Wichita State students benefit from applied learning at Help Hangar

  • Help Hangar started in 2017 to assist Textron Aviation employees with IT-related issues.
  • Around 60 Wichita State students work at Help Hangar, a prime example of how hands-on learning opportunities help students and industry.
  • Textron Aviation benefits from IT help and cost savings and is considering using this student model in other areas.

Textron Aviation’s Help Hangar is where more than 60 Wichita State students work side by side with Textron employees to solve their information technology problems.

“Getting my foot in the door at Textron Aviation via the Help Hangar allowed me to get face time with potential employers and showcase myself and my abilities which led to an internship and direct full time hire at Textron Aviation as an IT Developer,” said Seth Layton, a Wichita State computer engineering major. “This avenue would not have presented itself had I not had the opportunities given to me by working for Ennovar at the Help Hangar.”

Textron Aviation is continually exploring ways to enhance interactions with employees who need IT help. The Help Hangar was introduced in 2017 as a service to assist employees with a variety of IT-related issues. Instead of explaining solutions over the phone, an on-site Help Hangar representative meets with employees directly to diagnose and solve issues on the spot, or refer them to the correct support team for resolution.

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Wichita State students staff the Help Hangar at Textron Aviation to assist employees with a variety of IT-related issues.

“We’re there to be a smiling face who helps (employees) through a rough situation,” said Trevor Rietcheck, a Wichita State computer science major and a member of Textron Aviation’s Information Technology Leadership Development Program.

Wichita State students benefit from the applied learning experiences and an emphasis on working effectively with customers.

In November, members of Wichita State’s administration and Textron Aviation’s management team met in to discuss Help Hangar’s progress and its future.

Matt Forney, executive director of Wichita State’s Ennovar Technology Solutions, is working with Textron Aviation to expand the model to other areas. More than 60 Wichita State students currently help staff the Help Hangar, pulling from majors such as biology, computer science, marketing, business and cyber-security.

“The model out here is probably one of the best models I’ve seen as far as applied learning,” said Tom Rose, Ennovar senior technical manager.

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Trevor Rietcheck, left, and Seth Layton gained applied learning experience at Textron Aviation.

Layton said he learned technical skills such as SQL, Power BI, VBscript, technical troubleshooting and proprietary systems knowledge. He also picked up soft skills, such as improving business acumen and understanding large corporation hierarchy/nuances. Those skills helped him move to direct employment.

Help Hangar students trouble-shoot, install software, replace parts and set up mobile devices, in addition to other duties. Experienced students train new students.

“We get everybody in here,” Layton said. “Sometimes, we even get people coming in here asking questions that didn’t pertain to IT. Because we are here, they have a face they could go to talk to and we help them. So, it is really just having the ability to physically connect with someone face to face instead of a phone call.”

The Help Hangar’s mission starts with face help for employees who can’t send an email, can’t get a computer to power up, can’t access a shared drive or a network mailbox. Preventative maintenance helps head off problems and keep employees from making return trips to the Help Hangar.

“A lot of those are rinse-and-repeat kind of things where you see them day in and day out,” said Rietcheck. “Our job is to address what they were coming in about, but also fix anything else that we might see. One of the mantras for Textron Aviation is: ‘Make IT easy.’”

The experiences with Ennovar and the Help Hangar fit with Wichita State’s applied learning mission.

“The Help Hangar gave us the opportunity to get hands on with the work environment outside of the classroom,” Reitcheck said. “We got the chance to work on issues that weren’t just hypothetical and required application of different skills that wouldn’t normally be practiced. The most impactful of those was actually the soft skills of face-to-face customer service. It required you to be able to problem solve on the fly while still being personable. These interactions allowed us to network outside of the college and get our names known in the industry.”

Textron Aviation benefits from the IT help, cost savings and building an employee pipeline. “Our customers benefit from a choice of options to fix IT issues,” said Chuck Passannante, vice president and chief information officer at Textron Aviation.

“We measure the effectiveness of the Help Hanger among our customers and consistently receive positive feedback,” said Passannante. “The Help Hangar and our relationship with WSU has caught the attention of other Textron business units as a best practice with respect to the employee experience. I’ve actually experienced the Help Hangar myself – it’s fantastic.”

The Help has locations on Textron Aviation’s east and west Wichita campuses, in addition to mobile units.

“The Help Hangar partnership is a prime example of how Wichita State’s applied learning model benefits students and industry partners,” said John Tomblin, WSU vice president for research and technology transfer. “Students are not only gaining hard skills and knowledge in their area of study, but also confidence, contacts and a grasp on the industry culture. And Textron Aviation is increasing employee productivity and satisfaction. As these students graduate, we hope many gain full time employment, keeping our best talent in Kansas.”