Groups of students representing various middle and high schools across the borough had a unique opportunity to mix, mingle and gain insight into the airline industry at a special career day event JetBlue held at its Long Island City Support Center on May 22.
Thanks to Pencil, an organization founded in 1995 to pair up business leaders with public schools, dozens of youngsters were able to hear firsthand about the opportunities that await them in aviation.
And they were given sound advice that applies to any and all industries.
“Finish your education. That sets the framework for what you’re going to do in life,” advised panel member Antonio Scaglione, a technical operations member of the JetBlue team.
Pilot Daniel Thurber told the students, “Find something you really love to do — then figure out how to get paid for it.”
And Jahvon Tuitt, known as the “prime minister” among his fellow Kennedy Airport ground operations colleagues, suggested, “Don’t have blinders on. Be on the lookout” for every possible job opportunity.
The day was divided into two sessions, with topics ranging from “How Does a Plane Fly?” for the middle school students to “Interview Skills/Resume Tips” for the high schoolers, many of whom are about to enter the job market.
About a dozen of the students attend Aviation High School, a specialized school located just a few blocks from JetBlue’s headquarters in Long Island City. According to one estimate, some 300 of the school’s graduates have gone on to work for the airline over the years.
Among them is Randall Ali, a manager of JetBlue’s System Operations Center, who credits the leadership program at his alma mater with much of his success.
“I’d look into internships to learn about jobs in the industry,” he said. “Each person has a particular path.” He encouraged those who might follow in his footsteps to volunteer as much as possible for the experience.
As one of seven panelists fielding questions from the audience, Ali expressed tremendous pride in his job.
“I feel like the owner of JetBlue,” he told the students. “I love the brand. I treat people with respect to get respect back. Use your passion to drive yourself. Think about it as a career, not a job.”
In fact, all the panelists expressed such enthusiasm for their jobs that Aviation’s principal, Deno Charalambous, was prompted to ask, “What makes your jobs at JetBlue so satisfying?”
In response, Dianna DiBiasi, who began at JetBlue in airport operations and now works as a team analyst, said she spends her day “looking at survey results,” trying to analyze how the company can best keep employees engaged.
“It varies by worker,” she admitted. A great deal of JetBlue’s employee satisfaction comes from the trust the workers put into their supervisors, she suggested, adding that teamwork is essential. “Everyone is trying to get the same job done,” she said.
Surprisingly, not all the speakers originally intended to enter the aviation industry. Alesa Biddles, an in-flight crew member, pursued a career as a nurse with a specialty in dialysis care. “I never had any interest” in being a flight attendant, she said. On a whim, she responded to a newspaper ad and ultimately made the career switch. She has been with JetBlue for three years now.
As might have been expected, it was the pilot on the panel who seemed to draw the most attention. “It’s a lot of work,” Thurber said. “It’s very rewarding. If you enjoy it, it’s a labor of love. To be able to do this for a living is rewarding. It amuses me that they pay me to do this.”
He advised the students to “look around at your local airports,” saying, “Pilots are always willing to share stories. Get as many people’s perspectives as you can.”
Today, any job at JetBlue requires at least a high school diploma. Students right out of high school are advised to apply for positions in airport operations, which can lead to other job opportunities with the company.
“Start in a position on the ramp,” Scaglione advised. “It’s a good stepping stone. Start networking yourself.” He indicated that JetBlue likes to fill as many positions as possible from within.
For Ivan Dinev, a senior at Aviation, a career in the industry seems inevitable. “My dad was in the Air Force,” he said. “He would take me to check out all the aircraft.” Today, Dinev plans to work in either airplane maintenance or air traffic control.
Fellow senior Waimer Ogando also plans to pursue a career in air traffic. “I like interacting. I’m comfortable with computers and speaking with people,” Ogando said.
Bonny Simi, a pilot and vice president of talent at JetBlue who served as the panel moderator, said, “We want to be role models. It’s the right thing to do. Aviation High School is right down the street. Why wouldn’t we be here to help inspire them?”
Charalambous, Aviation’s principal, said his goal is to “expose students to as many career possibilities as possible.
“What better way than to hear from people who are doing it?” he asked.
Ali was glad to see students from his old school being exposed to a wide variety of career options. “When I was in school, I had no idea some of the opportunities existed,” he said.
Among the other schools in attendance were Russell Sage Junior High School in Forest Hills and Channel View School for Research in Rockaway.