Written by Sabrina Jones and Sasha Horne, FAA Office of Communications
Summer internships often serve as a rite of passage for college students looking for a foothold into the competitive job market.
This year, COVID-19-related concerns led to the abrupt interruption or postponement of internship programs across the nation. But, at the FAA, internship programs are not only thriving virtually, they’re breaking records.
The agency’s Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) Internship Program recently welcomed 110 interns — the highest number in the FAA’s history. Participants represent 77 unique colleges and universities and 54 degree programs, from aviation and engineering to law and marketing. They’re using digital tools to collaborate and network with each other and FAA employees.
“Every line of business and staff wanted to continue this, even in a virtual environment, and I couldn’t be more proud,” said Annie Andrews, the FAA’s Assistant Administrator for Human Resource Management. “This year, it’s an opportunity for everybody to start as an intern and get exposed to so many talented people and learn so much. This has been an inaugural year for us.”
The program, facilitated by the FAA’s Office of Human Resource Management (AHR), offers 10-week internships to students from Historically Black Colleges and Institutions (HBCU), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI), and other institutions across the nation, such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Princeton University, Cal State Los Angeles, Rice University, Hampton University, Texas A&M University, and Vaughn College. During the summer, interns are divided into 14 teams, or cohorts, to work on projects benefitting the agency, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related outreach activities with schools and the development of an air mobility products toolkit for prospective FAA employees.
“The focus is to introduce students to aviation,” said MSI Program Manager Raina Price. “The whole program is virtual.”
Across the FAA, other offices and divisions are virtually hosting interns. This summer, 35 interns are working in the agency’s Air Traffic Services, 22 are assigned to facility managers in the Eastern Service Area, 12 are assigned to managers in the Central Service Area, and one is assigned to FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Students are participating in professional development activities sponsored by human resources, weekly digital watercooler check-ins, individual and group projects and virtual facility tours.
“Though you will be completing your internship remotely, many of the same aspects of a traditional in-person internship still exist,” Air Traffic Services Vice President Jeffrey Vincent said in an orientation hosted June 3 via video conferencing software.
Before the public health emergency, Caitlyn Cooper, a communications major at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, was interning for a state representative in Texas. “I just started working a few events when the internship was cancelled,” Cooper said. She started looking around on hiring websites, but as COVID-19-related shutdowns progressed, the number of internships opportunities dwindled.
Now, Cooper is an intern assigned to the FAA’s Houston District. “When I was applying, I felt the internship with the FAA was a long shot because I don’t have a background in aviation.” However, with the variety of career opportunities for students of any major, Cooper has started to find her stride working on assignments with the Air Traffic Services communications team.
Keishon Ellis, a student at the Community College of Baltimore, is one of six returning interns. Ellis said his experience working at the Washington National Tower prompted him to change majors and pursue a career in air traffic control.
On adapting to the digital environment, Ellis said there are some aspects that are difficult to replicate, including the feeling “you get just being in the tower and being around a group of controllers,” he said. He’s excited to take part in the interactive modules, simulations and games used to train the controller workforce.
Keishon joins other interns in working on individual and group projects with advisors and managers, including cohort presentations to benefit the agency and a digital yearbook chronicling their summer internship experiences. To take full advantage of the 10-week internship, students were encouraged to set goals and share them in a business communication platform that serves as a virtual “water cooler” and resource repository.
“This is a partnership. It’s your opportunity to learn more about careers in aviation,” Talethia Thomas, Air Traffic Services senior advisor and program manager, advised students. “It’s our opportunity to leverage your creative, innovative thinking and to gain fresh perspectives on projects and processes.”
Andrews agreed. “This is just the beginning. This is how we bring the next generation of leaders to the FAA.”
Are you interested in joining the FAA team? Go to https://www.faa.gov/jobs/students/internships/ to learn about our various internship programs and find application instructions.