Turlock Christian High School senior Kojo Bekoe-Sakyi remembers the first time he saw an airplane in person. He was at an airport heading to West Africa with his family, and, awestruck, he marveled at how something so heavy was able to fly.
That particular moment has stuck in Bekoe-Sakyi’s mind throughout the years, he said, because it helped him decide that one day he would become an aerospace engineer.
“I’ve always loved planes, and as a kid, that’s all I talked about,” Bekoe-Sakyi said. “When I saw my first plane in real life, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to build them.”
Over the past three weeks, Bekoe-Sakyi and other area 10th, 11th and 12th grade students have been honing their skills at Stanislaus State’s National Summer Transportation Institute Program — a STEM camp designed to introduce high schoolers to transportation careers and inspire them to consider transportation-related courses of study in college.
Bekoe-Sakyi didn’t know about the camp until the last week of school and applied on a whim after his science teacher, knowing about his interest in airplanes, told him he should look into the program. He was selected as one of 20 students to participate in the camp after penning an essay that detailed his desire to learn more about transportation — specifically, travel by air.
“Even though the camp is about land and sea travel along with air, it’s been worth it,” Bekoe-Sakyi said. “Things from those [forms of transportation] transfer over to flight as well.”
Bekoe-Sakyi and other campers have spent time learning about opportunities provided to them by the transportation industry and got a firsthand look at local chances to work in the field by visiting different transportation hubs like the Modesto City-County Airport, the Port of Stockton and the Castle Air Museum in Atwater.
“Most of the kids believe that in order to have a career in the transportation field, they have to get their education far away. But, there are a lot of opportunities here locally,” Stanislaus State programs coordinator Veronica Chaidez said. “They had no idea the Port of Stockton existed, and now they’re asking what else is around here that they don’t know about.”
In addition to lessons learned and sights seen at the National Summer Transportation Institute Program, Bekoe-Sakyi and three other students selected by the camp will travel to Florida on July 22 for an experience of a lifetime at the National Flight Academy. Bekoe-Sakyi will have the opportunity to plan missions with advanced technology, learn to fly in a flight simulator, eat on a mess deck, sleep in staterooms and receive mission briefings in a full-electronic ready room — all a dream come true for the future aerospace engineer, who had to write yet another essay explaining why he wanted to attend the academy in order to be considered for the trip.
“I still can’t believe I’m going,” Bekoe-Sakyi said. “What I’m looking forward to most is getting more hands-on learning about flight with the flight simulator and learning more about aviation in general. In school we learn about physics, biology and different sciences but it’s not focused on aviation, so I think learning more about that specific field will be great.”
What Bekoe-Sakyi learns at the National Flight Academy in the coming weeks could come in handy in the future when the soon-to-be graduate pursues a higher education. For now, he’ll be busy during his senior at Turlock Christian year thanks to extracurriculars like student government, football, basketball, soccer, track and field, technology commissioner and chapel leader, just to name a few, but come next year the future engineer hopes to attend either Stanford University, Georgia Tech or Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
“It’s hard work, but I just have to keep it up and hopefully it will all work out,” Bekoe-Sakyi said.