A group of Robert E. Howard Middle school students was recently taken on a special trip to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport to learn about aviation careers.
The event was organized by James Sulton III. Sulton is a supervisory air traffic control specialist in Chicago. He is connected to Orangeburg through his father James Sulton Jr. and grandfather, the late James Sulton Sr.
The event allowed 15 students from the middle school to take a bus to the airport where they learned about various aviation careers, airline operations and airport operations.
The trip was designed to show students what is possible.
“I think in order to really reach kids, you have to do more than expose them. We have to support and encourage, and keep them motivated,” Sulton said.
The students were joined by three volunteers from the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees in Orangeburg, and were transported by bus to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
At the airport they were greeted by three additional volunteers along with representatives of the airport and Delta Airlines.
The students were split up into two groups and were accompanied by three chaperones.
Delta Airlines, the Celebrate Freedom Foundation and Columbia Metropolitan Airport each had stations for the students to visit and learn about aviation. The groups also learned about air traffic control.
“At the air traffic control tower, the kids had the opportunity to learn a little bit about air traffic control through presentation and what we really do,” Sulton said.
“Then they took a tour of the radar room. Then they went upstairs and saw the air traffic control cab, and watched the folks work up there,” Sulton said.
At the Celebrate Freedom Foundation station, “they learned all about the different components of the helicopter and how they’re maintained, as well as viewing the aircraft and looking at some of the restored aircraft at the facility,” Sulton said.
Sulton said the students learned several things about how an airport operates.
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“In airport operations, they put them in a bus and toured the airfield and told them all about the different markings on the runway and what it entails to be an airport operations specialist,” Sulton said.
The Delta Airlines station gave students an in-depth look at airline operations, according to Sulton.
“They took them from the ticket counter to baggage claim, throughout the airport and through TSA,” Sulton said.
Sulton said it took a series of connections to make the event possible.
Sulton noted that one of the connections that made the event possible was Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg.
“Jerry has some kin that coincidentally lives out in Chicago, and actually is one of my bosses,” Sulton said. Sulton noted that Govan attended the entire event, and even rode the bus with the students to the airport.
Sulton said that various organizations made the event possible.
“I reached out to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. We also reached out to the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees, and they gave us some money to do this,” Sulton.
The Bessie Coleman Aerospace Legacy donated backpacks and certificates, among other things.
Charlene Stokes, principal of the middle school, was on board with the event and helped make it possible, Sulton said.
Sulton said he thinks that the event was beneficial to the students.
“It was something really special for them,” Sulton said. “I think that they could see themselves in some of the chaperones and some of the people talking to them.”
He said this is the first time the event has taken place, and he “hopes it’s an annual event.”