Written by: 
Erin Cristales
Photography by: 
Michael Clements

One thing you can consistently expect from Ryan Hooks ('16)? He'll defy expectation. After all, Hooks has done exactly that ever since he arrived at UNT as a communication studies major who passed up parties and football games in favor of a full-time job. His first major position as an undergrad was in sales and event planning at Lewisville's Main Event, a role he loved. Considering the company had him on the fast track to management, it seemed like a no-brainer to stay.

But Hooks wanted a challenge.

So he ultimately leveraged that experience into another expectation-smashing move. He left Main Event to become the sales coordinator at the indoor skydiving venue iFLY in Frisco, and then applied to be head of sales before he even earned his degree.

"They kept asking me, 'Who do you see in this position? Who do you want to be your boss?'" Hooks says. "And I thought, 'I want to be the boss.'"

Though he had been with iFLY for less than a year, he decided to play his own version of Let's Make a Deal.

"The only way you're going to figure out if I'm meant for the job is to give me the job," he told the hiring managers. "Give me the chance to prove myself."

He got the position.

"To my knowledge, I was the youngest sales manager to ever be offered the position," Hooks says. "The new level of responsibility was quite an adjustment, but I've been in the role for a year and a half now, so I like to think I'm doing all right."

Not only did he do all right, he exceeded even the company's expectations. In his first year as sales manager, Hooks played a pivotal role in helping the sales department grow its revenue by 20 percent. Part of the credit, he says, belongs to the skills he learned in the communication studies program, particularly the storytelling class taught by Jay Allison. By being able to effectively convey the essence of iFLY, Hooks clarifies consumers' expectations, painting a picture of the exhilarating, all-ages activities the company offers.

"I took that storytelling class thinking it was going to be easy, but it was impactful," Hooks says. "And when you think of iFLY as a story, telling someone from start to finish what their event is going to look like, I go back to that class all the time."

Now Hooks is adding another chapter to the story, one in which he uses his role as sales manager to help others shatter expectations too. With his guidance, iFLY Dallas expanded its All Abilities Night -- when those with special needs and their families fly at a reduced rate and connect with each other in the process -- to four dates a year.

"If you didn't know anything about iFLY, you might automatically think, 'Oh, well, I'm in a wheelchair, I can't do that' or 'Oh, my son's autistic, he probably can't do that,'" Hooks says. "But that's not the case at all. This is absolutely what we are all about: making sure that we carry through with our mission statement, which is delivering the dream of flight to everyone."

And Hooks is a big believer in ignoring the niggling voice in your head that whispers tales of what can't be done. There's no harm in harboring higher expectations, he says.

"I think that often we tell ourselves, 'I'm not quite ready for that' or 'I'm too young for that' or 'I'm not good enough for that,'" Hooks says. "And this job in particular has really taught me otherwise. Had I never taken the plunge, I would not be where I am today in my career. Whenever the opportunity arises, take it."

Hooks discusses iFLY's STEM education initiative

During iFLY's interactive STEM field trips, it's not just education that takes flight – it's the students themselves.

"It's the most interactive field trip any student can go on in the STEM field," Hooks says. "They get into the wind, and you see it all. Not only the excitement -- everything we've talked about clicks, and you can see it in their eyes."

Hooks, who took over as sales manager in October 2016, says iFLY has built a reputation as one of the top STEM field trip destinations in the industry. The company increased its focus on STEM education during the 2017 fiscal year, promoting a three-pronged approach to teaching kids about engineering.

"First, we talk about the engineering behind what we do," Hooks says. "We just kind of chat to get the kids to relate back to things they see in everyday life. iFLY is no different from a car going down the highway or a tennis ball that flies through the air. It's just a controlled tube and you get to do it."

The second part is a hands-on portion tailored to the students' education level. Elementary students build a parachute for an Army man to prepare him for his wind-fueled dive. Middle school students receive balls of different sizes and weights and determine the objects' terminal velocity. High school students engage in a body lab where they weigh and measure themselves to predict their own terminal velocity.

"The third step of the learning process is when they become the experiment, and that's really what separates us from anything else," Hooks says. "They get into the wind, and they see what it's like to fly and how STEM specifically applies to their body. That's where it all comes full circle for them."

Get more information on iFLY's STEM field trips.

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