The following article was published in Sun Community News

A little more than half of the 2,000-plus students who participated in Aviation Day on April 9 had never flown in an airplane before. Needless to say, far more had never considered working in the airline industry – at least not until they heard from a team of experts from Southwest Airlines.

Sponsored by CFES Brilliant Pathways and Southwest Airlines, Aviation Day exposed students to the growing number of good paying jobs in the airline industry. Southwest Airlines’ Campus Reach Program engages future Southwest employees to inspire an interest in an aviation career. Four Southwest employees facilitated aviation lessons and activities with elementary and middle school students in Ticonderoga, Beekmantown, Crown Point, Malone, Moriah, Willsboro and AuSable Valley.

“Thousands of students woke up in the North Country on April 9 having no idea what was in store,” said CFES President and CEO Rick Dalton. “They went to bed with new ideas and knowledge about an industry they probably never considered working in before.”

Middle school students engaged in teamwork exercises and leadership lessons based on the experiences of a woman who overcame obstacles to gain her pilot’s license. They were also taken through a branding lesson that involved them creating their own personal brand statement. Elementary school students played aviation charades and participated in paper airplane making contests.

Brandi Dewaters, Southwest’s Program Lead for K-12 Initiatives, told students at Ausable Valley Middle School that hard work and a positive attitude are attributes that Southwest values heavily when considering whether to employ someone. “We had such a great visit to the North Country,” said Dewaters. “The youth of this area have such bright futures, and we can’t wait to see what they will accomplish.”

“I learned that there is no harm in not knowing exactly what you want to do,” said Seventh-grader Dominic LaPier from Ausable Middle. School. “But if you have the right attitude and you are willing to work hard, you can find a path to a career.”

The innovative collaboration between CFES and Southwest is part of an $11.6 million U.S. Department of Education GEAR UP grant awarded to CFES to support 2,075 students in seven rural school districts in Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties. The grant includes support from corporate partners like Southwest as well as local colleges and universities, a network of six hospitals, and local businesses and non-profits.

“Aviation Day presented by CFES and Southwest Airlines really made me think about how we should encourage students to pursue careers in today’s world,” said Chris Fey, Middle School Principal at Ausbable Valley. “Sometimes it may be more beneficial for students to shop for a specific company rather than shop for a specific career, especially in today’s evolving economy.”

Students learned about the wide range of jobs in the airline industry including administrative support; flight attendant; pilot; operations agent; security officer, air traffic controller; maintenance technician; aircraft mechanic; sales representative; facilities technician; reservations clerk; and inspector. Many were surprised to hear about the benefits offered by Southwest including college tuition reimbursement, health and dental insurance and a 401K that Southwest matches dollar-for-dollar contribution an employee’s eligible salary between 8.3 and 9.3 percent.

“Southwest is committed to engaging, inspiring, and developing students at all levels to pursue careers in aviation,” said Greg Muccio, Director of People at Southwest Airlines. “Our focus on building the talent pipeline of the future is naturally in alignment with CFES Brilliant Pathways, and it’s a privilege to be a part of this event to show the students in the Essex area all of the career opportunities in aviation.”