Vaughn College: Preparing diverse aviation professionals for the future

Vaughn College, a hidden gem in Queens, is taking students from the boroughs to the skies. For over 90 years, the college says it has been a launching pad for aviation professionals, filling a dire need in the industry. 
"Growing up in Brooklyn all my life, I never thought I would be in this position right now, studying to be a pilot," said Yairo Dominquez, sophomore at Vaughn. 
Dominguez is working toward his private pilot license. He’s one of many Hispanic students at Vaughn College, making up the largest ethnic group, followed by African Americans. Staff members say that over 70% of the students there hail from minority backgrounds, many of them being first-generation -breaking into career paths that have historically been dominated by white men.
"Queens is the most diverse borough in the New York City area. Our students know what they want, they select what they're looking for, they're determined to succeed, and that's what makes us special,” said Chaundra Daniels, the director of career services.
"It’s been hard trying to balance classes, but there's no better opportunity and time than right now to start this," said Dominguez.
The aviation industry is currently hungry for workers. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lot of the issues with flight delays and cancellations boil down to there simply being a lack of workforce.  Everything from pilots to mechanics to ground crews are needed.
"At 18 years old, I was able to make the same amount of money my father was making," said Evita Garces, an alum of Vaughn College and vice president of line maintenance at American Airlines. Garces hails from Washington Heights. She started her career as an aircraft mechanic, eventually ascending to management and now leading a division at American Airlines.
"I wasn't the person that was repairing a toaster or repairing a car at 14 years old, and I never looked to the sky and said this is what I need to do, it presented a good opportunity," said Garces.
Her journey illustrates the opportunities that this field offers, especially for those who might not have initially considered it. She says it not only afforded her the opportunity to change the trajectory of her family, but she’s also able to encourage others. 
"My focus today, now that I represent and hold this leading position, is to make sure women know that this is an opportunity they can take advantage of," she states, highlighting that even as a mother, she manages overnight shifts and the demands of maintaining aircraft.
On this day, students attended a career fair and were able to speak with industry recruiters from companies such as JetBlue and Delta, many seeking internships to get their foot in the door. Dominguez admitted there’s tons of pressure but stays focused on his end goal, with a little encouragement from family.
"They say we're so happy for you, and we're so proud, and we're going to be here supporting you through it all because, on top of that, we just want those free flights," said Dominguez. 
The school offers two open houses, with the fall open house scheduled for Nov. 11.