaching full time at Western University, and in 2016, joined the University of Waterloo as an associate professor in the Geography & Aviation and Science & Aviation programs.
"Aviation at Waterloo is pleased that Professor Kearns has been recognized as one of the top 20 under 40, leaders in aviation in Canada," said Ian McKenzie, Director of Aviation at Waterloo. "It's nice to see her dedication and contributions to the industry recognized in such a significant way."
Kearns’ research explores human limitations and how they contribute to aviation accidents and incidents, as well as educational theory related to aviation, including the shift towards competency-based education practices and the impact of e-learning in aviation.
As past president of the University Aviation Association (UAA) and vice-chair of outreach for the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Next Generation of Aviation Professional (NGAP) program, Kearns says the challenge and needs of American and Canadian schools may differ, but there is one unifying priority across the industry: recruiting young people to choose aviation careers.
It is, in large part, what inspired her to write her latest textbook, International Aviation, which outlines the scope of opportunities available to young aviation professionals on an international scale, from air law and aircraft, to air traffic control and environmental impacts. The textbook even covers the emerging topic of drones. Kearns hopes making this information accessible to incoming students will open their eyes to the range of opportunities available within the industry. “People get into aviation because they love it,” she explains, “but for different reasons, many discover they can’t live the lifestyle of a pilot. If we can give this to students at the beginning, then it may spark their interest in one of the sub-areas they may have never considered before and hopefully increase the chance that we can retain them within the industry where we're so much in need of talent.”
International Aviation will be available by early 2018. In the meantime, Kearns says she’s grateful to have found a career where she can have a direct impact on the industry she loves while still being at home every night with her family.
I have always felt lucky to be in my profession - teaching an impressive group of future aviation professionals and contributing research findings to support aviation safety and training. It's an honour to be recognized for work that I care about, and I am thankful to the University of Waterloo and Wings for the opportunity.