Since 1997, Southwest Pilots have made a difference in the lives of more than 592,000 students through our Adopt-A-Pilot program. The program gives classrooms throughout the country the opportunity to “adopt” their own Southwest Pilot for a few weeks during the school year. These Pilots use engaging, aviation-themed lessons to teach students about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
“The purpose of Adopt-A-Pilot is to inspire children to grow up to be whatever they want to be,” says Janet Felty, Southwest Airlines Senior Coordinator who oversees the Adopt-A-Pilot program. “While the goal of the program isn’t specific to inspiring aviation careers, this year it was extra special to learn about multiple Adopt-A-Pilot children who have grown up to work in the airline industry.”
Keeping it in the Family
Southwest Pilot Atif Fareed’s connection to the Adopt-A-Pilot program hits particularly close to home. Years ago, Atif was “adopted” by his son Adam’s class at Tuskawilla Montessori elementary school in Oviedo, Florida. Adam’s enthusiasm for the program convinced Atif that all students deserve an opportunity to be inspired by the program’s engaging STEM curriculum. Atif has continued to volunteer for Adopt-A-Pilot ever since.
Adam recalls having always admired his father, but it wasn’t until his father served as an Adopt-A-Pilot Ambassador to his class that he was personally inspired to become a pilot. Now, years after his Adopt-A-Pilot lessons, Adam is officially a captain based out of Washington D.C. working for Trans States Airline. Adam and Atif even had the opportunity to conduct a joint Adopt-A-Pilot program together at Leaders Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida.
“The feeling of giving back to students is rewarding, and I hope my story can inspire students to reach new heights,” shared Adam.
Continuing the Legacy
Southwest Pilot Al Shawcross and his son, Tim, have a similar story to the Fareed family. During Al’s second year volunteering with Adopt-A-Pilot, he had an opportunity to help teach his son Tim’s fifth-grade class. This classroom became a relatively permanent fixture in Al’s life. After experiencing the excitement that aviation-themed lessons brought to the students, Al continued to teach in that same fifth-grade classroom year after year.
The experience with his dad also had a profound effect on Tim. Tim had always loved flying and felt free when airborne, but the idea of a career in aviation didn’t really come to life until his father’s Adopt-A-Pilot lessons. Tim is now a professional pilot and works as a first officer for SkyWest Airlines. And for the last two years, Al and Tim have been teaching in the same fifth-grade classroom together, inspiring the next generation of students as a father-son duo.
From Bridgecreek to 38,000 Feet
Not long after joining Southwest in 2000, Pilot David Childs learned about the Adopt-A-Pilot program. It immediately piqued his interest as his own love of aviation was instilled in him by his father at a young age. Perhaps David could inspire a few kids himself while giving back to the community.
David spent five years volunteering with Adopt-A-Pilot at Bridgecreek Elementary, a school outside of Oklahoma City. He organized paper airplanes races, encouraging students to test the limits of aerodynamics. He used the places he flew to help teach geography to students, even bringing the school’s mascot, a “Bridgecreek Bobcat,” along with him on trips. He taped off classroom floors to create runways and taxiways, letting students pretend that they were airplanes and teaching them to speak to each other using the phonetic alphabet. In all of these activities, David hoped he could inspire a love of aviation. But he did not know that he would inspire a future career at Southwest.
During the summer of 2018, Jessica Mitchell began her own Southwest career as a Flight Attendant. Upon arriving in Dallas for training, she remembered her experience with Adopt-A-Pilot and David Childs. Jessica was a student in the fifth-grade class which had “adopted” David. The summer after fifth grade, she flew on an airplane for the first time—which was, fittingly, a Southwest flight. All of a sudden, David’s passion for flying made sense to her. Being in an Adopt-A-Pilot classroom was her first look at a potential career in the airline industry, and her life has not been the same since.
For all of our Adopt-A-Pilot Ambassadors, the chance to help teach and mentor young students can be life-changing. For Atif, Al, and David, it has also provided an opportunity to help shape the careers of future airline industry professionals.