New chapter to serve as space for members to share in aspirations, challenges and achievements, says faculty advisor
In 1988, long before Eric Poole became an airline captain and assistant chief pilot for JetBlue, he was the only Black student enrolled in his aviation courses at UND.
No one in his circle of non-aerospace friends “knew aviation,” he said. And looking back, he said, that lack of professional peers at the time was his biggest obstacle in training to become a pilot.
Once he became an instructor, he met Eric Scott, a student who’d come to the United States with English as a second language and a dream of becoming a pilot.
Things changed for both Poole and Scott when they partnered through flight. As their friendship grew, they realized how important it was to not only seek help when needed, but to help others in need, and to share in challenges, successes and everything in between – especially as minorities entering a predominantly white profession.
Today, both Poole and Scott have been flying for JetBlue for more than 15 years. Their shared dream has endured across the nearly 30 years since they met, carrying them through all of the ups and downs.
Such was the message the pilots brought to the Oct. 20 launch event for the newly established UND chapter of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP). Both of the pilots have been longtime members.
The organization, founded in 1976, is a nonprofit dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for the development of minority aerospace students and professionals.
A group of UND student founders, along with Odegard School administrators and faculty, hosted the two captains and national representatives of OBAP for a Zoom session last week, celebrating the occasion.
Sharing aspirations for growth and success
UND’s OBAP Chapter President, Jordon-Elijah Apienti-Gyapong, a commercial aviation major, said that the idea to create the chapter started before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Then it was reignited in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, and the social justice movement that has since swept the globe.
“One student created a group chat, in which there were three of us. Then it became six. Now there are about 25 students connected in that chat,” he said. “Over the summer we got passionate and started bringing the chapter idea back to life. I want to thank everybody offering their support.”
The founding group of students are enrolled in majors across UND Aerospace.
Their faculty advisor, Assistant Professor Daniel Kwasi Adjekum, said that regardless of one’s major at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, being part of OBAP is about sharing aspirations for success and growth as professionals.
Adjekum’s role as an advisor is to share his experiences and competencies, he said, as well as to encourage group members to celebrate with a communal spirit each other’s contributions and achievements.
“If one succeeds, it is for all of us,” Adjekum said. “Thank you for teaming together and being part of this. And with the support of our College leadership, deans and chairs, we know that we are going to have a positive impact at UND.”
Sharing success, as encouraged by the aviation professor, was something both Poole and Scott mentioned when asked about how they got to their current positions as seasoned pilots with JetBlue.
“Part of my story with Eric is that we’ve celebrated each other’s successes and helped each other get to these positions that we have,” Poole said. “This is profound, and it’s something important for students to learn: when you celebrate others’ success, you feel that success too.”
After Scott finished his education at UND, the two pilots took slightly different paths. Poole went on to serve in the U.S. Navy, while Scott went to the regional airlines.
By the time Poole’s Navy service was finished, Scott was already at JetBlue and was instrumental in Poole’s hiring as a pilot there. Years later, in other words, Poole’s mentorship on the UND runways had been reciprocated.
“Once you have a bond like that, it’s never forgotten,” Scott said.
The two pilots also fielded questions from the chapter president about the cyclical ups and downs of the aviation industry, balancing work and family, and the racial and cultural demographics of aviation.
As a senior officer at JetBlue, Poole said the company is looking inward to identify strengths, as well as shortcomings. Along with other minority professional associations, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals is a key group that’s helping the industry diversify and improve equity, he said.
For example, Scott pointed to OBAP as an important avenue by which airlines reach out to minority communities. The organization helps its members refine their resumes and connect with employment opportunities across the aerospace industry.
“People are proud of us when they see us in uniform,” Scott said. “I’ve had so many kids come up and ask if I was in the military, as in people don’t know that you can go to college to become a pilot. We need to keep promoting our career as a possibility for young people.”
Despite his years of experience in the cockpit, Poole still gets double-takes from people boarding flights.
“As more pilots of color are involved, some of those things will go away,” Poole said. “The big ask for our pilot group, especially pilots of color, is for them to be present, to be available and to recognize the amount of influence they have in their personal orbit. They are ambassadors of the profession.”
Efforts appreciated, commended
Dean Paul Lindseth and OBAP leaders commended the new chapter’s members for their work in coming together as students and professionals.
“This is something that has the full support of the Dean’s Office,” said Lindseth. “Congratulations to the organization, and we appreciate your efforts.”
Titus Sanders, the Midwest director for OBAP, remembered the exact date that Apienti-Gyapong reached out to establish a chapter: June 23. He, too, congratulated the students, as well as the faculty for supporting the new group.
“To the collegiate chapter, this is your first step in OBAP, and we hope you continue on through our professional development program,” said Sanders of the services available through the organization.
“This is a family, and this is a network full of resources, please get everything out of it that you can,” advised David Taylor, a collegiate board member for the organization. “We’re here to help you work with chapters across the country, and I’m just excited for everyone who has been working hard to get this started.”
UND’s chapter of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals can be found across social media, @UND_OBAP.