Maj Janice Podgurski, Arkansas Wing
Posted on October 20, 2022 at 3:10 PM by Virginia Smith
Maj. Janice Podgurski is the Arkansas Wing Deputy Director of Education and Fort Smith Composite Squadron Commander.
October 20, 2022
Meet Maj. Janice Podgurski, Arkansas Wing Deputy Director of Aerospace Education and Fort Smith Composite Squadron Commander. She joined CAP in 2018 after family members had joined. Since her CAP beginnings, she has been interested in aerospace education, and she is a multiple-time award winner for her aerospace contributions. She is a retired high school math teacher with years of experience in a number of fields, including finance, bookkeeping and accounting prior to teaching. Maj. Podgurski hopes her story shows others that the path to volunteering in aerospace education is there for those who may have limited aerospace experience but who feel called to help in AE. She's always known she wanted to teach. "In AE with CAP, I get to teach cadets, and I get to teach teachers (through our many workshops), and the AEM outreach," she says. "I also get to interact with the community, schools, and other youth organizations here in Fort Smith." Now that she is retired from teaching, she is going back to earn her Bachelor's in Math along with a very busy CAP schedule. She's had a number of memorable experiences in CAP so far, but some stand out. "Every time I see a light bulb blink on above a child's head, that is all the reward I need," she says. We asked her some questions about her career and her Civil Air Patrol journey. Her answers follow.
What are your current duty positions?
I serve as Fort Smith Composite Squadron Commander, Arkansas Wing Deputy Director of Aerospace Education, and Arkansas Wing Diversity Officer.
How did you get involved in Civil Air Patrol?
When my son turned 12, my husband and he joined CAP. They were having so much fun that my daughter joined a year later. And though I enjoyed my alone, quiet time, I became intrigued with the AE mission of CAP. After doing some research, I decided that CAP is where my desire to teach would be most beneficial.
How many years have you been in the Civil Air Patrol? Tell us about your CAP career path that led to your current role.
I joined CAP in January 2018 -- so right around 4.5 years. I knew immediately that I wanted to be the AEO. I was named AEO as well as Finance Officer. It was my pushing Maj. Garrick St. Pierre (Arkansas Wing Director of AE), especially in the area of Aerospace Education Members (AEMs), that led him to ask me to be a part of his team at Wing. In November 2020, in the midst of COVID-19, I was asked by the Arkansas Wing Commander, Col. Robert M. Allison III, to become the Commander of the Fort Smith Composite Squadron.
Is there anything else about your aerospace education background that you'd like to include (education/awards/etc.) within and outside of CAP?
My aerospace education background is actually limited. I have a Non-Traditional License to teach High School Math, but other than that, no background. I hope this will inspire others to step into this area if they feel called to do so.
Awards and achievements:
Achieved my Level 5 Executive Leadership Phase in March 2021
Completed the Yeager Award in March 2018
Received the Maj Gen Jeanne M. Holm Aerospace Education Officer of the Year award for Arkansas in 2019 and 2021, and at region for 2019
Received the Frank G. Brewer Award for AEO in Arkansas, 2019, 2020 and 2021
Tell us about your career outside of Civil Air Patrol. How long have you been in this field and why did you choose it?
I graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a Bachelor's of Business Administration, majoring in marketing and management. Shortly before graduation, I decided that math was really my desire, but finished, with a plan to return some day. My careers have varied over the past 30 years -- accounting, bookkeeping, finance, insurance, auditing, office management, HR and payroll. But never quite feeling fulfilled, I left all that behind. I enrolled in the Non-Traditional Licensure program here in Arkansas and set out to teach math at the high school level. I taught math for 7 years, at three different schools. My husband, who moved to Arkansas for me, got a full-time recruiting position for the Arkansas National Guard, and I had my choice of locations: Conway, Little Rock, and Fort Smith. For numerous reasons, I chose Fort Smith. When we got here, my husband, MSgt. Gary Podgurski, said, "just retire"... so I did. Now, I don't have a lot of time on my hands due to my CAP hats, but I am going back to school for that Bachelor's in Math.
Within CAP, why do you work in the Aerospace Education mission area? Why do you encourage youth in the Aerospace Education area?
I have always felt that I was supposed to teach -- just never knew what, where, or who. In AE with CAP, I get to teach cadets, and I get to teach teachers (through our many workshops), and the AEM outreach. I also get to interact with the community, schools, and other youth organizations here in Fort Smith. In Arkansas, there are not a lot of opportunities for kids in the smaller, low economic areas. Getting to watch those in my purview
Maj. Podgurski enjoyed the 2022 National AEO School, held on the Space Coast.
grow into mature, responsible, contributing members of society is what it's all about for me.
What is the best CAP experience you have had since joining the organization?
I really can't say there is a best, but top of the list was the National AEO School this past summer in Cocoa Beach [Florida]. Getting to meet all the people in the AE department that I've been working with for years, getting to meet several of the AEOs from across the country that I've seen in passing Zoom meetings, visiting all the great sights, experiences, and people in Florida at Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center. AND getting to speak in front of everyone (I hate doing that) made me feel like what I am doing is the right thing, and where I'm doing it is the right place.
Tell us about any other Civil Air Patrol aerospace education programs you use internally and externally.
We incorporate TOP flights into all of our workshops, getting teachers in the air is such a good feeling. We complete the AEX every single year. Squadrons are doing this work anyway; they should submit and get credit for it. I incorporate STEM kits in all of my workshops. I take a few that easily invite hands-on participation (such as Robotics, Build and Learn Geometry Blocks and AngLegs) with me when I present at booths and conferences. Giving hands-on demonstrations of the STEM kits is super advertising and a big draw for cadets and teachers alike.
What is the best advice you have for a new AE Officer working with cadets?
Start with something that you are interested in, something that you want to learn, and then have fun. If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Don't be afraid to ask ... your Commander can't say yes if you don't give her a chance. Yes, you can take those kids on field trips. Yes, you can have guest speakers. Yes, YOU CAN. Utilize your cadets; take them when you go to classrooms, or conferences. Let them pick the STEM kit they are interested in. Let them lead it -- they are there to learn to be leaders. Let them in that controlled environment where mistakes are OK. Ask for help, and don't limit that to your Wing. There are so many outstanding sites from other Wing AEOs that you can "steal" from, (yes, I said "steal.) We post stuff online to help you, use it!
Do you have any suggestions for how to conduct outreach in schools (working with students and recruiting AEMs)?
This one is tough. Getting into schools is difficult. Be persistent. Reach out to the AEMs you already have and offer to come do an activity with/for them. There is an AEM listings report in eServices that you can run for your Wing, (download it in CSV). You can sort it by zip code and focus on those in your area. KEEP asking. I have found that if I send a quarterly update email out to the AEMs of all the things I've found of interest that are coming up, they start looking for that email and reach out to me.
Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience working with cadets and/or students or teachers:
Major St. Pierre tells people that I am his right arm. This is very rewarding when others tell me that he's said this to them. My Charleston teachers, Sabrina Ketter and Missy Stubblefield, keep inviting us back. Another rewarding experience is getting invites from my former cadets when they graduate college, or the Academy. Every time I see a light bulb blink on above a child's head, that is all the reward I need.
Is there anything else that we didn’t ask that you’d like to add for this spotlight on an AE Officer? We want to tell your story.
In my opinion, there is no job better in CAP than the AEO. As an AEO we touch so many more people in our community than any other position. Don't be afraid to keep trying. It's worth it.
Maj. Podgurski enjoys working with AEMs at workshops and in schools.