Matt Fronzak, Weather Portfolio Advisor and Principal Aviation Systems Engineer, The MITRE Corporation

Matt Fronzak, Weather Portfolio Advisor and Principal Aviation Systems Engineer, The MITRE Corporation


Please include details about your educational background and what sparked your interest in atmospheric or related sciences.

Unlike most meteorologists I know, I became one "by accident." I was an oceanography major at the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1976, and took my first met class as a sophomore there. I voluntarily separated from USNA in July 1974. After securing a job in Cabin Service (airplane provisioning and cleaning) with Delta Air Lines in Boston in late October 1974, I quickly figured out that I needed to get back to school ASAP! I attended summer school at Lowell Tech (now U. Mass. - Lowell) in 1975 and applied to become a full time student shortly after. I had to figure out which program to choose, since I'd be starting out as a junior. I was pretty sure I wasn't a liberal arts person, so STEM it was. I liked math, but saw no job possibilities. Physics, chemistry, and engineering - too hard. Biology - too messy. I know - I'll be a meteorology major! I've already had a class and it wasn't too bad. Not too much writing (wrong), not too hard (really wrong), not too messy (OK). It was the perfect (so I thought) choice! Dr. Curtis, the department head, tried his doggonedest to talk me out of it, but I was convinced that meteorology was the perfect major for a guy who planned to work full time and go to school full time. As it turned out, this was but the first of many, many bad forecasts that I would make in my career!

What was your first job in the field and how did you end up in the job you are in now?

After working full time and going to school full time for three years, I graduated from the U. of Lowell (its then-new name) in June 1978. Luckily for me, Delta had an opening in its Weather Analysis department the next month! I applied for and was awarded the position in late June, and started working as a Weather Analyst for Delta Air Lines in July 1978. In fact, I'm the only meteorologist ever to be hired from within company ranks at Delta! After five years, I transitioned to the role of Flight Superintendent (aircraft dispatcher), and five years later was offered a job in management in Delta Flight Control. For the next 20 years, I held a variety of management and line (non-management) positions in Delta Flight Control. In 2005, knowing that I was almost certainly going to transition to some other role at some other company, I went back to school and received my Masters in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in early 2008. After nearly 34 years at Delta, I retired in August 2008 at the very young age of 53, took a job with Rockwell Collins, an avionics manufacturer in Cedar Rapids, IA, in October 2008. I then landed another job the following spring in a much warmer location with The MITRE Corporation, a non-profit Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) in McLean, VA, which is where I happily apply my airline weather, dispatch, and technical expertise to this day.

What opportunities did you pursue that you knew would be beneficial to securing a job in the profession?

I was already working for a company that employed meteorologists and believed strongly in promoting from within, even if there had never been a meteorologist hired from within before. So, I felt pretty good about my chances. Based on what I've learned over the years, if I hadn't been already working for Delta, I probably would have tried to intern multiple times at multiple locations for multiple companies, to improve my chances of being noticed. I would have also participated in AMS Annual Meetings and tried to get on the ARAM STAC Committee as a student member.

What other courses/skills beyond the required math and science courses do you think would be the most helpful to individuals wanting a career in your profession?

Let me rephrase the question slightly: what courses do I wish I had taken more of in college and/or what area(s) do I wish I was currently more proficient in than I am?

With the benefit of lots (45+ years) of hindsight, I wish that I were more proficient in computer programming/computer sciences than I am, and I can tell you that being a degreed meteorologist and competent developer is a dynamite combination. Given how our field is coming to grips with the probabilistic nature of all forecasts, I wish I were better versed in statistics than I am. Finally, two other, almost diametrically opposite, skill set areas that I wish I had taken more classes in college to support me as an operational meteorologist are writing/communications and human factors, especially in the context of helping me successfully convey an important weather forecast to my customers.

What is your typical day on the job like?

I think, I read, I write, and I meet.

Seriously, in my current position at MITRE, I am considered a subject matter expert (SME) on Weather, Airline Operations, Aircraft Dispatch, and Aviation Systems. I am currently the project lead (PL) on an effort called Terminal Wind Translation - Auto Optimization, am heavily involved in another called Trajectory-Based Operations (TBO) User Engagement, and am the task lead (TL) on a project called Pilot Reports (PIREPs) and the Weather Community of Interest (Wx COI). I am the chairman of the AMS Aviation, Range and Aerospace Meteorology (ARAM) Committee and the co-chair of the Friends and Partners in Aviation Weather (FPAW) group. Other than that, I don't have much to do.

