Captain Roberto H. Torres (’96) is among the early students to matriculate in the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s aviation program, which is the only four-year bachelor degree program in the State of Maryland since its start over 30 years ago. Earning his degree in airway science, his success was nurtured at UMES by educators including the late Dr. Abraham Spinak, Professor (Captain) Bill Solms, and the late Dr. Brenda Anderson Wade (formerly of UMES Honors Program). He earned a master of science in aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (2009) and a master of science in defense & security from the Inter-American Defense College (2018).
“Dr. Abe Spinak’s vision for this Aviation Sciences Program at UMES really embodies the biggest influence for my change in major (and really, in career). Along with Professor (Captain) Bill Solms, they both opened up a world to me that I just had to be in. Director of the Honors Program, Dr. Brenda Anderson, also played a key role on encouraging me to pursue my changing dreams. Although not a military man himself, I must say that my father always did mention the U.S. Coast Guard; of course, I never listened until years later, when it was my idea. In the end, I suppose I just followed what I wanted to do, and not what others wanted me to do.”
His professional goal was “to join the military, serve as an officer, and become a pilot—in that order” despite arriving at UMES as pre-dentistry major and not being able to afford flight training, but being intrigued by the possibilities of a career in aviation.
Captain Torres retired from the U.S. Coast Guard this past summer after completing military service spanning over three decades. Torres’ career was filled with a vast array of experiences and roles including serving as the Executive Director of The Interdiction Committee (TIC*), Executive Assistant to the Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, Special Correspondent at the Military Personnel Command, and flying first response missions to Hurricane Katrina. A Flight Examiner and Instructor Pilot in the MH-65C “Dolphin”, Captain Torres amassed over 4,000 hours also flying the MH-60J “Jayhawk” and the HC-144A “Ocean Sentry.”
He joined the U.S. Army Reserve, and started pursuing the Reserve Officer Training Corps at then Salisbury State University. He connected with a U.S. Coast Guard recruiter at an UMES career fair and “the rest is history.”
“The first 3.5 years of my 30-year military career took place as a student at UMES, so my experiences there were absolutely formative. As a Latino kid (first-generation Colombian-American), I was certainly a minority on campus and learned to live alongside diverse students from many places around the country and around the world (e.g., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Bermuda, Liberia, Ethiopia, etc.),” Torres said.
“During my time there (at UMES), I made lifelong friends through hanging out in The Efficiencies, playing on the Hawk Soccer Team (Division One!), and attending my mandatory military training throughout the year, including all summers. To this day, I am extremely proud to have graduated from UMES, a minority-serving institution, and to have been exposed such wide-ranging experiences, traditions, and backgrounds.”
The retired military serviceman credits UMES with creating a sense of “belonging” from the onset of his time at the university and its diverse environment.
“From the onset, I felt a real sense of belonging within the small but mighty Aviation Sciences cohort, as well as the Honors Program students. This was crucial in establishing early in my time at UMES, that belonging to these groups made it easier to stay focused on longer-term goals. Second, I appreciated learning from my roommates and friends what their own upbringing and life was like back home. I came from an open-minded family, but the diversity I experienced first-hand at UMES, has stayed with me forever,” he said. “Finally, this university taught me something that I now tell my own children: there is easy and hard and wrong and right . . . we will always do hard and right!”
The retired pilot gave the following advice to those interested in a career in aviation:
“A career in aviation is absolutely worth pursuing! There are boundless opportunities for advanced training, highly-technical skillsets, postgraduate education, challenging situations, and unique travel. As a student at UMES back in the late 1990s, I never would have imagined later attending flight school, becoming an accident investigator, earning two Master’s, being a first-responder to Hurricane Katrina (saving hundreds of lives from peril), and traveling all over the globe (to include Russia – twice!).”
“While there are many facets to the aviation industry—commercial, corporate, charter, contract, fractional, private, military—there is one constant: a need for diversity and increased representation from minorities. By all calculations, this is a rapidly growing industry that absolutely needs talented graduates from outstanding universities such as UMES,” Torres said.
Captain Torres resides in Md. with his wife Jenni, and their three children.
* The 29 departments, agencies, offices, and components comprising TIC serve to support the Office of National Drug Control Policy by developing, discussing, and resolving issues related to the coordination, oversight, and integration of drug interdiction and counter-network efforts beyond, at, and within the borders of the United States.
The month of November is recognized as Aviation History Month. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore has its place in aviation history as the home of the only aviation science bachelor degree program in the State of Maryland, which has been preparing professionals in the industry for over three decades.
By Tahja Cropper