When contemplating career options, most high school students give only passing consideration to transportation careers. Jonathon Garza is an exception by choosing a career in aviation. A program underway across the country and here in Houston this month aims to help more students follow his lead.
The Texas Transportation Institute is teaming up with Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M University to host the Fourth Annual Texas Summer Transportation Institute to encourage high school students in the Houston area to pursue careers in the transportation field on June 2-27.
Transportation professionals are concerned about the disturbing trend that has surfaced in the transportation industry—fewer young people are going into the field. “By addressing this projected shortfall in transportation professionals, we’ll help ensure that the talent base we need to build and operate tomorrow’s transportation system is in place and well trained,” says Herb Richardson, director of the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI).
Every year since 1999, the Texas Summer Transportation Institute (TSTI) program has recruited primarily minority high school students to help them find a career direction. The program’s secondary goal addresses the need for transportation professionals in the future.
“By reaching out to students at the high school level, we take advantage of a natural interest in transportation,” explains Naomi Lede, director of the TSTI program. “At that age students are fascinated with their new driving privileges, and that helps generate interest in what we have to teach them.”
With a grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and funds from the public/private sectors, TTI sponsors two-week institutes in Houston, San Antonio, Prairie View, and Dallas. Students receive training in math, science and technology in all modes of transportation. By showing students what transportation means to the country, TSTI instills in them a sense of mission and responsibility toward their own career choices.
- tours of transportation facilities, including George Bush International Airport, Metro, and the Port of Houston
- presentations on various aspects of the transportation industry and its initiatives, such as Operation Lifesaver; and
- interactive exercises, such as taking off in a flight simulator
Through tours of transportation facilities and industries, students are taught about the private/public partnerships that make transportation work. They learn how vital the transportation system is to the economic well-being of the country and how significant transportation is during national emergencies. “I never knew there were so many different jobs in transportation,” said Shawntica Taylor, class of 2003.
Led by TTI, Prairie View A&M University, Texas Southern University (Houston), Palo Alto College (San Antonio), and Paul Quinn College (Dallas) have provided strategic direction and operational support for TSTI. Sessions will be held at Palo Alto and Paul Quinn starting in mid-June.
During the program’s first three years, 124 students participated. A little over 56 percent have graduated from high school, with the remainder still in school. All the graduates entered college, with a majority aiming to pursue careers in mathematics, science, business, technology and transportation engineering. Some of these students have entered the Texas A&M University engineering program, several are pursuing careers in aviation, and about 10 percent have passed exams to become licensed pilots and air traffic controllers.
Jonathan Garza, the Houston student who is studying aviation, credits the TSTI program with helping him to realize the importance of education to his future. He now holds a private pilot’s license and is a Presidential Scholar. Garza has returned to mentor students currently participating in the TSTI program. “The TSTI program is truly a great opportunity for any student, especially one who is looking for a career in transportation,” says Garza. “I have decided because of TSTI that I will attend the Airway Science Program at Texas Southern University.”
TSTI is part of the National Summer Transportation Institutes being held at over 30 colleges and universities in 27 states. TSTI has won several prestigious awards from the FHWA and has twice received the “Partnering Award” for “building concrete bridges with high schools and other institutions that lead to future challenging transportation careers.” TSTI received additional awards for “excellence in marketing and recruitment of diverse and high-achieving students” and for “outstanding support for building linkages to the public/private sector.”
Transportation officials from both the private and public sectors have taken notice of TSTI’s success and applaud it. “What TSTI does is to help encourage kids to appreciate the importance of the transportation system to the country,” explains Marvin Poole, manager of the Dallas Executive Airport. “That encouragement leads to interest, and that interest leads to careers. The economic security of the United States depends on forward-thinking programs like this one.”