Some young people have never had the luxury of heading to an airport to take a trip on an airplane. Without having this kind of life experience, they would remain unaware of the wide range of career opportunities that the aviation and transportation industry offers in their youth, if no one makes a special effort to open a new door. Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has been introducing Baltimore City youth to the idea of how travel needs can connect to future career options since 2015, through a summer program for Baltimore City kids called the BWI Marshall Airport Summer Youth Initiative.
August 1, 2022 marked the day that approximately 40 Baltimore City youth had a rare opportunity to begin a weeklong journey to learn about everything from discovering where suitcases go after travelers place them on belts, to visiting the BWl Airport’s Fire and Rescue Department, and the Transportation Security Administration program, in addition to seeing a private airplane hangar where aircraft is also kept. Students were able to dream big while using flight simulators.
Seth Williams’ favorite program day entailed an opportunity of having a real chance to ascend into the sky in real time.
“I got to get in a plane and fly it which is something that I never exactly saw myself doing, so I thought that was pretty fun,” he said.
Seth added that he never knew exactly what career choice he would want to do. Participating in the BWI Marshall Airport Summer Youth Initiative provided a mixture of a thrilling experience and a spark of thinking about his future goals.
“Now I know a bit more about what this career can be like. I guess I’ll look into it,” Seth explained.
The students were afforded opportunities to meet transportation and business leaders while gathering information about a wide array of fields that exist in the airport. They also traveled to Martin State Airport –which is a joint civil-military use airport located in Baltimore County— while having an opportunity to fly in a plane or helicopter. It is owned and operated by the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Aviation Administration. According to www.marylandaviaion.com, “The Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) is the governing body of BWI Marshall Airport, Martin State Airport, and other organizations.”
Alfred “Al” Pollard, A.A.E., Chief, Division of Martin State Airport Operations and Maintenance, explained that the airport hosted youth all day during the sixth annual Summer Youth Initiative. He told The Baltimore Times that he has been coordinating “Martin Day” from the program’s beginning in 2015. Dr. Crystal Francis returned to the airport for a second year to participate in the program. In part, she spoke to youth about focusing on what they love to do while making attempts to assist them with finding the perfect career path. The Maryland State Police Aviation Command Headquarters, Maryland Air National Guard, Baltimore City Police Aviation Unit, Brett Aviation and First Class Flight Academy are airport tenants who partnered with the airport to make the students’ visit most memorable.
“The highlight of the day was the time that the youth spent with the two flight schools, Brett Aviation and First Class Flight Academy. These flight schools volunteered their airplanes and instructors for the day, and took the young people flying! The looks on their faces after the flights were priceless,” Pollard said.
While Pollard mentioned the value of exposing youth to careers in aviation, BWI provided additional opportunities.
“A goal of this program is to expand these students’ horizons and to inspire them to think bigger than the environment they’re growing up in. We go to great lengths to share with them aspects of the airport most people never get to see. Hopefully this enhances their outlook on life and see the airport as a beneficial part of their future career,” Ricky Smith, Executive Director, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport told The Baltimore Times.
Smith grew up in Baltimore City. He wanted to do something for youth following Freddie Gray’s death. The unique opportunity to become immersed in an unfamiliar work environment helps students to discover possibilities beyond pursuit of higher education.
“What I really like about this BWI Youth Initiative is that you get to learn more future options and learn. Nobody is being rushed. You don’t have to go to college if you don’t want to. Personally, I’m not, so I really liked what they had to show us here about the jobs and future references and I really liked the program,” Celvin Jacobs, Jr. said.
Gina Stewart –the BWI the executive director of both the BWI Business Partnership, Inc. and the BWI Community Development Foundation – said that this year’s program returned after a brief hiatus in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
“It’s just really fun to get to know the kids. It’s a very short period of time, but it’s very rewarding to really see them take advantage of that and get to do things they haven’t done before and just have smiles on their faces,” Stewart said, mentioning their excitement.
The program started in 2015 and has typically been held in the first week of August. Although more middle schoolers have been most typical in prior years, a few high schoolers participated this time. The students ranged in age from 10 to 16 years old. Youth came from Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks summer programs which are held at the Middle Branch Fitness & Wellness Center, in the Cherry Hill community, and Lakeland Recreation Center. Stewart noted that BWI Airport provides the summer experience to youth by working directly through recreation centers.
“The airport has worked with them within their different centers to bring these kids to the airport for a week to learn about careers and opportunities in aviation, transportation, [sic} and kind of all things that make up the airport,” Stewart said. “Not all of the opportunities require a college education so it’s nice that if not all kids are college material, and nor do they want to go, there are other opportunities that are good paying jobs that don’t necessarily require that college education. But definitely, make sure you finish high school to get that diploma.”
Ample planning was required to create the impactful experience. Nearly $25,0000 was raised by utilizing the BWI Community Development Foundation to support the BWI Marshall Airport Summer Youth Initiative’s expenses. The initial goal was $15,000 this year. Stewart said that they are grateful for individual, corporate donations, and sponsorship of the program. Students also ended their airport memories with taking home backpacks and school supplies.