TSU’s flight program preparing students for aviation industry; student pilots encouraging others by sharing their story

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – From the classroom to the airport runway, students at Texas Southern University are exploring the skies and becoming one step closer to becoming a pilot for a major airline company.

TSU is one of nine Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the country to have an aviation management system, a pilot program, and a flight school.

The university already has a partnership with United, but recently teamed up with Southwest Airlines.

The airline industry lacks diversity and continues to change.

Last month, TSU became the first HBCU to join Southwest Airlines’ First Officer recruitment program Destination 225°, which creates a pathway a pathway for Black and other minority pilots to fly Southwest.

Director of Aviation, Terence Fontaine, said Black men only represent 2.4% of pilots and Black women only make up 0.6% of the industry.

“We want to support Sisters in the Skies and Woman in Aviation, but we have to do a better job of recruiting from the high school level to make sure these ladies know there’s a bright career here,” Fontaine said.

RELATED: Texas Southern University, Southwest Airlines announce major partnership to bring pathway for next generation of pilots via recruitment program

Since the announcement in March, school leaders say more students showed interest in the program.

It’s the sounds and sights of a full-motion Redbird flight simulator at TSU.

In the cockpit, is freshman student Anthony Pumphrey Jr. He already has his private pilot, instrument, and commercial license at the age of 19.

“Sometimes I sit back and I look around to the left, right, in front and I’m like really doing this,” Pumphrey said.

The California native flew solo for the first time on his 16th birthday, and now he’s one of 74 students in TSU’s Aviation Science and Technology Program.

“I’m really, really, really grateful and I can’t say how grateful I am,” Pumphrey said.

“It’s very nice to have access to others who are also just as passionate and who are further along in their careers who can advise you so you always have somebody there to help you here,” student Katherine Cabrera said.

Cabrera is a first-generation student at TSU on a scholarship from United Airlines. As a junior, she already has her private pilot license and working on instrumental rating.

“I was 19 years old when I took my first discovery flight. No one in my family flies so it did take a little while for me to figure out that I wanted to be a pilot. But once I was in the plane, it just clicked for me and I knew that’s what I wanted to do forever,” Cabrera said.

The aviation program at TSU has been around since 2016 but took off in 2018. The university has six aircrafts at Ellington Field Airport and a state-of-the-art facility filled with simulators and hands-on training.

The program is changing lives one flight at a time, and students say the sky is the limit. Their goal is to inspire others.

“Like a young girl could see me, for example, and think, ‘Oh, I never thought about a pilot.’ So, it’s just that small of seeing a representation that I never got to see,” Cabrera said.

The industry also needs more Airport Operations Coordinators, Security and Safety Inspectors and so much more. To learn more about the Aviation and Technology Program at TSU, click here.


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