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Gateway to the Future

Aviation science program seeks to diversify industry
Story Series
Bridgewater Magazine

For a long time, Emily Hartmann’s singular dream was to become a doctor.

Then she learned about flying.

The Brockton High School freshman was one of seven ninth- and tenth-graders who were part of the inaugural cohort of the Gateways to the Airways program, founded last year by the Department of Aviation Science. The students who enrolled in the free, seven-week program flew drones, sat behind the controls of a flight simulator, visited Logan International Airport in Boston and even took the controls of a BSU training aircraft in midflight.

“I thought it was a really good experience not a lot of students get to have,” Emily said. “It changed my perspective.”

That’s the goal of the Gateways program: to reach 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 LBGTQ individuals who are remarkably underrepresented in the profession. Further, those who are already working in the industry face obstacles to future advancement.

“This is a valuable program,” said Dr. Jeanean Davis-Street, dean of the Louis M. Ricciardi College of Business. “And its key goal is to increase diversity in the industry.”

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine an industry less diverse than aviation.

The Numbers

The presentation is an eye opener. Sitting in BSU’s satellite office at Brockton High School as part of the BSU@BHS initiative launched in fall 2019, Loren Herren described the demographics of those working in aviation today. Mr. Herren, who last summer was named special assistant for aviation program diversity, spends one day a week at the local school. During the presentation, he pointed to a particularly telling graphic. It indicated just how few women, people of color, and LBGTQ individuals currently work as pilots or airport and aviation administrators: Each group registers below five percent of the total.

Wait, there’s more. Much more.

“People hear ‘aviation,’ and they think ‘airplane’ or ‘pilot.’ The industry is much broader than that,” Mr. Herren said.

Commercial pilots represent just one of the many career opportunities in aviation. In fact, there are dozens of
aviation jobs that don’t require climbing into the cockpit, from air traffic controller to dispatcher to airport security. And they’re good-paying jobs at that.

In his new position, Mr. Herren is charged with reaching out to the high schools and middle schools in the state, including 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 with an interest in or are adept at STEM subjects who 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.”

Mr. Herren, a pilot and flight instructor who previously served as BSU’s chief flight instructor, is also working with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Girls Inc., as well as other area schools. He hopes 2020 will see an expansion of Gateways to the Airways. Funding for the program’s launch was provided in partnership with the New England Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and Empower Yourself LTD. Most of the program’s sessions are held at BSU’s Flight Training Center in New Bedford.

In December, a luncheon and graduation ceremony were held on campus to celebrate the students’ successful navigation of the program. The members of the event’s panel discussion and other speakers each sent the graduates a message: Yes, you can do this.

Kevin Scott, a Brockton High sophomore, took that message to heart. “There are a bunch of opportunities in aviation,” he said. “If you push yourself and learn all about it you can, you can become whatever you want.”

As for actually flying a plane?

“It was fun,” he said.