KJTMA Students Attend U.S. Transportation Seminar

Katherine Johnson TMA Students Fly High at International Women’s Day Aviation Careers and ‘World of Drones’ Seminar
Posted on 03/23/2023
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By: Miya Griffith, DeSoto ISD KJTMA Campus

DESOTO, TEXAS - In celebration of International Women’s Day, DeSoto ISD’s Katherine Johnson Technology Magnet Academy (KJTMA) scholars “landed” at the Irving Convention Center on  for the Women in Aviation Careers and World of Drones Symposium.

KJTMA Principal Dr. Michelle Neely worked with campus history teacher Coliea Crawford to identify middle school students who would be a good fit for this gathering of professionals.  

I want to expose our young ladies to the myriad opportunities in the aviation and aerospace fields,” said KJTMA principal Dr. Michelle Neely, a fierce advocate of innovative and immersive student learning.

The event, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization Women in Transportation Initiative, provided industry insight and higher education opportunities for women and encouraged cultural diversity across the transportation industry, specifically aviation. The 19 students who represented KJTMA were one of only two student groups who had access to the symposium, thanks to a partnership with Adrienne Williams, director of diversity and community outreach for McCarthy Building Companies and the DFW representative for Women in Transportation. 

KJTMA History teacher Coliea Crawford took great care in selecting the best students for this immersive learning experience.

“I just wanted to give our students more opportunities and more resources,” Crawford said. “Maybe one of the students who attended today will pivot and now have aspirations to be a drone pilot…and see how, essentially, drone technology is growing with them.”

In addition to learning about the career opportunities in aviation, students also met with Suzanne Cruz-Sewell, Assistant Vice President of Business Diversity and Development for DFW International Airport. Cruz-Sewell kicked off the symposium by sharing the history and staggering economic impact DFW has on our economy. The Airport’s $37 billion in annual revenue stems from 60,000 jobs in Customer Experience, Construction and Development, Operations, Public Safety, Administration and Diversity, Finance and IT Services, Global Strategy and Development, and Innovation. 

Cruz-Sewell also encouraged scholars to consider the thousands of fulfilling and lucrative careers available in airport operations, and provided information regarding DFW Airport internships available to scholars. She emphasized the importance of having more women serving in careers in aviation to help meet the needs of the growing industry, noting that there are programs and organizations ready to provide assistance to scholars who are ready to take advantage of the opportunities.

The rapidly expanding drone industry (uncrewed aircraft) was the focus of the second portion of the symposium led by James Stanton, president of the Lone Star Chapter of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). Students were treated to drone demonstrations and expert insight into drone piloting, including footage showcasing a (then) 19-year-old drone pilot whose skill set opened doors for him in Hollywood.

Stanton made the clear distinction between the $100K+ cost for becoming a commercial pilot versus earning a drone pilot’s license with a personal investment of approximately $300 in hopes of helping these young scholars broaden their career outlook. He recounted a missed opportunity with a client who was ready to hire his team for a special project – but there weren’t any women drone pilots in his organization at the time to take on the assignment.  To further encourage these young ladies to take greater interest in drone piloting, Stanton is awarding two of the KJTMA scholars with a drone in celebration of their engagement and active participation during the symposium.

Crawford hopes this experience provided a different perspective about what technology can be – much more than just computers and coding.

“Hopefully it piques someone’s interest and leads them to find something they would want to do in one of these careers in transportation,” she said.

Aviation is a multidimensional career field, often overlooked by students whose belief is that the jobs are limited to pilots and aircraft engineers or maintenance. The symposium provided a fresh perspective for students who may have never considered careers in aviation.

“Whenever I look for experiential learning opportunities, I always look for things that connect to the legacy of Mrs. Katherine Johnson,” Dr. Neely added. “I believe she would be pleased to see young ladies learning about the work that succinctly builds on the work she did for NASA.”

Katherine Johnson Technology Magnet Academy is an A-Rated DeSoto Independent School District campus garnering six of seven distinctions in the 2021-2022 school year. KJTMA’s admissions-based K-8 model offers an emphasis on advanced academics, and is on track to launch its aerospace and aviation-focused immersive curriculum in the 2023-2024 school year. 

Learn more about DeSoto ISD and its Choice Schools at www.desotoisd.org/choice.