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Flight Plans

Department of Aviation Science aims to lift historically marginalized communities
Story Series
Action: Racial Justice and Equity

COVID may have grounded one of the Department of Aviation Science’s keynote programs, Gateways to the Airways, however, the relaunch is underway. Soon Bridgewater State University’s New Bedford flight training center will be home once again to high school girls and students of color interested in learning about flying. The groundwork has been laid to bring back the program, with field trips and visits to the flight training center already booked.

Founded in late 2017, Gateways is a free, seven-week program where participating students fly drones, work the controls of a flight simulator, conduct wind tunnel experiments, visit Logan International Airport in Boston and even take the controls of a BSU training aircraft in midflight.

“The goal is to reach female students and students of color, or others who are underrepresented in the aviation industry,” said Dr. Jeanean Davis-Street, dean of the Louis M. Ricciardi College of Business. “This is a valuable program, and its primary goal is to increase diversity.”

Through the Gateways program, BSU reaches out to area high school students, particularly those who are strong in the STEM fields but who ordinarily might not think about a career in aviation, specifically, women, people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Each group is remarkably underrepresented at less than five percent of the industry.

The Gateways program emphasizes there are many jobs other than that of pilot. Dozens of aviation jobs don’t require climbing into the cockpit -- from air traffic controller to dispatcher to airport security. And, they’re good-paying jobs at that.

Professor Loren Herren serves as the dean’s special assistant for aviation program diversity. He is charged with reaching out to the high schools and middle schools in the state, including those in nearby “gateway” cities – Taunton, New Bedford, Fall River and Brockton (so-designated by the Massachusetts legislature due to their status as midsized urban centers that anchor regional economies). He’s on the lookout for students who have an interest in or are adept at STEM subjects, but might never have given a thought to a career in aviation. “That’s the message we want to get out, and we want to provide that information to folks because STEM offers one of the best pathways to take advantage of these opportunities. So, if we can get the kids interested, it’s a win-win.”

Professor Herren, a veteran pilot himself, looks for potential students via organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Girls Inc., as well as other area schools. Funding for the program comes in part from the New England Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and Empower Yourself LTD.

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