Ken Carson has enjoyed a 40-year career in aviation, but the past 14 years at the University of Oklahoma may have been some of his best. Carson, who has served as director of the OU School of Aviation Studies since 2008, will retire in August.
Carson said his years at OU have included some of the most rewarding opportunities and proudest moments in his aviation career.
“There isn’t anyone more respected at this craft than Ken Carson. His experience, reputation, relationships through professional organizations, fellow institutions of higher education, the military, airlines – you name it – is consummate. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to find or come across anyone like him again.” - Mary Aldridge
“I have had the unique honor and privilege to serve with you and for you as director since 2008 of one of OU’s crown jewel educational programs. I’m grateful for the opportunities to work with each of you for what we have accomplished together,” Carson said. “Our beloved University of Oklahoma and the School of Aviation Studies will forever hold a special place in my heart as this is my alma mater, my armed forces commissioning source and where I first soloed.”
Carson joined OU in 2005 as chief ground instructor following a 23-year career with the United States Air Force. His Air Force career included flying through hurricanes, commanding WC-130 (weather reconnaissance) and C-5 (global heavy airlift) missions across the world and working in the Pentagon. Shortly after retiring from the Air Force, he came to OU looking for work.
Glenn Schaumburg, Carson’s predecessor who now serves as an instructor with the School of Aviation Studies, remembers that day well.
“Ken was my replacement. Funny happenstance. I was sitting in my office in 2006. This guy wandered in and said he had retired from the Air Force and could we use some help. I jumped at the chance and asked if he would teach ground school. He became an outstanding instructor,” Schaumburg said. “He also got the Sooner Aviation Club up and running. He is a definite asset to the school, and I was only happy to turn my keys to him in 2008 when I retired. Ken will be missed.”
During his time at OU, Carson helped establish several interdisciplinary degree programs and research initiatives, most notably sUAS (drone) operations. Carson’s work with drones helped establish one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Certificate of Authorization areas, and many of the procedures utilized by OU were benchmarked “best practices” by the FAA. Additionally, Carson spearheaded one of the first-in-the-nation partnership pipeline programs with American Eagle (now Envoy) airlines.
Under Carson’s leadership, undergraduate enrollment in the School of Aviation Studies doubled, and many of the school’s cutting-edge programs were highlighted by the Aviation Accreditation Board International, which named him Educator of the Year last summer.
“Being selected Educator of the Year was an honor I never would have dreamed of,” Carson said. “I truly believe in higher education for our aviation professionals. The work and time I put into AABI, and the work and time all of our faculty and staff put into our program, is all about our students. It’s a true passion and labor of love.”
Some of Carson’s other accomplishments include implementation of the school’s safety program in 2008, bolstering K-12 STEM outreach through aviation/aerospace education and a community airport open house, and creation of a one-stop new student onboarding process.
Stephen West, Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiativeprogram director for the School of Aviation Studies, said hearing about Carson’s experiences throughout the course of his career is “like peeling back the layers of an onion.”
“I’ve worked with Ken for almost 10 years, and still I am amazed at all of the impressive things that he’s done. The most impressive thing to me, though, is the unassuming, quiet humility that is Ken,” West said. “He never brags, never places himself above others. Ken is a servant leader, doing all that is needed alongside his team, and always lets others shine in their accomplishments. He also is just and fair in his duties to correct us when we are wrong, and he gives us the mentoring we need to improve. Ken will be greatly missed, and I wish him the very best in his chapter of life.”
Many other colleagues described Carson as a genuine person who truly cared about the aviation students and staff. He worked tirelessly to improve the aviation program, and he will truly be missed.
“I was first hired at OU in 1994 and can tell you honestly I have never seen a more devoted, tireless leader with unmatched passion from this program,” said Mary Aldridge, an advisor with the School of Aviation Studies. “There isn’t anyone more respected at this craft than Ken Carson. His experience, reputation, relationships through professional organizations, fellow institutions of higher education, the military, airlines – you name it – is consummate. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to find or come across anyone like him again.”
Shelly Ainsworth, also a School of Aviation Studies advisor, said Carson’s heart is as strong as his work ethic.
“He genuinely cares about those in his charge,” Ainsworth said. “I think it’s safe to say that his unwavering dedication and commitment to the School of Aviation Studies is unparalleled. I will forever remain grateful to have had the opportunity to work for the best ‘boss’ ever.”
Eric Metoyer, assistant director of the School of Aviation Studies, said any program should consider itself blessed to have had the privilege of experiencing the leadership and dedication Carson embodies.
“His tireless efforts and constant attention to safety and program improvement cannot be surpassed,” Metoyer said. “The students at the School of Aviation Studies are losing more than a director, they are losing their greatest advocate, mentor and friend. We know he will still be in touch and here for them, but his permanent presence will be missed by all.”