Pilot, SkyWest Airlines
"CSP gave me the life skills to interact on a professional level and developed problem-solving skills that I use every day as a pilot."
CSP graduate Conor McDougall was a student-athlete playing baseball for the Golden Bears while completing his BBA in business management. Following his undergraduate career, Conor weighed career options including law school and aspirations to become a pilot. After discussing with peer and fellow CSP grad, John Pimental, Conor’s path was clear: he went on to pursue becoming a pilot and currently works with SkyWest Airlines which is one of the largest regional airlines in the United States. We caught up with him to discuss his CSP years, his decision to focus on flying (including his family ties) and how his CSP experience has prepared him for his purpose.
What brought you to CSP?
I was fortunate enough to receive a baseball scholarship to play at CSP. The baseball coach, Mark “Lunch” McKenzie, had a great reputation and I made a connection with him immediately when I came to visit and workout for him. CSP gives student-athletes the opportunity to live in a big city and make professional connections in their industry while playing the sport they love. This was a balance that I was searching for, and I knew CSP would provide me the opportunity to put my best foot forward, both athletically and academically.
How would you describe your CSP experience?
Some of the best years of my life. I loved the small campus feel and really enjoyed all of the people there. The professors, administrators, coaches, and trainers always treated me very well and I am still in touch with some of them today. I got married last fall, and I met four of my groomsmen during my time at CSP. I gained friends for life and learned a lot at the same time.
What was your campus involvement as a student?
I played baseball and was very invested in that during my first year. During my Senior year, I became a Resident Assistant in Holst Hall, where I had the opportunity to connect with a wider variety of students as well as on-campus activities. In addition, I participated in several events put on by the Business Department, as that was my major.
What has your career path been since graduating?
Interesting to say the least. When I finished my flight training in December 2014, I moved to Phoenix where I had been offered a position as a flight instructor. I taught as a flight instructor for a year, primarily teaching students from Korea that were on a training contract with a major Korean airline. The last few months of my time in Phoenix, I became a check airman, which saw my responsibility grow to conduct flight evaluations of students and their respective progress.
In January 2015, I moved back to my home country of Canada where I flew a turboprop aircraft in northern Ontario. This type of flying, also called “bush flying,” involved flying in very challenging weather and conditions, transporting members of the various First Nations communities to and from the hubs of Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout, often for medical appointments. In addition, the smaller communities are only accessible via ground from Sioux Lookout during the winter time when the lakes freeze and ice roads form. Because of this, the residents relied on us to fly food and supplies to their communities. The short gravel strips located in many of these communities provided a challenge for pilots, but at the same time was some of the most rewarding flying I have ever done.
Not long after, I was offered an opportunity as a First Officer for Porter Airlines, a Canadian-based airline flying the modern Dash 8 Q400 aircraft. It had always been my dream to reach the airlines, and I enjoyed the two years I spent at Porter.
I got married this fall and moved back to Minnesota with my wife, who grew up in St. Paul. I was hired by SkyWest Airlines, the largest regional airline in the U.S., and begin training in mid-March.
What are your career goals?
When I started this path as a pilot, I would have said becoming a Captain for a major airline such as Delta, United, or American flying long-haul flights to Europe. That is still my goal, but the opportunities I had to build flight hours and experience have opened my eyes to so many other opportunities as a pilot. The pilot shortage in the U.S. is very real, and will continue for the next decade or longer, and there will be increased opportunities for pilots willing to move internationally as well.
The best advice I received when I began this journey was from a pilot that told me to enjoy every moment and every step of the way. Ultimately, I am just trying to enjoy where I am in my career right now, and as the shortage comes into full force in the next few years, I hope the opportunities continue to be available.
Who/what were some of the people/experiences at CSP that influenced you the most, and how?
I would say there were three major people that made the biggest impact on me at CSP. Coach Mark “Lunch” McKenzie helped bring me to campus in the first place and taught me more about life than I think I ever expected. He not only made me a better baseball player, but he made me a better person. He would continually stress how important it was to be a good person when we left CSP, and I know that is something that he prides himself on more so than wins and losses.
The second person who had a major influence on me was Dr. Nancy Harrower. I had a lot of excellent professors throughout my college experience, but Nancy was the best. She was tough on us and demanded a lot as senior marketing students. At the same time, she was compassionate and realistic. She knew how to get the most out of her students, which was evident when a group of three of us entered a prestigious marketing contest for Heineken and placed second among thousands of colleges across the U.S. I have kept in contact with Nancy over the years, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to have had the opportunity to sit in her classes and learn from her. She truly made a difference in my life and I will be forever grateful for that.
Finally, one of my bosses at the time when I served as a Resident Assistant was John Pimental. John was a teacher at the time and spent his free time coaching, as well as supervising the Resident Assistants. John and I had weekly meetings, which after business was done, we would spend just talking. At the time, I had been accepted into several law schools and was debating whether or not I should go to law school or become a pilot. John helped me make that decision and talked me through the tough decision-making process. The prospect of becoming a pilot must have been so convincing, because John called me that summer and told me his wife Sara had signed him up for a demonstration flight, and he too was going to start flight training!
How did you get into a career in aviation? What was your journey like?
Aviation is in my family, and my Grandpa was the Vice President of Maintenance for Air Canada until he retired in 1985. He later went on to buy his own airplane, which I went for a flight in when I was only a few years old. I was always intrigued by the possibility of flying airplanes but didn’t know if it was something I would be able to do. For years, the path to the airlines was very difficult and there were not many jobs. If you were fortunate enough to get a flying job, it often wouldn’t pay the bills. However, I started to do some research on the aviation industry and the path to become a pilot.
While I was flying back home for Christmas during my senior year, the captain on my Delta flight recognized my Concordia baseball sweatshirt and asked if I went there. It turns out he knew one of my teammates quite well. I saw him again when I got off the airplane in Seattle and approached him with my questions about life as a pilot and the path to get there. He could not have had more good things to say about life as a pilot. He even offered me his contact information and I met him for coffee a few times when I was just getting started with training. Pilots always seem to want to help others that are interested in what they do, and truly love to do so. I hope to be able to help another aspiring pilot in the future like this pilot helped me.
How has your CSP education impacted your life and career?
One of the many advantages of small class sizes is the ability to get to know your professors. These people truly do want to help you reach your goals, and will do whatever they can to help you network or make you a more marketable candidate. The smaller class sizes and approachable teachers allow for a real-world learning environment. CSP produces students that not only know the material associated with their degree but are also prepared to actually use that knowledge immediately after graduation. CSP gave me the life skills to interact on a professional level and developed problem-solving skills that I use every day as a pilot.