Fourteen-year-old Kimberly Major had always wanted to become a pilot when she got older. After this summer, though, Kimberly is thinking about being the person who hires them.
"I never knew there were so many things you could do in the aviation field besides flying. There were many groups I didn't know about," said Kimberly, a sophomore at DuVal High School in Lanham. "I always thought you could only be a pilot."
Kimberly was one of 21 students who took part in an experimental summer program designed to interest minority and disadvantaged youths in aviation.
The five-week program -- developed in part by the Prince George's County Public Schools -- is trying to address the small numbers of minorities in the aviation field, which also has a shortage of pilots and personnel, said program director Carl Spitzer, an administrator with the Prince George's Private Industry Council.
"Many of the airlines will be retiring much of their staff in eight or nine years," Spitzer told an audience of about 50 parents, teachers and students at a luncheon commemorating the program's end Friday. "There are exciting, good-paying jobs out there for the taking. But you need to know what's out there -- this helps."
The Federal Aviation Administration does not keep figures on the numbers of minorities in aviation-related jobs, but officials there estimated that blacks make up less than 2 percent of people in the field.
Operated at DuVal High, the program consisted of classes taught by FAA-approved instructors, minority lecturers from the field, and "flight trips" designed give the students a window into the different opportunities in aviation.
The students ventured into cockpits at Hyde Field in Clinton for flights over the Washington area, learned the intricacies of air traffic control at Baltimore-Washington International Airport's control tower, and toured the National Air and Space Museum.
Sponsored in part by the Prince George's County School System, the Prince George's Private Industry Council and the FAA Flying Club, the $5,000 program will be continued during the school year and incorporated into the curriculum at DuVal.
For Robert Jones, 18, the program came at the right time.
"I used this as a head start," said Jones, who starts Delaware State University's aircraft science program in September. "I had always wanted to fly a jet fighter, but I knew very little about airplanes or the industry. This opened my eyes."
Students completed the program's final part last week when they took an FAA private pilot ground school test. Those who pass the examination -- results will be available this week -- are guaranteed 15 free hours of flight instruction from an area flight school.
Lawrence Nelson, 17, said the program gave him more than just a knowledge of airplanes.
"This shows that there are many things to do in life," he said. "You just have to find them and know that they are there."