Ex-Rocket Scientist Returns To First Love Music
December 31, 2015
David Omer says it was music to his ears when he learned he’d scored a teaching job as assistant band director and choir director at South Summit High School and Middle School in Kamas. The news marked the end of a promising career as a rocket scientist and the beginning of a new life, one for which he seemed destined.
A gifted musician as a boy, Omer attended Hunter High School in the Salt Lake valley, where he played clarinet in the band and sang in the choir. He also played with the Granite Youth Symphony Orchestra and, in his spare time, with the "Kings of Swing" band. In his senior year he "trod the boards" as Harold Hill, the devious lead character in "The Music Man." He was a Sterling Scholar in music and was named outstanding male graduate and voted "most likely to win a Grammy" by his classmates.
Omer seemed destined for college and a degree in music or musical theater. But there was another, more practical side to Omer, one that took him in a different direction and a full-ride scholarship in engineering at Utah State University (USU) in Logan. "I had good math and science skills and I figured that was a more sensible career path, but I always kept music alive on the side," he explains.
Omer graduated from USU in 2006 with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with an aerospace emphasis in dynamics and control. While studying there, he was a lead player in the "Unity IV" rocket project and, later, the "Chimaera" rocket project. True to his roots, he played saxophone and clarinet in the USU jazz orchestra throughout his college years.
Omer met his wife, Amber, in 2004 during an internship in Chandler, Arizona with Orbital Sciences. "We met in church choir and, by the end of the summer we were pretty sure we had found our soul mates," he says. They married in 2005, returning to Logan later that year after another internship with NavAir in Ridgecrest, California. While Omer completed his master’s degree, Amber taught math at North Cache Middle School.
The fledgling rocket scientist went to work immediately for Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona, where, over the next six years he progressed from systems engineer to technical program planner. While there, he worked on the AMRAAM (advanced-medium- range-air-to-air-missile) project, touted by Raytheon as the world’s most sophisticated air dominance weapon. "I wasn’t really a rocket scientist," he clarifies, "more of a rocket brain surgeon."
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Along the way the couple had four children, Abby, Joey, Ellie and Hannah. "We love spending time with them, they are the joy of our lives," gushes Omer.
Though successful at Raytheon, Omer says there was always something missing, a void he couldn’t fill. "It wasn’t that I didn’t like the work, I did and I was good at it. But I’ve always been a people person, very extroverted and I didn’t feel like I was headed in the right direction.
Omer found new direction in 2012 after reading the book, "Forty-eight Days To The Work You Love," by Dan Miller. "While reading the book, I dove deep to try to discover what I was really good at, what I loved to do and what came naturally," he says. Music and working with youth were high on the list. I realized I had found my true calling — music teacher. My wife, a teacher herself, was very supportive and we immediately began to make the change."
In the fall of 2012, Omer started teaching at the American Leadership Academy in Queen Creek, near Mesa, Arizona. While there, he started their band program and taught algebra, calculus and physics. "I leveraged my engineering credentials to teach while building my music credentials. It was twice the work for half the money, but my job satisfaction was through the roof," he grins.
In early 2015, Omer and his wife turned their eyes homeward to Utah, where they had family in the Salt Lake valley and nearby Grantsville. "I knew the academy would never let me teach only music, so we decided to search for a school closer to my family where I could go all music," he says.
Last spring Omer found what he was looking for when he was offered the position as assistant band director and choir director at both Kamas High School and Middle School. "I knew it was the perfect fit for me after I interviewed with Brad Flinders, the veteran band teacher, and the staff. Mr. Flinders had built up such a great band program that was becoming too big for him to handle alone. It’s working out great because he’s a brass guy and I’m a woodwind guy. We work perfectly together as a team," says Omer. While Flinders directs the high school band program, Omer is teaching band in grades six through eight. He’s also put together a new middle school jazz band.
The former Boy Scout leader and high school chorus president admits he was "a little nervous" about teaching choir. "I have great respect for some of the wonderful choral teachers I had, especially Mark Pierce at Hunter High. Last summer I spent a lot of time reading, studying and learning how to teach choir. I also attended an American Choral Directors’ Association professional conference in Colorado."
Omer says he and his family are very excited to be here. "Kamas has been so incredibly welcoming and friendly. I can see why people want to move here. We love the mountains, the small-town feel and being close to family on the Wasatch Front. My kids were all born in Arizona and, so far, they love the mountains and the snow. We’ll see how they feel in March," he chuckles. Like many school teachers who work part-time jobs as well, Omer offers private lessons in clarinet, saxophone and piano. He also repairs cell phone and tablet computer screens.
The newly-minted band and choir teacher reflects on his journey. "I feel like I’ve come full circle. It’s funny, I am working harder and putting in more hours for half the pay than I ever did as an engineer, but it doesn’t feel like work because I’m doing what I love. Now, I just want to keep growing and try to become the teacher that everyone deserves."
Favorite activities: bicycling, racquetball; listening, playing, writing and directing music.
Favorite foods: Just about everything, but especially pastries, bread and Danishes.
Favorite authors: C.S. Lewis, Victor Hugo and Brandon Sanderson
Favorite music/performers: classical and jazz, e.g. Gustav Holst, Bach, Respigi, Whitacre, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington
Bucket list: vacations in France and Brazil