Sterling HS Aviation Hanger_Photo courtesy HISD

Recently, HISD and United Airlines announced a multi-year mentoring and career development program for aspiring aviators and aircraft enthusiasts. Included in the partnership is a $300,000 financial commitment to the HISD Foundation that will go toward Sterling Aviation Early College High School’s aviation program.

Dr. Tabitha Davis

But, Sterling Principal Dr. Tabitha Davis said United has been involved with the school’s aviation program throughout the years. In fact, Sterling has three alum who are staff members at United: two pilots and one customer service rep.

Davis said United’s recent gift “brings about the opportunity for our students to have career mentorship in aviation, as well as paid internships at the airport so that they can deepen their knowledge of the aviation field.”

There’s more.

“The partnership with United gives us the ability to get even more students certified because our students will have the opportunity to shadow real pilots and aircraft maintenance technicians, so that they’re getting the on-the-job training and additional hands-on practice beyond what they get here on campus,” said Davis, who added that Sterling has a real airplane and hangar on campus.

“Our students get the exposure and experience of practicing building components of the aircraft,” she said. “They also get the grounds training which precedes the actual flying experience.”

The nearly 100 Sterling aviation students, roughly 25 per grade (ninth to 12th grades), obtain their flight experience hours via another Sterling partnership with the Houston Area Flight Club.

Though the multi-year program between United and Sterling is scheduled to begin during the Spring 2022 semester with the launch of a mentorship program that will include 50 Sterling High School students, United already has the ball rolling with a career expo for over 300 area middle school students.

“That career expo allowed us to host about nine middle schools a couple of weeks ago. We had hundreds and hundreds of students coming through to visit the campus, to see the hangar and to meet and interact directly with the United Airlines professionals to learn about their career experiences,” said Davis, a Worthing High School graduate whose entire K-12 education took place in HISD.

“The career exploration event was designed to deepen students’ knowledge in their interests and careers in aviation, so that they will choose Sterling as their high school of choice,” said Davis.

HISD is a district of school choice, meaning that parents can select not only their homeschool based on attendance zone boundaries, but also a magnet program or a program of choice across the city.

For Davis, the two words that capture to power of the United partnership are “opportunities” and “exposures.”

“The internship opportunities are incredible for Black and Brown students to have that kind of exposure and those opportunities. It is unheard of at this level.”

The United/HISD partnership goes beyond Sterling, as they seek a K-12 commitment including promoting literacy by having United employees reading to elementary students, more career exploration events for middle schoolers, and mentorship and internships for high school students.

“I am extremely grateful and appreciative of United for their decision to partner with this,” said Davis. “That means they believe in our program. They stay behind us and they stay in with us as we work to help our students get not only through their high school experience, but also successfully into the aviation career field.”

Still, Davis is looking for more ways to empower her students.

Though Sterling students benefit from HISD’s partnership with Houston Community College via their early college programs offering dual credit (high school and college class credits), Davis is looking at Texas Southern University as a partner.

TSU has a nationally-revered and accredited aviation program just 8 ½ miles away from Sterling’s South Park campus.

“We are looking to make TSU one of our official post-secondary partners because TSU has the aviation track, which is unique,” said Davis. “That’s just an additional opportunity for us to partner with a higher ed institution and a four-year university and an HBCU. So, they’re very happy about the potential that’s there, as well.”