In her own words: Navy pilot turned accounting professor talks aviation, teaching

by | May 17, 2016

Before she joined the accounting faculty at UMSL, Michele Meckfessel was a commander in the U.S. Navy, which frequently deployed her for counter drug operations.

Michele Meckfessel, who joined the University of Missouri–St. Louis Department of Accounting as an assistant professor last year, never saw herself in a classroom. She wanted to fly, and that love for the air led her to the Aviation Officers Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla. She joined the Navy and began flying Caribbean missions to recover smuggled drugs.

Michele Meckfessel

Michele Meckfessel is an assistant professor in the Department of Accounting. (Photo by August Jennewein)

How did you first become interested in aviation?
As a kid I designed, built and flew model airplanes. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated with airplanes and flying. I was working on a small wooden model plane in my dorm room one day, and I realized that what I really wanted to do was fly. I called the Navy recruiter in St. Louis. They invited me to take the aptitude tests. I graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington and entered the 17-week aviation school.

Tell me about your career in the Navy.
I was a naval aviator and flew the SH-60B helicopter, working my way up to the rank of commander. Over the course of my career, I served in a variety of roles as an active-duty and reserve service member. My most frequent deployments were for counter drug operations, and I personally recovered over 910 kilos of raw, uncut cocaine.

How do you go from Navy pilot to accounting professor?
I was always interested in math and wanted to learn more about our family’s tax issues, so I decided I would take some tax classes. I earned my master’s degree in accounting, accepted a position at McGladrey & Pullen, LLP, and later with Grant Thornton. Although I enjoyed my tax work very much, I was traveling extensively for both Grant Thornton and the Navy. All of the travel did not give me much opportunity to spend time with my family. In 2007, I began working on my doctoral degree in accounting, knowing I wanted to teach.

How has your Navy training shaped your teaching?
Naturally, flight instructors are not always patient or polite. It was not uncommon for flight instructors to yell and sometimes throw things when you were making a mistake or not thinking quickly enough. In order to be an aircraft commander, you have to pass a board test, the culmination of a tremendous amount of training, written exams, check flights and simulators in a tactical aircraft. The oral exam is several hours in which the other aircraft commanders in the squadron ask the candidate questions about the helicopter systems, emergency procedures, ship systems, tactics and multi-layered situation “what if” scenarios. The Navy has taught me to think on my feet and realize what is a crisis and what is not. System failures in a helicopter while flying can be a crisis. Technology issues in the classroom while teaching are not a crisis.

This story was originally published in the spring 2016 issue of
UMSL Magazine.

The UMSL Experience

Jen Hatton

Jen Hatton