Investing in Tomorrow's Leaders

Southwest believes in connecting People to what’s important in their lives, and that doesn’t happen by accident. Living out our Purpose requires careful planning for the future, a Warrior Spirit, and lots of hard work. We seek to inspire and empower the next generation of Employees, community members, and leaders.

We believe that developing tomorrow’s leaders is not a short-term strategy, as illustrated by the legacy of our Adopt-A-Pilot program, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017. Since its 1997 inception as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s “America Goes Back to School” effort, Adopt-A-Pilot has reached more than 550,000 students. The program allows fifth-grade classrooms around the country to “adopt” their own Southwest Pilot for a four-week educational and mentorship program. In 2017, we had more than 600 Adopt-A-Pilots teaching more than 35,000 students nationwide.

“Adopted” Pilots use an extensive curriculum to teach students about subjects like geography, math, science, and history. Having uniformed Pilots encourage learning makes the program particularly effective. “If you’ve ever seen a Pilot in uniform walk into a fifth-grade class, it’s impressive—and it’s actually pretty hard to impress a fifth grader,” says Sally Harbeson, Manager of Community Outreach at Southwest.

While Pilots are teaching curriculum through aviation, what they're really doing is teaching values—like being a good person and doing the right thing.
—Sally Harbeson, Southwest Manager of Community Outreach

Pilots facilitate experiments and demonstrations in the classroom (such as using a leaf blower and ping pong balls to show how a plane flies) that keep students engaged and make learning about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fun. “Pilots visit the classroom at least once a week, while the teacher leads the curriculum the rest of the time,” explains Sally. “And Pilots can even make an impact when they’re away from the classroom, doing things like sending pictures from the cockpit or having kids track their flights.” Through these interactions, Adopt-A-Pilot inspires students to apply real-world thinking to their lessons.

Teaching Life Skills
The lessons of Adopt-A-Pilot also go beyond traditional lesson plans. Adopt-A-Pilot seeks to instill students with what we call our FLIGHT values: fearlessness, leadership, imagination, gratitude, honesty, and tenacity. “While Pilots are teaching curriculum through aviation, what they’re really doing is teaching values—like being a good person and doing the right thing,” says Sally. “They’re trying to inspire kids to reach for whatever they want to tackle in the future.”

Additional Partnerships and Activities
Southwest’s Adopt-A-Pilot program is just one of the many ways that we are working to inspire and equip the next generation. Our Campus Reach Team identifies and engages future Southwest Employees at an early age by:

  • Partnering with the Dallas Independent School District in our hometown to inspire student interest in STEM careers and aviation.
  • Hosting Aviation Days to provide 3rd – 8th grade students with a day-long camp that aims to educate and inspire them about the aviation industry.
  • Offering high school internships that expose students to a variety of careers in aviation and emphasize the importance of education and opportunities beyond a diploma or degree.
  • Facilitating Southwest Summer Camp to expose high-school-age children of Southwest Employees to the world of work at Southwest, hopefully inspiring them to join the Southwest Family as an intern or full-time Employee.
  • Supporting STEM education through unique partnerships. In late 2017, we provided a team of students with round trip airfare to watch their nationally-recognized science experiment rocketed into space.

Part of Southwest’s Culture
As we look forward to the next decade of Adopt-A-Pilot, we recognize Frank Jackson, who has been with the program since its inception in 1997, for embodying our commitment to youth. While Frank retired from Southwest in 2016, he still volunteers as an Adopt-A-Pilot in his hometown of Los Angeles, teaching in the inner city where he feels he can have the biggest impact. Frank is committed to spending time at the school to support the kids and their teachers. “I have a chance to help these kids to step up just a little bit. Just study a little bit harder,” says Frank. In doing so, Frank is helping pass the torch to the next generation.

To learn more about our Adopt-A-Pilot program, click here.

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