Michael Pascal knew he wanted to pursue a career in engineering. He was also interested in transportation but didn’t know where to find the right career path. A first-time program at Stanislaus State, however, sparked ideas he had never considered.
“I thought the National Summer Transportation Institute was right up my alley because I’m interested in engineering and it really seemed like a great way to spend my summer,” said Pascal, a junior at Beyer High School in Modesto. “Now, I’m interested in a lot of government jobs that I didn’t realize existed before. Like working in the FAA or the Department of Transportation.”
Pascal is one of 20 students from Turlock, Modesto and Ceres selected to participate in the National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI) program, a three-week STEM academic program at Stanislaus State designed to inspire students to pursue transportation-related education and careers. As part of the application process, students were required to submit a 500-word essay about their interest in transportation, along with two letters of recommendation. At the end of the program, four students were selected to attend the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, Florida, including Pascal.
“I’d like to go into a career in engineering now, maybe aerospace engineering,” said Pascal. “I’ve never been to the National Flight Academy, but I’ve always been interested in flight, so it really looks like a strong learning environment, getting in flight simulators and being part of the whole experience.”
Stan State was awarded $50,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration through the California Department of Transportation to fund the NSTI program, allowing students to participate in field trips and activities at venues such as the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Port of Stockton, Modesto Airport and Castle Air Museum. When students weren’t traveling to transportation sites they participated in activities that taught basic STEM concepts, like building bridges, mouse trap cars, robotic cranes and bottle rockets.
With a focus on land, sea and air transportation, students were introduced to a number of different career fields with varying skillsets and levels of expertise.
Will McClure, a civil rights manager for the Federal Highway Administration and NSTI manager, understands the need for younger generations to explore career opportunities in the transportation industry. The issue is not a lack of interest, but a lack of exposure.
“There is absolutely a need for roles in this industry,” said McClure. “If you look at the federal government, about 75 percent of current employees are eligible for retirement. Some of the students were talking about jobs in the air traffic control industry, that is another segment where growth will be needed. The construction industry itself is also an area for potential growth. Women are only about one percent of the construction workforce. Introducing them to internship opportunities not only shows them careers within that field, but also ways that they can pursue opportunities where having the funds to do so doesn’t become a barrier for them.”
Few students realized how many opportunities could be found in their own backyard. For instance, many had heard about the California High-Speed Rail, but little did they know construction was already well underway throughout the Central Valley. A visit to the Fresno High-Speed Rail Office changed that.
“They never really knew about the high-speed rail, even though they live here,” said Veronica Chaidez, the coordinator for Stan State’s K-12 STEM programs. “They didn’t realize the magnitude of it and the different jobs that can be associated with transportation. They don’t necessarily need to be a truck driver or a pilot. They can be the engineers that develop the plans for that airplane or structure. Those are things they are now seeing.”
Emily Rabbiosi, a sophomore at Johansen High School, comes from a family with deep ties to the Navy. Her main focus going into the program was on the sea portion, but like Pascal, her potential job prospects may have expanded just slightly.
“When you apply for the Navy, they tell you, ‘Here’s a list of jobs that are available,’” said Rabbiosi. “So, I’ve thought about doing linguistics and I’ve thought about doing the nursing program. But after this, I’m starting to think about traveling and working on ships doing engineering.”
Despite her family’s roots in the Navy, Rabbiosi couldn’t help being fascinated by the aviation portion of the program.
“I’ve always loved airplanes, traveling and figuring out how airports work,” said Rabbiosi. “Air traffic controller is a job that interests me. I did a presentation on it and learned a whole bunch. It sounds very stressful, but in a way, it sounds really fun.”
Rabbiosi attended the National Flight Academy following her completion of the NSTI program, along with Pascal, Timothy Ollson, a junior at Modesto Christian School and Kojo Beko-Sakyi, a senior at Turlock Christian School who was recently featured in the Turlock Journal.