United Summer Associates' Dreams Take Flight - United Hub
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Watch now: United Summer Associates' dreams take flight

By The Hub team, July 31, 2017

Ever since she was a young girl, aviation science major Tahchiona Smith says she dreamed of flying. Her grandmother would drive her to the viewing area at Lea County Regional Airport in New Mexico where they would lie in the bed of their pickup truck and watch planes take off and land. "It was just so beautiful," Tahchiona says, "I love the whistle sound of the jet engine. I remember thinking this equipment is so powerful. You can get anywhere in the world in 24 hours. That was just amazing to me."

For the past eight weeks, Tahchiona and 89 other college students had the opportunity to explore the aviation industry on a deeper level through the United Summer Associates (USA) program. Launched 11 years ago at Newark Liberty International Airport, the paid internship program expanded this year to include San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, giving more students from these communities first-hand experience in our day-to-day operation. With this year's program coming to an end, the USA students shared some of the invaluable lessons they learned over the past two months.

"Working with the customers made me realize that it's important to be able to step out of my shoes and step in somebody else's," said Houston's summer associate Broderick Braziel, who is pursuing a degree in business and IT management. "Getting to talk with people from all parts of the world helped me understand that a lot of our issues are pretty small compared to other issues in this world."

Summer Associates at Newark Liberty International Airport

For Newark's Daneja Jefferson, the connections she's made during the program have made a lasting impact. "I've learned to try to build relationships with employees no matter what," she said. "You may never know who you may meet and who may help you in the end."

This also holds true for Los Angeles' Autumn Macklin, who has found a shining example in Airport Operations Supervisor Charlie Giggers. "Charlie has been a great leader. He's so enthusiastic and very happy to teach us about all the parts of the airport process."

Seeing all that is involved in getting our customers to their destination safely and on time has been an eye-opener for San Francisco's Lovina Akauola, who is interested in business administration. "I've always been involved on sports teams," she said. "Being able to make sure that everyone is playing their part and getting a plane out on time is just like that. It's one group of people working together."

For San Francisco's Joseph John Gomez, an Air Traffic Management major, a highlight of this experience was hearing from United's CEO, Oscar Munoz, on his first day. "What I learned from Oscar is to figure out really what your purpose is, and, once you find that purpose, that is what will really be the driver for you."

Group of Summer Associates at Houston George Bush International Airport

While not every student plans to stay in the aviation industry, Houston's Tachiona Smith certainly has jet fuel in her veins. She's determined to become a pilot at United, and her time in the program cemented that dream. At Houston Intercontinental Airport, she met several pilots and has taken their advice to heart.

"Everybody told me to hang in there and it's going to be hard," she said. "Stay on top of scholarships and meet people. Once you get there, it will be worth it."

Whether these students choose to stick to the aviation industry or pursue a different passion, one thing is clear – the future is bright for our 2017 United Summer Associates.

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