UND recently celebrated the launch of the UND chapter of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP).
On Tuesday, Oct. 20, the founders of the new UND chapter hosted leaders of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, faculty, alumni and national representatives of the organization via Zoom to commemorate the occasion.
The University’s membership is the result of a student-led effort to initiate a chapter. Chapter President Jordon-Elijah Apienti-Gyapong, a sophomore commercial aviation major, said the conversation started before the coronavirus pandemic, but reignited in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death in Minneapolis and a social justice movement that has since swept the globe.
“One student created a group chat, and 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. And I want to thank everybody offering their support.”
Among the students’ supporters in attendance were UND Aerospace Dean Paul Lindseth and Associate Dean Elizabeth Bjerke. In his remarks, Lindseth expressed his appreciation for the founding members’ efforts.
“Congratulation to all of the students in the organization in getting this going,” Lindseth said. “This is something that has the full support of the Dean’s Office. Please touch base with us if and when you need support.”
Since 1976, OBAP has helped build inclusive environments for the development of minority aerospace students and professionals. Nationwide, the nonprofit organization provides guidance to aspiring professionals of color, offering mentorship, scholarships and career readiness programs.
Said OBAP’s Midwest Director Titus Sanders to the newest chapter, “This is your first step in OBAP, and we hope you continue on through our professional development program. The national chapter is here to support, so don’t hesitate. I commend the founding students, as well as the faculty for supporting you as much as they have.”
Assistant Professor Daniel “Kwasi” Adjekum, faculty advisor for the chapter, 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.”
Two UND alumni, OBAP members and JetBlue commercial airline pilots, Capts. Eric Poole and Eric Scott, fielded questions from the chapter president. Poole and Scott spoke about the ups and downs of the aviation industry, balancing work and family, and racial issues in aviation, among other topics.
Poole said that in 1988, he was the only Black student in his aviation courses at UND. It wasn’t until he became a flight instructor that he met Scott, and a friendship developed that has lasted nearly 30 years.
Both have been captains flying with JetBlue for more than 15 years. Scott is a Senior A320 Captain, and Poole is the assistant chief pilot for the airline’s New York City base of operations.
“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 something important to take with you: when you celebrate others’ success, you feel that success too.”
Poole went on to say that, along with other minority professional associations, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals is a key group in growing racial diversity and equity in the predominantly white industry, he said.
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. We need to keep promoting our career as a possibility for young people.”