Soaring Through the ASK Program
Marissa May

In September of 2019, the Southridge School Alumni Association announced the beginning of a unique mentorship program. Since then, our Grade 10 and 11 students have been eager to learn from our vast network of Southridge alumni through the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Program.

The ASK Program enables alumni to share their professional and personal experiences with current students, which helps them as they prepare for the future. Grades 10 and 11 are formative exploratory career years for our students, and our alumni mentors have been playing a pivotal role in guiding them. Since its inception, the program has flourished, and has proven to be beneficial for all, but for one pair, it was life changing. Liam Kobylanski (Class of 2022) recalls the beginning of his journey through the ASK Program, with mentor Spencer Thomas (Class of 2015).

“When I was initially paired with Spencer, I completed the interviews and assignments just like everyone else, but it was never enough,” explains Liam. At the time of their initial pairing, Spencer was an instructor pilot for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University located in Prescott, Arizona. For Liam, who was interested in becoming a professional pilot, he says “it was a perfect situation where Spencer was a few steps ahead of me and could guide me along my journey.” Liam was eager for more answers and remembers “sending Spencer questions nonstop,” and is thankful for Spencer “never losing his mind over the thousand questions [he] asked him.”

Spencer looks back on the first year of their mentor/mentee relationship fondly. “We discussed various topics about aviation, university, high school, work, and life.” After the first year, the pair kept in close contact with one another. “We often chatted about Liam’s progression from where he was in high school and his desire to one day be where I was as a flight instructor, and soon to be airline pilot,” recalls Spencer.

“During my Grade 11 year, Spencer told me to go for it, and take the risk,” says Liam. With that encouragement from Spencer, along with the experiences and mistakes he shared with him, it led Liam to what he describes as the best decision he’s ever made – starting his Private Pilot’s License training. As Liam began pursuing his private pilot’s license, he was also working diligently at school. “Simultaneously learning to fly an airplane and being a student of Southridge is no easy feat,” Spencer acknowledged; This was also something Spencer had accomplished when he was in his Grade 11 year. “I was happy to mentor him through this journey and carefully guide him around the potholes I found myself in when I was in his shoes,” recalls Spencer.

At the end of Liam’s time at Southridge, he was quick to decide who he would like to invite to his commencement ceremony – his mentor Spencer was at the top of the list. Having the person who guided him through the ups and downs of his latter Senior School years, both in his aviation pursual and in life was important to Liam. Spencer flew in all the way from Arizona to pridefully watch the milestone of Liam crossing the stage at his commencement ceremony.

The two men are now both moving forward in their careers with great acceleration. Since meeting Liam, Spencer has acquired nearly 1,000 hours of flight time, training the next generation of commercial pilots at one of the world’s leading aviation programs. He has also flown for a major airline in the United States, and is now flying premier heavy private jets all around the world. Liam is currently attending Mount Royal University in Calgary. “I would not be sitting in my dorm at MRU Aviation typing this message if it weren’t for Spencer,” Liam states in his reflection of his experience with the ASK Program.

The pair's initial bond as mentor and mentee has evolved into a strong friendship today. The two speak highly of one another. In a touching note from Liam, he says, “This program changed the course of my life. I don't even want to think about where I would be without Spencer’s guidance. I am forever grateful for this opportunity.” Spencer says that from what he experienced and what he knows of Liam, “he will go on to be an exemplary professional pilot.” Spencer continues to sing Liam’s praises, saying that, “Liam has an amazing career ahead of him that will allow him to circumnavigate across the globe many times over. Liam is a great character who is intelligent, quick thinking, and very motivated. Liam is the type of pilot every captain wishes they had in the right seat next to them, and he will one day be what every first officer wishes to be, a great captain. I hope one day Liam and I can share a flight deck, and cruise through the flight-levels together as professionals.”

Both Spencer and Liam have shared how valuable they believe the ASK Program is for both the alumni and the students of Southridge. It keeps the alumni connected to the school in a meaningful way and as Spencer describes, “at the very least this program takes some stress off of the Southridge students and guides them in the right direction.” Spencer also adds that, “teaching the Southridge mentees how to properly network will be very useful to them throughout life, especially in their new fast approaching endeavors into their university careers. Having credible and reliable professional relationships you can call on will pay our mentees dividends in future life chapters.”

Some words of advice from Spencer for current and future mentors: “Be passionate about the guidance you are giving your mentee and make them feel supported in any way you can. Pay this experience you have as a mentor forward. Inspire and motivate your mentee. Challenge them to lead by example, take the occasional risk, and think 'outside the tube' as us pilots say.”

Spencer’s hope is that the ASK Program comes full circle, and that in the future “our mentees will be in our shoes, inspiring, motivating, challenging, and leading the next generation of Southridge students to success.” Coincidentally, in Liam’s final note, he says “I think one day, I will be a mentor like Spencer.”

Contributed by Marissa May, Alumni Relations
Originally published in Spirit Magazine - Fall 2022