Taking flight: IST student earns pilot’s license during pandemic

Emma Riglin
December 14, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When the COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly turned College of Information Sciences and Technology student Trevor Baptiste’s summer internship into a virtual experience, he used his newly found time to achieve his dream: becoming a pilot.

Originally from Haiti, Baptiste moved to Philadelphia with his family when he was just 7 years old. He’s wanted to fly planes ever since.

“I've always dreamed of being a pilot, ever since I got on a plane to come [to the United States],” said Baptiste, a junior studying security and risk analysis. “I never thought it was something I could really achieve, but it was always in the back of my mind.”

Throughout high school, Baptiste knew he wanted to attend Penn State, and his senior year visit to campus confirmed his decision. It was then that he met his mentor through the Achievers Program, and with that additional guidance, he applied to and received a Bunton-Waller Fellowship. This made it financially possible for him to attend Penn State. 

When he arrived on campus, Baptiste put his dream of being a pilot on hold because he fell in love with the field of cybersecurity and wanted to focus on his studies. But in the summer of 2019, Baptiste received a scholarship from the Air Force to take flying lessons, and his passion for aviation grew stronger.

“I was like, ‘I have to do this,’” said Baptiste. “It was really eye opening. It made me realize that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Finding opportunity amid uncertainty

Baptiste said he kept the goal to get his pilot’s license in his mind throughout his entire sophomore year of college. He had taken the lessons, but he couldn’t figure out when he would have time to complete the training. He had already secured an internship with PwC for summer 2020, so he set his sights for after graduation. And then COVID-19 struck.

“When the pandemic happened, I saw a great opportunity because everything was virtual,” said Baptiste. “I checked with my local flight school, and they were still open and doing classes, so I just went for it. I just thought, ‘why not make an opportunity out of a bad situation?’”.

He set out to obtain his private pilot’s license this summer. To do so, he had to complete 40 hours of both ground training and flight training, be endorsed by his instructors to be able to take the flight test, and then pass the test. Baptiste was also completing a virtual cybersecurity internship with PwC at the same time he was training for his pilot’s license, so every day he would wake up at 4 a.m. to attend flight and ground training, return home for his internship from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then return to the flight school after his work day for more training.

“It was a lot of studying and late nights,” said Baptiste. “I can’t say it was a walk in the park.”

But thanks to that hard work and determination – and the time he was able spend on flight training instead of commuting to his internship – Baptiste passed the test and is now a licensed pilot.

Trevor Baptiste - plane

Newly-licensed pilot Trevor Baptiste stands outside an airplane.

IMAGE: Provided

A changed view

Baptiste found out after he took the test that he was part of the fewer than 3% of pilots in the world who are African American, and of those, the fewer than 1% who are under 30 years old.

This wasn’t a goal he was aiming for when he pursued his pilot’s license, he said, but it has changed his view of his accomplishment. 

“There aren’t many Black pilots in the world,” Baptiste said. “I feel honored to be a part of a group that includes the Red Tails, who had to overcome so much to get to where they are. It really means a lot to me.”

Baptiste said learning about his unique position has inspired him to pay it forward.

“I wish that a younger version of me had somebody like me to look up to, because growing up I didn’t know any Black pilots at all,” said Baptiste. “So, in this role I have to show young people that just because you don't see much of us in this type of field doesn't mean that it's not possible.”

The path forward

After completing his internship this summer, Baptiste went through a series of interviews with PwC and was selected to intern with the firm again in summer 2021, this time in their Atlanta office. He said he owes a lot of his success at PwC to the education and support he’s receiving from the College of Information Sciences and Technology.

“Coming into PwC, I already knew most of the software they were using, so I feel like I had a leg up over other team members,” said Baptiste. “I took the class [about the software] the semester before my internship, so it was fresh in my mind and that really helped me.”

He added, “IST provides so many resources for us on a daily basis. Just walking in the building, you always see a company outside the lobby. I feel like not too many colleges have that.”

Baptiste says he is caught between choosing aviation or cybersecurity as his profession. He hopes his internship with PwC next summer will give him more insight on which path he wants to take.

“I really like PwC and I really love consulting and I want to see where that takes me. But I've always wanted to be a pilot,” said Baptiste. “So, it's like a battle between my old dreams and my new dreams.”

Either way, Baptiste is excited for wherever he lands.


Last Updated December 15, 2020