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Alumni Highlight – Alex Plonk – Carl A. Plonk – US Air Force

Wilson College of Textiles exterior view
Alex Plonk - US Air Force
Alex Plonk – US Air Force

Degree earned at NC State University:
Major: Textile Engineering, December 2011
Minor: Information Systems, Military Studies

What is your current job title?
Air Weapons Officer / Air Battle Manager, US Air Force

What are your significant job responsibilities?
Employing and controlling air weapon systems against airborne and surface objects. Plan, organize, and direct operations, including airspace management, direct aircraft conducting air defense and tactical missions, coalition integration, sensor system management, operations management activities, and data link operations.

What experiences did you take from Wilson College of Textiles that you can say helped in your career?
Having a minor in Information Systems has benefited me significantly, being as my career is deeply involved in data link management systems. Being able to understand how the system works and how it can be adapted and employed “on the fly” to effectively accomplish the mission is crucial to mission accomplishment. Having a background in information systems gave me a sound foundation from which to build my knowledge of how these systems work and interact in the grand scheme of air superiority.

Alex Plonk in flight
Alex Plonk in flight

What are some of your fondest memories of being at NC State / Textiles?
Looking back, though it was challenging at the time, most of my memories of Wilson College of Textiles are of spending long hours on campus working on programming projects with my peers. I spent countless hours in the computer labs with Dr. Joines, trying to wrap my head around why computers worked the way they do. Learning and understanding how systems communicate with each other is such an important part of the continuously- evolving world we live in, and having professors who were willing to take time out of their busy days to work with us was a blessing in disguise. I’m very fond of the College staff for that.

Do you have any funny / interesting anecdotes about your time in our department that you’d like to share?
It’s always a great conversation when my coworkers ask me what my degree is in. I say “Textile Engineering” and it usually gets a chuckle. Most people don’t understand how important TE is to the world we live in. Everything we come in contact with has been engineered for a specific purpose. From the uniform I wear to the jet I fly in, each piece of material was designed to serve a specific purpose. Wilson College of Textiles grads truly are a rare breed- rare but extremely necessary.

I often think about my senior design project. It was to build a surfboard for handicapped persons. I spent years learning about textile engineering and programming and it always makes me laugh to think about how unique my project was. At first glance it seems so unrelated to my degree. While it has little to do with programming, the engineering process we used to complete the project was such a learning experience and I often use that process in my everyday life and career.

Alex Plonk in uniform near runway
Alex Plonk

Are there things that you know now that you wished you had known as a student and that we can share with our current and future students?
I spent a lot of time in college wondering what the hell I would use a degree in TE for in the military. It wasn’t until well after I graduated that I realized the answer… Everything! What don’t I use my degree for? The flight suit is made of Nomex, a spun aramid, and was developed to protect against extreme heat and fire. However it is a thin, lightweight material. I understand how it is made and how it works because of my TE degree. The material used to make these aircraft lightweight yet durable and hardy is something I can discuss and understand. Why are there small cracks in the windows of an aircraft? It’s called crazing and thanks to Dr. Gorga I understand these things!

I can apply my degree to so many aspects of my job- something I never expected when I graduated from the Wilson College of Textiles.

Do you have any recommendations for students on how to prepare for a career in the armed services?
You can learn the material and pass the classes, but for me it wasn’t until after graduation and entering the Air Force that I realized how important my degree is. That’s when it all really started to make sense. Earn your degree and realize that it is only the beginning of your education. The real learning comes when you leave NC State, whether you are in the military or not, you can solve problems that no one else understands.

For those about to enter the military, you have an amazing opportunity to make a difference; to save lives and defend your country. The military is a great opportunity to apply your education and continue learning. It’s a fast paced lifestyle that forces us to apply our education and become problem-solvers. Few people have a background in textile and material sciences; therefore we have a huge responsibility to make an impact with the way the military uses us.

U.S. Air Force aircraft
U.S. Air Force aircraft
U.S. Air Force aircraft taking off
U.S. Air Force aircraft taking off