Graduates of Richard Sylvester’s aviation technology program at the Burlington Technical Center work around the world, in places such as Singapore, Japan, Alaska, and Hawaii. Sylvester, who has run the program for the last 27 years, retires this spring. His impact on the Burlington Technical Center and his graduates will remain.
Justin McAuliffe, a current aviation student, has thoroughly enjoyed his past two years with Sylvester.
“I would say one of the great things about Mr. S is that for almost any situation or anything that we talk about, he has a story from his experience,” McAuliffe said. “It’s really great because you get stories from working in the field, not just reading out of the textbook.”
McAuliffe is right: Sylvester has had plenty of life experience. He served in the U.S. Army and was an active duty advisor to the National Guard in Burlington for 10 years.
Sylvester knows how important tasks in aviation are, and he requires students to take their work very seriously.
“Totally, through the entire program, which includes the high school program and the airport program, we teach 44 different job skill sets. It’s really tremendous. Here at the high school we teach 22 out of those 44,” Sylvester said.
Unlike other tech center courses, Sylvester’s classes are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Students need a minimum of 85% to pass the class.
“84% and you fail,” he said. “We have to remember we have people’s lives on the line.”
Sylvester is an avid motorcyclist and fisherman. Retirement will not slow him down.
“I own my own company. It’s called Rick’s Aviation Services. I plan on working on aircraft when I want to and performing maintenance on aircraft. That’d be the biggest thing that I want to do. Of course, I also want to be able to spend time with my ten grandchildren,” Sylvester said.
McAuliffe also has plans for his future.
“I plan on going to the third year of the program, and during that I’m going to apply to two colleges, either Penn State or Embry-Riddle (Aeronautical University) and hopefully through one of those programs I’ll get a degree in aerospace engineering and I’ll be able to just work on aircraft, or design them,” McAuliffe said.
Dylan Hilaire, also in his second year in the aviation program, plans to pursue a career in aviation as well.
“I plan to go out to the airport next year, finishing my program out there, graduating, and then I’d like to stay in the aviation field. I could be a pilot, mechanic or I could go military,” St. Hilaire said.
Both students agree that they would not be where they are today without the help of Sylvester. He worked with NASA to get grants to provide $12,500 scholarships, which cover the entire tuition for the third year of the program.
St. Hilaire will be sad to see Sylvester go, but is very thankful for all he’s learned from him.
“He really has done a great job at training us and making us become who we are now as students, and as learners.” he said.
Bob Church, the BTC automotive teacher and long time colleague of Mr. Sylvester, acknowledges the wonderful effect Sylvester has had on the aviation program.
“At that time when he was hired 27 years ago, the program was really in quite the disarray. He spearheaded the changes, developed the program, and added a post secondary program.” Church said. “So there may be other programs in the country, there’s only one in Vermont, and the other programs in the country, I might be biased because I’ve known Rick a long time, but nothing compares to what we’re producing here in the BTC’s aviation program.”
Church has enjoyed his time working with Sylvester.
“Rick’s a colleague that has given 250% to his program, to his kids, to make the world a better place. I don’t know what else to say about Rick Sylvester. He’s a one of a kind and he’s gonna be one tough person to replace.”
Jason Cooper is a graduate of the aviation program and will be taking over for Sylvester.
“I think one of the big benefits of working with Rick is his passion,” he said. “He has unbelievable passion for aviation and education, it gets people excited and it gets me excited and I love that.”
In an email to The Register, BHS principal and former BTC director Tracy Racicot wrote about her admiration of Sylvester’s work.
“He is passionate and knowledgeable about the industry. He built not only the program on the BHS/BTC campus, but an entire innovative program housed at Burlington Airport,” Racicot wrote. “He has brought scholarships in for adults to study in the field and developed an adult education program.”
Sylvester will be greatly missed, and his work will forever be appreciated, she said.
“We will miss seeing him arrive on campus on his motorcycle while bringing along his wonderful sense of humor and meaningful experience and stories from a lifetime of work,” Racicot said.