Teenagers are usually gearing up to drive cars to demonstrate their independence, but for students at Manassas High School, they might be flying planes, too.
Twenty students involved in the Memphis Students Obtaining Aviation Resources program, or MEMsoar, are learning about different career paths within the aviation industry. Two students were selected by the high school to participate in pilot training, intending to have their private pilot license by mid-2014.
Glen Thomas, public information officer for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, said this program is among the first of its kind for Memphis. At Manassas High, the adopted school of the organization, this is the first run until May, but the airport authority hopes to turn MEMsoar into a regular program during the school year.
"We see this as a natural way to get kids interested in aviation careers," Thomas said. "Not just instill interest, but put them on a path to a career."
In early October, the first session gave an overview of general operations at the smaller General Dewitt Spain Airport downtown. During the second session on October 22nd, the students were taken to the underbelly of the airport, learning about airport building maintenance. The next session on November 12th will focus on the responsibilities of the airport police.
"The kids seemed to be engaged," Thomas said. "They asked a lot of questions."
Julius R. Jackson Sr. — or "Coach Jackson" to the students and faculty at Manassas — said he hopes the two teens chosen for the pilot program will complete their 70 hours of training needed by the time they graduate.
For the 20 teens in MEMsoar, the airport authority is "enlightening the students about careers they were not aware of," he said. The students talk to professionals within the individual departments that compose the functions of the airport.
According to Jackson, when one student found out that MEMsoar would lead to an opportunity to attend college, he decided aviation was the industry he wanted to pursue. Another student, initially chosen for the two coveted openings for pilot training, didn't show up, so someone else took his place.
Jackson said some students seem to be waiting for others to drop out of the program so they may get a chance.
"You have to constantly remind them of the opportunity they've been given," he said.
Airport authority board member Jim Keras is covering the cost of the pilot training program — all $80,000 of it — for the two students.
While Manassas High tries to set the educational framework, the students are tasked with meeting them halfway by fulfilling obligations and responsibilities of the MEMsoar program.
"The rest is desire to have careers," Jackson said. "Parents love the program. They're glad [students] are getting involved."
Wooddale High School also has an aviation and aerospace program. There, students partner with local businesses, such as FedEx, to learn more about careers in aviation and accumulate the necessary hours to receive their pilot license.