WMU News

WMU and historically black colleges form aviation consortium

April 2, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Five historically black colleges from around the nation are joining with Western Michigan University's College of Aviation to form an Aviation Education Consortium that will work to diversify the aviation industry work force and expand opportunities for minority students and women.

Delaware State University, Florida Memorial College, Hampton University, Tennessee State University, Texas Southern University and WMU are the charter collegiate members of the organization that was announced March 31 in Nashville on the campus of Tennessee State. Other consortium members are the Organization of Black Airline Pilots Inc. of Silver Springs, Md., and Tuskegee Airmen Inc. of Arlington, Va., which will both serve the consortium in an advisory capacity.

WMU's Dr. Eileen Evans, associate vice president for research, and Tony Dennis, the College of Aviation's director of students services, traveled to Tennessee State University in Nashville to attend the signing ceremony.

The aim of the new organization is to use the resources and expertise of all consortium members to identify and support minority individuals who have an interest in pursuing an aviation career and establish a strategy and process for taking such individuals seamlessly "from ninth grade to the airline industry door." To accomplish their goals, the consortium will use a variety of tools, including faculty and student mentoring, exchange programs between consortium members, establishment of aviation student fellowships and coordination among members' academic program resources and delivery systems.

"This is a demonstration of our commitment to achieving real diversity in the aviation industry," says Capt. Rick Maloney, dean of the College of Aviation. "We're excited about expanding our relationships with the colleges and with OBAP and the Tuskegee Airmen. Tony Dennis has spent more than two years working on this project, and this is really a culmination of his efforts."

"We're planning on working cooperatively to develop the knowledge base, systems, facilities and funding needed to identify, recruit, train and support promising students," says Dennis. "We're aiming to build an aviation work force that more accurately reflects the industry's work force development needs. Our goal is to increase the access of minorities and women to both engineering and nonengineering careers in civilian aviation."

Dennis says consortium members will work to improve minority and female representation among aeronautical and electrical engineers, pilots and navigators, aviation maintenance technicians, aviation electronics and computer science engineers, air traffic controllers, flight instructors and airline management personnel.

In 2001, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, only 4.9 percent of commercial aviation pilots were women and only 1.7 percent of aircraft mechanic jobs were held by females. The most recent data available on the ethnic diversity of the industry's work force was compiled in 1990. At that time, less than 2 percent of commercial pilots were African American and less than 3 percent were of Hispanic origin.

According to Dennis, a number of work force development issues are currently in play for the airline industry, including: an aging generation of pilots from the baby boom generation; a decrease in the last decade in the number of new pilots being trained by the U.S. military, which is a traditional feeder for civilian aviation jobs; historic lack of representation by women and minorities in all aviation-related careers; expensive aviation training programs; and a fragmented aviation education system that lacks objective quality measures for both pilot selection and aviation curricula.

"We'll be looking at ways to address the problems, take advantage of the opportunities, and design some systems that will lead to long-term success in placing women and minority students in highly skilled jobs," says Dennis. "We'll start by building awareness about the possibilities and then be ready with a system in place that will support students all the way through the educational process."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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