University of Southern California

Marshall Is A Flight School
May 25, 2012 • by Captain Melissa Ward, B.S. '86

I have traveled millions of miles to reach my destination. But I never would have arrived where I am today without critical lessons learned at the USC Marshall School of Business—some were technical, some practical and strategic.

I went to USC on academic, basketball, and Air Force ROTC scholarships. At the time, there were very few professional opportunities for women basketball players. So, even though we won two national championships during my four years—which was the closest I've ever come to flying without an airplane—I never viewed basketball as a career. Instead, my dream was to follow a path in the Air Force.

My freshman year I started taking accounting courses. Some friends asked, "Why such a difficult subject?" My answer, "In pilot training, it's all hard. No one's going to offer me an easier way to do it." I learned good study habits by taking the most difficult classes. The discipline I mastered by doing that still applies to my life today. Being a pilot is not just about hand skills; you have to know what you're doing on every level. The only way to achieve that is to study hard.

After spending six years as an Air Force pilot, and becoming the first African-American female to receive a fighter pilot rating, I began my commercial aviation career at United Airlines. I became the first, female African-American Captain for a commercial airline. Now I fly and instruct pilots, which means I have to be better than the people who fly 20 days a month. I have to know how to organize and run the crucial business of training pilots. That requires communicating effectively and organizing resources to achieve success. Marshall gave me the skills needed to do that and taught me how to fly in a classroom, so that ultimately, I could fly in the sky.

When I walked onto the USC campus, I had no idea my journey would take me millions of miles through the air. But I've arrived in a very good place. Please join me in supporting USC Marshall School of Business—the school that allowed me to fly so high.

Fight On!
Captain Melissa Ward, B.S. '86