Felicien Izaturwanaho, BSc – First Graduate Trainee for AviAssist Foundation at Aviation Centre in Kigali, Rwanda.

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Introduction:

Felicien Izaturwanaho is my name and I am a graduate in psychology from the University of Rwanda (UR). I want to share my journey into the aviation industry. As a graduate trainee of the AviAssist Foundation, I am occupied with activities for the AviAssist Safety Promotion Centre – Rwanda(ASPC-Rwanda) in Kigali. The ASPC-Rwanda is a joint non-profit undertaking aiming to boost safety in African aviation. Partners of AviAssist in the ASPC-Rwanda include the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority, RwandAir, the University of Rwanda (UR), UTB University in Rwanda, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, the Twente Safety Campus, and Special Cargo Services in The Netherlands. The ASPC-Rwanda supports the aviation industry in safety promotion capacity in Rwanda and the region. The centre is unique in Africa and supports the Rwanda National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) act that aims to develop a vibrant aviation sector. NST1 includes the creation of a centre of excellence to develop critical skills in the sector. The ASPC-Rwanda is hosted by UR at the College of Science and Technology in the School of Engineering, Nyarugenge Campus.

The AviAssist Foundation has been leading, building, and supporting safety promotion in Africa’s aviation industry since 1995. It is an independent, non-profit organization. This means it has been a safety resource for the African aviation industry for a quarter of a century.

Additionally, I volunteer at the University of Rwanda – Centre for Mental Health as a Research Fellow. I assist the centre in championing mental wellbeing and becoming a mental health resource for a post-genocide Rwanda, the University community in particular. For instance, I organize conferences and workshops. I am also participating in crafting papers and grant writing. One of the projects I am developing is a course on Trauma and Violence Informed Care. This course will be delivered to personnel of higher academic institutions and high schools in Rwanda. That course enhances awareness and equips participants with the values and principles of Trauma and Violence Informed Care to champion a healthy school environment for students.

 

A felicitous step into aviation:

I never thought of working in the aviation industry. Working in aviation was a distant reality. I hoped to be a great psychometrician. That was due to my background in clinical psychology and the need for developing psychometric tools that are culturally sensitive to measure mental issues in post-genocide Rwanda. However, it wasn’t until September 2018 that my career direction was going to change significantly. In my years at the UR, I was honored to be the president of the Clinical Psychology Students Association of Rwanda (CPSAR) in the academic year 2017-2018. I came into contact with the AviAssist Foundation and the aviation mental health course they were going to be held in Rwanda and requested to be allowed to join. In the end, the training was hosted by my university in September 2018 and I got to participate. Personally, it has been a significant breakthrough to experience the aviation mental health course being hosted at the UR-Centre for Mental Health.

I am very grateful to Prof. Vincent Sezibera, Director of the Centre for Mental Health who accepted the request to host the course at the centre. Successful completion of that course has been an impressive milestone in the aviation industry in Rwanda and especially to me. I have been practicing and promoting aviation safety in Central and East Africa for over two years now and have experienced growth professionally as well as on a personal level. I am now locally representing AviAssist at our ASPC-Rwanda. Through the ASPC-Rwanda, I have been exposed to the evolving aviation industry focusing on safety and human factors. Aviation safety and human factors in aviation are very closely involved with my background in psychology.

What life is like working in a particular role:

The aviation industry has been a new adventure for me. It is an exciting world that is constantly on the move, even without the coronavirus situation. As you can imagine, this industry is now close to my heart. It is also highly regulated, dynamic, and demanding. So, you always learn.

As part of my traineeship, I had to study several aeronautical topics. Ranging from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge to the aviation phonetic alphabet. The handbook provides basic knowledge for student pilots learning to fly. I also completed formal courses that are close to my background in psychology to enhance my continuous professional development. These courses include Aviation Mental Health, Human Factors in Aviation, Aviation Leadership Development in Rwanda and Crew Resource Management in Kenya, and Aviation Law–Fundamentals course (online) by the International Air transport Association (IATA).

I work with the team of the AviAssist Foundation as the first graduate trainee at the ASPC-Rwanda. In other words, I help run the back office of the Foundation. My tasks include assisting with the delivery of the AviAssist courses in Rwanda and the region. This includes designing surveys for training needs analysis, course registration, production of course certificates, course design, and quality control.

