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TJSL Student / Navy Pilot Jen McCollough Pursues Her Dreams

November 16, 2011

Jennifer McCollough

By Elisabeth Donovan 3L

Third-year student Jennifer McCollough always knew that she wanted to fly.

As a young girl, McCollough often attended air shows with her dad, who is a recreational pilot.  However, she always thought her dream of having a career as a pilot was out of reach because, at the time, there weren’t many female pilots. Now, after becoming a Naval Aviator and attending law school, McCollough knows she can pursue any dream.

McCollough is successfully balancing being a Lieutenant in the Navy with the rigors of being a part-time law student. Recently, McCollough was selected from over 50 people to receive a scholarship to attend the American Bar Association’s Forum on Air & Space Law 2011 Annual Meeting, where she received an all-expense paid trip to the organization’s conference that was held on September 22-23, 2011 at the Marriott Chateau Champlain Hotel in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

McGill University’s Institute of Air Space and Law, which is known for its world-class air and space law curriculum, co-hosted the conference. The event featured ten panels in a variety of air law matters, including international aviation rights, global competition law developments, consumer rights, government enforcement trends, and security related issues.

“The networking opportunities were really great,” McCollough said. “The first night I sat at dinner between the general counsel of Jet Blue Airlines and GE Capital Enterprises, and across from several partners at prominent law firms.”

Keynote speakers included: The Honorable Robert Rivkin, General Counsel, U.S. Department of Transportation; Calvin Rovinescu, Chief Executive Officer, Air Canada, Montreal, Canada; James Cherry, President and CEO, Aerports de Montreal; and The Honorable Mr. Ian Binnie, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. McCollough, who has been in the skies for over 10 years now, began taking flying lessons her junior year of high school while applying to the Naval Academy. While attending the Naval Academy, she took lessons when time permitted and was awarded a pilot slot as her service selection upon graduation. She reported to Pensacola, Florida for flight training, an area known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.”

“I started with fixed wing aircraft (a T-34 which is a turbo prop) and eventually moved to helicopters, getting winged in 2003,” she said. McCollough has successfully completed three deployments and helped rescue civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She was in various locations on the Gulf Coast for a month, and also assisted in helping out when Hurricane Rita hit.

“When I went to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, I was 26 and a fairly new aircraft commander,” she said. “That was an experience. When we left San Diego, we weren’t completely sure where we would sleep or get fuel.”

McCollough is concurrently working in the Navy as a legal officer, where she obtains first-hand experience conducting criminal investigations and proceedings. She has seen everything from drug rings, child molestation, insurance fraud and trafficking of persons across the border.

“An Administrative Separation Board is like a mini court martial, except that the rules of evidence don’t apply,” she said. “A legal officer acts as the prosecution, handling everything from the investigation, preparing the record, conducting voir dire, questioning and cross examining witnesses, and making opening and closing statements.”

“As a legal officer, I handle everything from criminal matters to aviation accident investigations. Unfortunately, I’ve been intimately involved with several accidents where people were killed and planes destroyed, both from the legal side and as one of the Casualty Assistance Calls Officers that helped the families.”

This involvement hit McCollough close to home. During her first semester of law school, she received devastating news in between classes that her friend had died while on duty. She then not only took responsibility to notify her friend’s wife and 5-year-old child of his death, but also took care of family the rest of the semester.

“I had to deliver the news to his wife and son, because I didn’t want the media to do it first,” she said. “I was so upset I nearly dropped out. Thankfully, the staff and faculty here at TJSL worked with me. (Student Services Director) Lisa Ferreira helped me through the rest of the semester.”

Despite the emotional turmoil, McCullough still made the honor roll.

McCollough is unsure as to what type of law she’d like to pursue, but one thing is for sure: her experience as a Navy pilot has given her the character and strength to become a great advocate.

“I’ll never regret the experiences that I’ve had as a naval aviator, deploying in support of our country and conducting rescues in the aftermath of Katrina,” McCollough said. “I’m looking forward to whatever my future in law may hold. I’ll probably always want to be in the sky, whether it’s rescuing people, teaching students to fly or flying friends and family on a ski trip!”

You’d think her naval duties and law classes would keep McCollough busy enough, but she still manages to find time to serve as Fundraising Chair of the TJSL Student Bar Association, Treasurer of the newly formed Student Veterans Association and Secretary of the Outdoors Club.