Giant Leaps Series

Famous alumni sit down with Life 360

Story by Aaron Martin (Sully Sullenberger), and Marti LaChance (Ted Allen)

Sully Sullenberger Photo by John Underwood

Q&A with Sully Sullenberger

When he successfully piloted a passenger airliner to an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River in 2009 — saving all 155 people on board — Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (MS PSY ’73) became a part of history. The landing is known as “The Miracle on the Hudson,” and Sullenberger is known as a hero.

As part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary celebration, he spoke to a crowd of more than 5,000 people on Feb. 24 at Elliott Hall of Music and credited his Purdue master’s degree in industrial psychology with playing a significant role in the remarkable landing.


Q: What are your thoughts on Purdue’s choice to celebrate its 150th anniversary by looking to the future and challenging itself to tackle the global problems of tomorrow?

A: I think it’s a great thing to do. I think all of us, at the end of our lives, hope we can accomplish something that can make a difference.

Q: What was your most significant or profound experience as a Purdue student — something you carry with you from your years at Purdue?

A: I experienced different ways of thinking about the world, and that was a great foundation for a lot of things that followed. You have to realize I came here from the Air Force Academy, a very rigorous and disciplined atmosphere. I saw many different ways of seeing things, the interconnectedness of much of life, through the human-factors side of industrial psychology.

Q: How has your understanding of human behavior been incorporated into your work?

A: People in the airline industry make what we do look easy, but it’s not. Flying is as safe as it is because of team building and leadership. One of the ways we’ve made aviation safer is by observing how the best captains lead and build teams, and how the most effective crews communicate, make decisions and create a shared sense of responsibility for the outcome. We work on these things day after day, month after month, year after year.

Q: In your career, what have you accomplished that you consider to be a “giant leap”?

A: You might think I consider that landing on the Hudson my giant leap, but that’s not entirely true. In many ways, the events of that day were the culmination of a lifetime of vigilance, of learning and growing, and of a professional career dedicated to airline safety. When you ask me what I think my profession has done, I think it’s that we’ve made air travel far safer than it was maybe 20 or 30 years ago. I’d like to think I played a part in that.

Q: How has Purdue changed since you were a student?

A: Higher education has changed a lot. Purdue has changed. When I was here 45 years ago, Purdue was predominantly male. It was much smaller and more intimate. But I think it still has the same purpose, still has the same tradition of excellence. I’m proud to be a Boilermaker and I’m happy to be in such great company.

Q: Have you embraced your fame? How have you used it as a platform?

A: It took me a while to embrace it. This is not something I had done much of before, being a public figure, and it took me a while to get good at it. I looked upon it as an opportunity, but also as an obligation. I have a duty to use this bully pulpit that I’ve been given — by circumstance — for good. I’m using what I’ve been given to raise awareness about things I’ve cared about my entire life.



Ted Allen Photo by Rebecca Wilcox

Ted Allen (PSY ’87) is host of the popular show “Chopped” on the Food Network. Fans also remember him as one of the fab five — the food and wine expert — on the Bravo network’s original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” which won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004.

On Feb. 20, Allen returned to Purdue as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary celebration and entertained a packed Loeb Playhouse with his thoughts and feelings about life, work, food and his student experience at Purdue.

Q: What is something you still carry with you from your years at Purdue?

A: My favorite professor, who’s no longer with us, was David Santogrossi — a notable professor in the psychology department. He was a mentor and a friend and someone I played music with. David had a set of kettle drums, he had a marimba, he was a drummer himself. A group of us would jam with him, play stuff like Dire Straits. Later in life, when I lived in New York, he did this really special thing for me. I won an award from Purdue, a distinguished alumnus award, and I couldn’t leave New York because I was shooting. So David brought a group of people to New York to honor me. He was the most special person for me at Purdue.

Q: In your career, what have you accomplished that you consider to be a “giant leap”?

A: I didn’t initiate it. But the five of us in the original “Queer Eye” were the first all openly gay cast of a national television show. And while the show itself was fun and silly for the most part, one thing it did was it put those openly gay people in the living rooms of people who not only had never met a gay person, but many millions of whom probably actively disliked us. We showed them that we were kind, successful, educated and empathetic and willing to devote our energy to helping people. As silly as the show was, ultimately there are two things profound about it. One is to have five guys put tremendous energy into truly making the hero’s life better. And two, the impact that the show can have on young LGBTQ people, when you show that no, the world isn’t going to hate you. You don’t have to believe that you’re broken. And you can ignore all that baggage and garbage and go on and do what you want, hit it out of the park. Be yourself.

Q: Why are food and wine so important in our culture today?

A: What happened is that in the last several decades we have discovered the joy of food. It isn’t a trend; it is a shift of our values. And I think one factor is the Food Network. We certainly don’t get sole credit. Martha Stewart happened. But on television and in magazines people saw other people they admired or respected showing their excitement about this craft of cooking and wine and craft brewing. I always felt I had the best category in “Queer Eye” because the culinary arts are so vast, absolutely limitless. You could spend your whole life trying to eat every cuisine in the world and you’d fail. That limitlessness of food is my favorite part about it. The variety. The endless experiences you can have.

Q: What advice do you have for Purdue undergraduates?

A: The best advice is to do something that you love. The goal in life is to do what you love, whether it pays well or not. Because you’re going to be stuck with it. Very few of us get that life. So you should try to be one of them. The other advice that I would offer anybody in college is hustle. Do something to stand out. I once recorded an original song and sent a tape to an editor. Which sounds dumb, but anything that you can do to show hustle only works to your favor.

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