What a typical day looks like:

There is no particular routine. Every day at the offices of the ASPC-Rwanda is unique. I mostly start with checking emails and respond to those relating to my responsibilities. After that, I prioritize my tasks depending on what is outstanding. My schedule for a day depends on what projects we are working on at the foundation. For instance, representing AviAssist in our communication with the UR and other partners like RwandAir, developing a process of recruiting a student assistant, keeping up to date with African aviation news, and helping with the organization of a conference or online training. A good example is the Safety in African Aviation (SiAA2020) conference. We delivered the 7th edition of the SiAA2020 conference last year in October virtually to African aviation professionals and students. You can watch the conference broadcast at www.siaa2020.com .

What are the key skills required:

As far as aviation safety promotion is concerned, the 4Cs of the 21st Century are the key skills required for that. These 4Cs are Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. We have been implementing these 4Cs in our courses. An example is our Desert Island discs exercise. Basically, we ask the participants to write down their three favorite songs. After that, we approach one of them in a coffee break to ask her or him whether she/he would be willing to share with us the reason why she/he has chosen that song in a minute. That way, a participant improves her/his communication skills by having to share her/his motivation in one minute – like an elevator pitch. Research has shown that when you speak calmly to a good friend, you are speaking at a rate of about 120 words per minute. The exercise allows a participant to pay attention to at least two of the 4Cs namely communication and creativity. In turn, it provides the participants an opportunity of feeling connected and energized throughout the course.

What is the most exciting/challenging part of the role:

The most challenging part of my role, I feel, is when I manage one of the AviAssist courses together with a volunteer professional instructor. This means I have to take care of time management and sharing views and/or opinions I consider significant enough to mention during a course. Considering that participants of our courses are more experienced than me, managing our courses is a challenging assignment. It requires me to get out of my comfort zone to help maintain a dynamic course.

Advice to give new entrants into the sector:

As you graduate from your university, stepping into your professional career, set a clear vision. As Lewis Carroll quote: “ if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” It is very crucial to contemplate your vision of your professional life. In doing that, be flexible. If something comes on your path that initially looks remote from your original plan, think if perhaps that new thing can still broaden your skills. For instance, my vision was to become a great psychometrician and my career (so far) took a very different turn. So, it is always good to look for other angles in which you can advance and satisfy your curiosity. After all, it will be for your own benefit and happiness, since you can’t differentiate your personal life and professional life. So, you need to define yourself – have ambition and goals.

Practically, commit to two or three goals you want to attain in the year, the semester, the trimester, the month, the week, and the day. Then try and think of innovative, out of the box ideas to move forward and achieve those goals. It is very likely that you will succeed. After all, I had once heard of aviation mental health from my lecturer, Felix Banderembaho before I saw the tweet from AviAssist but I pursued it, driven by curiosity. That will also help you to realize your dream. Speaking of realizing your dream, aim beyond your dreams. Sometimes dreams are limited by the information that you have. Just think of yourself if you want to be a pilot as an example, how can you dream of flying Gulf-steam G700, an aircraft with the award-winning Symmetry Flight Deck, if you don’t even know that it exists? This illustrates how the information you have plays a crucial role in your dreaming. So, read a lot!

In addition, you should build and maintain mentoring relationships for yourself. Mentors are fantastic resources for information and career guidance for your professional development. Note this: your mentor should be someone who inspires you – who has the experience you are looking for. If you want to be an aerospace engineer, seeking a well-established engineer at a company where you are doing an internship perhaps, or contact the Royal Aeronautical Society for help. If you want to be a researcher in aviation/aerospace, participate in many conferences ( national and international), so you can meet the renowned academic communities. A lot of those are now online and even free. The website of the Royal Aeronautical Society is a good example of that. A great and free online webinar by the Royal Aeronautical Society to watch on aviation mental health can be found here for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT8uB7fVV44.

After all, I have found that getting real-world hands-on work experience is one of the tools you can utilize to develop your skills. So, apply for an internship, volunteer, pursue different courses ( face to face and/or online). All those will shape you into a responsible person with valuable soft skills (leadership and organizational) who steers her/his role in advancing our dear industry.

If you would like to learn more about me, visit my website https://fizaturwanaho.wordpress.com. You can contact me via felicien.izaturwanaho@aviassist.org. You can also find me on LinkedIn.

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