PIT Helps Next Generation Build Careers in Aviation

Student group tours open eyes to opportunities in engineering, construction, fire safety and more

By Ariel Gordon & gmastrangelo

Published July 1, 2024

Read Time: 4 mins


The first time Titus Sanders saw an African American pilot, he was looking in the mirror. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Sanders served as a chief warrant officer for U.S. Army Aviation. He then joined United Airlines as a Boeing 787 first officer, and he’s still flying.

Sanders also serves as the co-chair of the Board of Directors for the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, established in 1976. His latest mission: introducing Black teens between 13 and 18 to careers in aviation.

On Wednesday, June 26, Sanders brought 20 teens to Pittsburgh International Airport for an inaugural tour of the airport’s fire training facility, operations center, field maintenance building and American Airlines hangar. Many of the students traveled from across the country for the week-long OBAP program.

“Most of these kids had no clue that these careers are located at the airport,” Sanders said, “And had no clue there was a fire station.”

The group was part of one of two tours on the PIT campus last week. On June 25, the National Women in Construction (NAWIC) summer camp group visited PIT’s new airport construction site and its unique microgrid.

Students from the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals visited PIT’s campus on June 26, 2024, touring PIT’s fire training facility, operations center, field maintenance building and American Airlines’ maintenance facility. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Behind the scenes

Although the two groups saw different parts of PIT, the tours showed everything it takes to help an airport function.

The teens on both tours quickly learned that aviation goes beyond flying planes. Instead of visiting the airfield or the existing terminals, tour groups saw PIT’s workforce, environmental and safety efforts in practice.

Semai Ralph, 17, who lives in Washington D.C., joined the Black Aerospace Professionals tour with aspirations of becoming a mechanical engineer. He said the tour gave him a broader perspective of the airport, offering ways for him to achieve his goals in an environment he’d never previously considered.

“I feel like I have more of a principle understanding of how it works,” Ralph said.

The young women in the Women in Construction group kicked off their tour on the site of PIT’s new terminal construction site. As one of the largest construction projects in Western Pennsylvania, the new terminal project is a showcase for different careers in the field.

The airport’s PIT2Work program, an apprenticeship training program that provides a fast track to careers in the trades, is helping support those careers. Antoine Long, a student from the second graduating PIT2Work class, is just one example; he now works as a roofer on the new terminal construction site.

PIT’s microgrid – powering the campus through over 10,000 solar panels and natural gas generators – was a prominent part of the tour. The group of young women got to go behind the scenes to see how the microgrid works.

The microgrid is just one of the ways PIT is supporting sustainability on its campus. Last year, the Centre for Aviation (CAPA) named PIT the Environmental Sustainability Airport of the Year, largely because of the microgrid and the airport’s efforts to make the terminal more sustainable.

Other students visited PIT’s nationally recognized fire training center.

From recent college graduates to seasoned professionals, the center attracts trainees from all over the country, bringing them to the airport to learn from leaders in the industry on the safest practices to fighting fires.

Women in Construction students received a behind-the-scenes tour of PIT’s microgrid to learn about how the system powers the airport campus via 10,000 solar panels and natural gas generators. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

New generation, new careers

For the young people on the tour, understanding the multitude of opportunities in the region is key to building their futures.

Many students, including 13-year-old Stone Brooks from Maryland, found inspiration from their families, some of whom served in the Air Force or are involved in aviation technology.

“My father, he’s a very important role in the Airforce and I want to be just like him when I grow up. I feel like this [the tours] would be a great start for me,” said Brooks.

Elizabeth Hall is part of the engineering team at PIT. As woman in engineering, she was thrilled to see the airport introduce young women to careers they may not have known existed.

“I know the feeling of going into a male-dominated field, and I am super excited that girls are interested in this, she said. “It’s really cool that we’re showing the next generation what is actually happening other than flying planes and that you can get into aviation and not have to be a pilot.”

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