Flying High -- United Airlines captain will receive his third degree from ISU

December 11 2008

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- One Indiana State University student will add another title to his name at the conclusion of Saturday's winter commencement ceremonies in Hulman Center.

Randy DeMik, a captain with United Airlines, is already an Indiana State alumnus two times over. He will add Ph.D. to his business card at Saturday's winter commencement ceremonies.

In 1979, DeMik earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace technology, pro-flight. As an undergraduate, he lived in the residence halls, served as a resident assistant in Sandison Hall, was active in the aviation fraternity, Alpha Eta Rho, and a member of the ISU Flight Team. He also met his wife Sherry, who was a student in the College of Education.

He earned his master's degree in human resource development in 2002.

"As I finished my master's degree, I became interested in the Ph.D.," he said. "I didn't start my master's thinking about going onto a Ph.D."

The Valparaiso resident embarked on his doctorate journey in 2005 and quickly realized he could combine flying, studying and research.

"The Ph.D. in technology management program has a flexible delivery system which allowed me to keep flying while pursuing my degree," he said.

DeMik has focused on human resource development and industrial training with interests in human factors in aviation, pilot training, human and technology system integration and crew resource management.

His dissertation "Human Performance Analysis of Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications" investigated the problem of how conditions of voice or text controller communications affect pilot performance in both accuracy and speed of recall/execution to air traffic control commands.

DeMik's research revealed a statistically significant decrease in both errors in pilot execution and response times in moving from the conventional voice commands to text commands.

In addition to his research, he designed a flight management systems class with Bruce Welsh, a former classmate currently serving as a assistant professor of aviation technology, for the CRJ jet, exposing student pilots to the latest technology.

Indiana State's student pilots have impressed the seasoned airman.

"I'm very impressed with the students and their mastery of skills and eagerness to learn," DeMik said. "They are very well-prepared to enter the workforce."

While he enjoys teaching and conducting research, flying is in his blood.

"My dad was a private pilot, so I grew up around airplanes," DeMik said. "It was our family station wagon -- a Cessna 206. My dad was not a flight instructor, so I never had any formal flight training until I came to Indiana State. When I started at Indiana State in 1975 I started my formal flight training."

DeMik earned his private pilots license at 18, and his commercial and flight instructor license at age 20 and has never looked back.

As a senior at Indiana State, he was employed as a flight instructor at Brown Flying School and a flight instructor/charter pilot at the Porter County Airport.

"I quickly learned that I enjoyed instructing," he said.

After graduating from Indiana State, he was hired by Air Kentucky Airlines, part of Alleghany Airlines. In 1982, he moved to a UPS contract carrier, Orion Air, flying UPS overnight.

In 1984, he was hired as a pilot for Eastern Airlines, the same day as ISU classmate Jim Bowman, who currently serves as flight director for Fed Ex in Memphis.

"We recognized each other right away," DeMik added.

DeMik and Bowman took two very different paths in aviation. DeMik came up through the commercial ranks while Bowman came to aviation through the military.

He left Eastern for United Airlines in 1989. When United became the launch customer for the Boeing 777 in 1995, he was in one of the first classes of pilots certified in flying the widebody jet airliner internationally.

Currently, DeMik is a line check airman/pilot instructor and evaluator for United Airlines, teaching in a dynamic environment where he balances safety, aviation and training while evaluating new captains and first officers.

"Your classroom is constantly moving," he said. "It's a challenge to teach and fly at the same time."

But he wouldn't trade the juggling act for one second.

"Instructing has been a vital part of who I am and how my career evolved," DeMik added.

Most new major airline pilots today have thousands of hours of flight time -- either through civilian or military experience. Most pilots who come up through the University ranks begin their career at regional airlines and work their way up. Once they get some time at the top, DeMik said, they are ready to be hired by the major carriers, like United.

DeMik lives in Valparaiso, and is based of out Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. He currently pilots a Boeing 737 domestically. A professional pilot for 30 years, he is the first to admit aviation has been an exciting career for him.

"I've seen so many changes, such as global navigation systems and flight management," he said. "There's always something new."

But it has had its challenges and dark spots.

"The initial training with the airlines is very demanding," he explained. "We're taking the amount of information in a two-semester college course and cramming that into six weeks. Trying to get all that information in and pass the check ride at the end can be extremely challenging."

Your first upgrade to captain, adding on those additional responsibilities, is a lot of training but also you feel a great sense of accomplishment.

He's also experienced terrorism, and the mark it has left on the industry.

September 11th was a costly day for United Airlines. The carrier had one of its planes flown into the World Trade Center. Another aircraft was crashed in Shanksville, Penn.

"We lost two aircraft, but what I remember most were the people that we lost," he recalled. "It was a very tough time."

DeMik wasn't in the air that fateful day, but his return to the cockpit less than a week following Sept. 11 was an emotional one.

"One of the first changes we encountered was having the cockpit secured. That was terrifying because we were locking out the flight attendants. It was a very emotional thing. Flight personnel are like an extended family. We care about each other."

Despite the dark times in aviation, DeMik would still choose a career in the skies.

"Looking at the negative aspects and the positive, I've really enjoyed aviation," he said. "I've enjoyed the people I've worked with and the things I've accomplished."

It's also allowed him to raise a family.

"I've been able to work flying into the schedule while enjoying time with my family," he said. I have two daughters and was able to connect with them on different levels on my days off by going on their fieldtrips at school back then when it was only the Moms that would go."

One of his daughters caught his love of flying.

"My oldest daughter, Tami, is a pilot in the Arizona Air National Guard flying the KC-135 tankers, so I guess it kind of wore off on her," he said.

Three years of research on the road to earning his Ph.D. is giving DeMik options for life after flying.

"I may do something in research, certainly in teaching. I've always enjoyed being a teacher and a flight instructor," he explained. "I might continuing flying, and continue with my research."

About ISU's Ph.D in Technology Management Program
Indiana State's Ph.D. in technology management has been designated as Programs of Regional Distinction as part of the university's Distinctive Programs Initiative. Funded in part by a gift from the Lilly Endowment, the initiative is intended to strengthen programs with national or regional reputations for quality, and build programs that have the potential to achieve that status.

Advice to future pilots:
* Get a four-year degree -- That is the key to entering into the industry.
* Learn the fundamentals of flight and get training on the latest instrumentation.
*Last but not least, don't forget to hone your communication skills. They are essential.


Media Contact and Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications & Marketing, (812) 237-3783 or

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Story Highlights

Randy DeMik, a captain with United Airlines, is already an Indiana State alumnus two times over. He will add Ph.D. to his business card at Saturday's winter commencement ceremonies.

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