25 Years of Impact: How TGR Foundation helped me soar into an aviation career
Growing up I was always fascinated by how things worked. I was the kid that took apart the remote control and put it back together again. My parents knew early on that if my hands were busy, so was my mind. And they knew I came alive when I was working with my hands.
Sometimes, when my mom was off from work, she’d take me to a science store in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, across the river from our home in Philadelphia. I’d leave with some sort of D.I.Y. kit, like a baking soda volcano or a robot making set.
My dad was on the road a lot, working as a truck driver, but when he’d come round, we’d sit for hours and build RC model planes. And sometimes, if we finished early enough, we’d head over to the airport, park the car and sit for hours, watching the planes take off and land. It never got old.
Staring up into the sky, with my dad by my side and airplanes overhead, I knew, even as an eight-year-old kid from Philly, that I would be a pilot one day.
I’m 21-years-old now, and nearly one year into my eighteen-month program at flight mechanic school. I’m excited about what awaits me after I graduate, but the road to get where I am today was not always clear or easy.
I’m not going to lie; school was a challenge and it didn’t help that I was a troublemaker. I loved science and math and I was always great at it, but school didn’t bring out the best in me. By my senior year at KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy, I was overwhelmed. The tests, grades and immense pressure to get into a four-year college led to a lot of stress, anxiety and problems at home.
But the silver lining to my school day was always the TGR Learning Lab afterschool classes at KIPP. In fact, those classes made me want to go to school – they gave me something to look forward to.
I took my first robotics class when I was a 10th grader through the TGR Learning Lab campus at KIPP; I was 15 years old. I’ll never forget my first day. My classmate Samira was hollering at me across the room. Smoke was rising from my workstation. I forgot to turn off my soldering iron. Luckily nothing went up in flames – except for my ego, perhaps. I knew from that moment that this class was something special. I felt like that excited kid building airplanes with my dad again.
All the STEM classes I took over those next few years were so much fun. They were hands on and made me think outside the box. They were a challenge for sure, but in a good way. The classes were so different from what I did during the day in school.
After I graduated KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy, I did what was expected of me – I attended college. I didn’t think there was another path for me because it was always drilled into us that college was the next step after high school. I selected Computer Science as my major and began classes at Community College of Philadelphia. I lasted two months.
Leaving college was a big deal, and I didn’t take it lightly. I was the kid who spent my nights googling “jobs that make you a millionaire” and researching careers. I was and still am determined to be a success – college, however, was not part of the equation for me. I was done with school, and I was ready to work.
I took time to explore career paths. My longtime love of airplanes led me to a job at Northeast Philadelphia Airport. I used every opportunity I could to speak with pilots and ask them questions about their job. I quickly came to two conclusions:
- The commercial pilot lifestyle wasn’t something that I wanted for myself as a career.
- It would take six months and $10K, but eventually I would earn my pilot’s license.
My informal job shadowing at the airport allowed me to discover another career path for myself – an aircraft mechanic. I love working with my hands, fixing things and being around airplanes. It was perfect. “This is me,” I remember telling myself.
I enrolled at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in December of 2020. I knew right away this was the path for me, and that is such a good feeling to have. I’m excited to wake up each day and love what I do.
I think back and I feel so thankful that TGR Foundation came into my life when it did, during those stressful high school years. Something as simple at those robotics classes really impacted me. It made me realize that I can turn something I love, a hobby, into a career. If it wasn’t for TGR Foundation, I don’t know where I would be in my career.
June 22, 2022 is my official graduation date from flight mechanic school. That’s going to be a big moment for me. I have my sights set on a few things. I’d love to work at Boeing or even spend a few years in Japan working for an aviation company to see a different part of the world. I want to save up and get my pilot’s license one day. I’ll be the pilot that can fix his own plane.
Most importantly though, I want to visit high schools and talk to kids who don’t know about all the other careers out there. I want to speak to those kids who can’t picture themselves in college but are still determined and driven to work hard and be successful. I want to show them that there are many paths to success and just like me, they can wake up every morning and do what they love to do.
Building student success for 25 years.
This story is part of a series highlighting 25 years of impact through TGR Foundation programs.
The flagship TGR Learning Lab and five satellite campuses serve as the signature hub of education programs provided through TGR Foundation. Programs and courses are offered free or low cost to students and their families through support from our generous volunteers, donors and partners including The Boeing Company, Bank of America, The Honda Classic, Broadcom Foundation, Beckman Coulter and the Niagara Cares Foundation.
To join our mission to empower youth through education or learn more visit TGRFoundation.org/PathwaysForward.