Posted on September 29th in REACH Blog

How One Student’s Nonprofit is Strengthening the Aviation Workforce

Davidson Nzekwe-Daniel

Davidson Nzekwe-Daniel and his family lived close to an airport in Lagos, Nigeria, and he would often watch planes take off and land. When he was 10 years old, he began dreaming that one day he would build and fix airplanes.

A series of air disasters that ravaged the aviation industry in Nigeria — including one that killed his coworker — turned that childhood dream into a mission. Investigations into the crashes often revealed they were caused by inadequate maintenance management on the airplanes.

“The industry lacked qualified mechanics and administrators,” Davidson said. “With this in view, I realized that my country needs me as someone who can combine and implement technical and managerial functions to improve safety in the aviation industry.”

Davidson studied aerospace engineering in Great Britain before coming to the United States for a more hands-on education in the aviation maintenance management program at Broward College in Florida. He enrolled in the spring of 2017 and just three semesters later earned a full scholarship to complete his training from the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading.

Davidson and studentsStudents in the aviation maintenance management program must obtain airframe and powerplant (A&P) certifications in order to get a job in the industry. These intensive tests cover a range of skills and are difficult to pass — Davidson tried three times before passing the airframe certification. His said his breakthrough came when he realized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides a compilation of the knowledge and skills needed for the tests, called the Practical Tests Standards (PTS). The PTS is updated regularly, and it is this information that students are tested on.

“I was able to identify this gap, and I attempted to bridge it by updating my knowledge and skills as required,” Davidson said. “I passed the airframe test the fourth time. And when I went for my powerplant test, having learned the right way to approach the test, I knocked it out once.”

Davidson knew his peers were struggling with the certification exams as well, so he developed a prep course called Curriculum Practical Training (CPT). Using the PTS as a guide, students are better able to prepare for their certification exams by reinforcing the specific skills examiners will look for during testing.

CPT is free but space is limited to 25 students each session. Through the course, 15 air mechanics have been certified from the Aviation Institute of Broward College — more than the college has ever had at one time. One of the first students in the CPT course, Jung Yeol An, obtained his certifications, got a job with GE Aviation, and now works at United Airlines.

“I feel so proud to have attended Broward College,” Davidson said. “I’ve utilized so many opportunities that have shaped my life, and I feel I can help others see BC in the best possible light.

“The FAA recognizes schools with good student completion rates from their training programs; so, contributing to boosting the completion rate at BC equals FAA recognition.”

The CPT is part of the Davidson Initiative, a nonprofit Davidson started to support students in the aviation community and equip them with the necessary instruments required to achieve academic success and to smoothly transition into the workforce. The organization is also working to tackle the personnel shortage in the aviation industry through outreach programs designed to inspire K-12 students to pursue aviation-related and other STEM careers.

Davidson at BrowardIn 2019, Boeing projected that approximately 193,000 aircraft maintenance technicians would need to enter the workforce in North America by 2038. Davidson developed a research project on the shortage, which earned him a $5,000 grant from the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program. He was invited to present his research at the Transport Research Board’s 2020 conference.

“This topic has always been a hot topic of interest in the industry, and I feel I could contribute, no matter how little, to addressing it by tackling one of the root causes of low completion rates of student mechanics,” he said.

Though Davidson graduated from Broward in December 2019, the college’s Aviation Institute is working with the Davidson Initiative to continue the CPT program for its students.

As a PTK member, Davidson was named to the 2020 All-Florida Academic Team and was one of only 20 college students across the country named to the prestigious 2020 All-USA Academic Team; he was also named a New Century Transfer Pathway Scholar and a Hites Scholar, earning $15,000 in scholarships total.

“This is what PTK does,” he said. “It presents one with real opportunities to make progress in one’s academic and professional journey.”

Davidson, 28, will transfer to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach in spring 2021 to seek a degree in aviation business administration; in the meantime, he’s working as an aircraft technician. He plans to become a “serial entrepreneur,” founding many businesses in the aviation industry.

PTK’s scholarship application is open now through December 1. Apply today!

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