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Southwest blazes new trail with groundbreaking aviation program

by Najee El-Amin —

Southwest Tennessee Community College’s (STCC) new aviation and aerospace major takes flight on March 7. 

Partnering with the Luke Weathers Flight Academy and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), final approval for the program was granted to STCC on Dec. 9 by the Tennessee Board of Regents, giving the community college the first two-year program of its kind in the state. 

Students, who enroll in the program, will have the opportunity to earn an associate of applied science in Aviation Operations Technology degree that can open doors into numerous aviation careers, such as commercial piloting and air traffic control. 

With three concentration paths − professional pilot, dispatcher and aviation administration − being offered at a significantly lower cost than a four-year institution, there is something for any scholar who is looking to break into the industry. 

Making flight training accessible to people of color and low-income students was a focal point for the college. 

Leveling the playing field means both the needs of the students and the aviation industry are met. 

Additionally, STCC is working with area high schools to start a dual enrollment program to give potential students a head start on their studies.

Dr. Robin Cole Jr. (Courtesy photo)

With the spring 2022 semester starting, Dr. Robin Cole, STCC dean of Business and Technologies, said the program’s initial reception has been nothing short of astonishing. 

“It’s amazing when something new and exciting is coming and before you even get anything out there the word of mouth and buzz is already starting. This is when you know you’re on the right track,” Cole said. “We were already getting calls last semester … The community’s excited about it. We’re creating a whole environment and a new mindset and opportunity that many individuals didn’t realize were there. That is what we’re excited about doing.”

Cole has more than 20 years of experience in higher education at both two and four-year colleges. Now in his fourth year at Southwest, he presides over 16 different academic programs and the thousands of students within them. Bringing an associate of applied science in Aviation Operations Technology degree to the college has been one of Cole’s most prominent achievements after it took years of discussions and planning to get off the ground. 

“There was kind of a slow go getting it going and we were wondering if we wanted to continue forward. That’s when (retired FedEx) Captain (Albert) Glenn of the Luke Weathers Flight Academy said ‘Hey, there’s definitely a need to fill the pipeline with opportunities for minorities and individuals that make up a large population of the Memphis community,” said Cole. 

The partnership between the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) and STCC probably could not have been possible without the help of Glenn.

Since joining OBAP in 1983 (formerly known as Organization of Black Airline Pilots), Glenn has served on their board of directors and has chaired the board on two occasions.

However, what made this project hit close to home for Glenn is the fact that he has a flying history of his own. 

Glenn learned to fly in Memphis at FedEx’s original flight school and was hired by the company in 1974. During his successful tenure, he recorded over 18,000 hours in the air (flying the Boeing 777 jet) and held numerous positions on the ground as well. 

While Glenn was fortunate enough to receive his training locally, there still were difficulties faced by him and his peers.

That is why he pounced on the chance to give others something that he did not have.

“It was a financial burden at times. It was also a challenge to find someone to teach me how to fly,” said Glenn. “In 2018, we were given the opportunity to find a location out of Olive Branch Airport to create the Luke Weathers Flight Academy to provide students an opportunity to have low-cost training and address some of the shortcomings that you see with some groups.” 

Two of Glenn’s sons, Anthony Glenn and AC Glenn, also are following in his footsteps with Anthony becoming a FedEx pilot and AC working as an unmanned vehicle pilot for the Department of Defense.

Anthony’s daughter Amane Glenn, 16, a student at East High School, completed her first solo flight on Nov. 6, 2021.

Albert Glenn and his son, Anthony Glenn, as Anthony Glenn’s daughter, Amane Glenn, completed her first solo flight. (Courtesy photo)

The elder Glenn believes it was his sons’ exposure to the flight industry that sparked their interest and that the same can happen for the students of Southwest. 

Anticipating the first graduating class could be as early as fall 2024 and with spots quickly filling, Dean Cole offers some advice and encourages anyone interested to apply on www.southwest.tn.edu

“Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do. If this is something that is inside of you and that you have a passion for it, come talk to us and find more about it. We will get you started,” said Cole. 

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