Beyond the Classroom: Up in the Air with Mechanical Engineering Major and Pilot Jay Petersen

Jay posing next to a small private plane.

Today, we speak to Jay Petersen, a sophomore Mechanical Engineering major from Edison, NJ (Middlesex County). Jay is an on-campus resident and a fourth-generation college student! Jay tells us more about himself, his major and when he’s not in the classroom, his passion for flying.

How did you find Rowan?

My parents had me work with college counselors my Junior year of high school and they really encouraged me to focus on a school that matches my personality and interests. I had the chance to attend Purdue but being born and raised in NJ, I’m very rooted here. Rowan also felt more like home. The campus wasn’t overwhelming, the staff was incredibly nice and welcoming.  It was an experience that made me feel very comfortable. I didn’t experience that same attention and sincereness from the other big schools.  At Rowan I’m not just a number but I’m a member of a community — especially with the honors program I’m in!

Why did you choose your major?

Ever since I was young I knew I wanted to be an engineer like my dad. It’s all I’ve been around my whole life and his work motivated me to explore this option further. I contemplated a focus in medicine but in the end, engineering just aligned more to my interests.

How did you come to find your interest in flying? Did anyone push you in the right direction?

It all really started with a test flight that my parents gifted me for my 17th birthday but aeronautics has always fascinated me. Whether it’s figuring out how they put a plane together or actually getting it in the air, the whole process is intriguing. Who knows, I may end up using my degree to get into that field long term, but flying just seemed like a natural skill to obtain. Something about knowing you’re in control of this machine and figuring out how to get yourself off the ground is amazing. 

Mechanical engineering major Jay flying a plane over New York City.

Do you fly over campus often?

Yes, I try to fly by about once a month. I also try to do as many cross-country flights as possible. That’s when you fly from one airport to another that is at least 75 miles away. This gives me practice in my communications with air traffic control for neighboring commercial airports.  The further you can fly in one trip, the more confident you feel.

A picture of Rowan's campus taken from Jay's plane.
Jay captured this aerial view of Rowan’s Glassboro campus.

What’s the best part about becoming a pilot?

It’s a sense of accomplishment and the freedom to go wherever I want without the Jersey traffic! Knowing I can achieve this and pass a six-hour FAA exam makes me feel like I can do much more in life. Sky’s the limit! (pun intended).

Any advice to students or those looking into getting a private pilot license or learning to fly?

Find the right school. Having an instructor that is committed to you and your goal is very important. Also make sure you are going to be able to invest the time and money. I was very fortunate to have my parents support me financially and mentally so that really did help me get through it. It’s not easy to balance this goal with school so try to do it in your summer months.

Like what you see?


Story by:
Bianca Torres, senior music industry major

Photos provided by:
Jay Petersen, sophomore mechanical engineering major