Given these projects and efforts, I do a lot of meeting, a lot of writing and reading, and a whole bunch of thinking. The beauty is that I enjoy doing all of the above, and I get paid to do it! Win!

What do you like most about your job? What is the most challenging thing about your job?

I like that I get to use 34 years of practical experience to inform the work I'm doing. Although I miss some of the aspects of the operational jobs I held previously, I do enjoy getting paid to read, write, think, and apply my previously acquired knowledge to important problems.

I like working for a non-profit FFRDC, and knowing that profit is not the primary motivation behind our decision-making.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of my current job is that good ideas frequently occur before their time, and it is often very difficult to turn them into good processes or systems.

Does your job allow for a good work/life balance? If not, why?

I have been a teleworker for 10 years. I work from my home office in metro Atlanta, or wherever I happen to be (e.g., in MN with the grand kids). My work/life balance is pretty much whatever I make of it. Although I am supposed to conduct all my work within "business hours," I frequently choose when I work and when I don't. As long as I put in the required amount of work hours over each two-week pay period, I am allowed to do it in a way that fits my life well. Contrast this with my career at Delta. When I held line positions (e.g., weather analyst, flight superintendent, sector manager, ATC coordinator), I worked 8-, 10- and 12-hour shifts on both sides of the clock with rotating days off, but left work behind when I walked out the door. During my management days there, although I ostensibly worked Monday-Friday 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM, it was frequently more like 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM, and work came home with me. Two very different work routines, with each having its pros and cons. You'll find that to be the case whatever you do and wherever you go.

Over the course of your career what is the most exciting thing that has happened to you?

Hmm. Exciting. Well, as a meteorologist and aircraft dispatcher at Delta, I was permitted to ride in the cockpit jumpseat of our flights. That is a very interesting experience.

I was the senior Delta Flight Control manager on duty when the terrorists hit the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001. It certainly was interesting and humbling to watch the dispatchers, pilots and FAA personnel completely shut down the National Airspace System (NAS) in a matter of a few hours. That was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I chaired the International Air Transport Association (IATA) North Atlantic/North American (NAT/NAM) Regional Coordination Group (RCG) and argued (successfully, I might add) for the on time implementation of Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (RVSM) in the North Atlantic. After one particularly intense session, the head of the Shannon (Ireland) Area Control Centre (ACC), the late Miles Murphy, remarked that, while he still wasn't fully convinced that they (the Air Navigation Service Providers) could get everything done and meet the schedule we (the airlines) were pressing for, he did know that, should he ever come over to the U.S. and get arrested, he was going to call me up and ask me to represent him! Since I'm not a lawyer, I appreciated his remarks very much.

Meteorologically, I think being responsible for the Delta Meteorology department from 2000–2005, and chairing both the AMS ARAM Committee and the Friends and Partners in Aviation Weather (FPAW) group, have to be among the more satisfying things that I've done.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?

I wish that I had been more involved in AMS activities much earlier in my career (and I'm not saying this to butter up to the AMS in pursuit of a fourth career). I really didn't get going in AMS until about 10 years ago, after 35 years of my career had passed by, and I've really enjoyed both attending the AMS Annual Meetings, the ARAM Conferences and chairing the ARAM Committee.

I wish I had learned earlier than I did that the only person best equipped to take care of me professionally the way that I believe I should be taken care of is me.

While I still believe that doing the best job one can do is the right way to "get ahead," I wish that I'd learned to be a bit more politically savvy and somewhat more of a "self-marketer" than I am even today.

I wish I had known that the odds of working for one company my entire career were somewhere between slim and none, regardless of what that company said and what I believed.

What are some “must haves’’ on a resume if a person wants to gain employment in your field?

Well, being very competent in a field is quite important. I realize this is a bit of a challenge for someone fresh out of school, and so would encourage everyone to get good at something as soon as practical.

There are lots of folks looking for the type of job I hold. Consequently, it's important to have expertise in multiple areas. At MITRE, you need to be a meteorologist AND a pilot, or a meteorologist AND an aircraft dispatcher, or a meteorologist AND a computer programmer to enter at a reasonable level and have a good chance at succeeding.

Approximately two thirds of MITRE employees hold post graduate degrees. To successfully compete with the types of persons who apply for a job at MITRE, a graduate degree is quite helpful (and although I didn't necessarily have MITRE in mind, that's why I went back to graduate school at age 50).