Professional Pilot senior Charnell Walls will soon be graduating and taking the next steps on her career journey, but she is currently helping the next generation of students to define their own futures as the first pilot mentor for Oklahoma City Community College’s Students Connecting with Mentors for Success (SCMS) program.
Walls, who is also the president of the OU Chapter of Women in Aviation, became involved in the program when an OU alum asked her to consider being available for students who were interested in becoming pilots.
“I am so honored to have been personally invited to mentor first-generation college students there,” Walls said. “My role is to share my knowledge of aviation with students in the program so they might select aviation as a career choice.”
The SCMS program is geared toward professionals who are established in their fields assisting first-generation students in pursuing an education beyond high school. A first-generation student is an individual who is or will be the first in their family’s history to attend college on any level.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘Everything you ever wanted is waiting for you on the other side of fear.' We often fear the unknown, and as a mentor, I can play a part in removing some of it. This is my goal."
The program initially focused on serving young, marginalized, African American males, but has quickly expanded to include young women and all students of color. The goal is to prepare these students for a four-year university, or the workforce, by helping them improve their academic success, as well as increasing retention and graduation rates. Students are required to meet and maintain certain strict criteria to remain the program—with a focus on grades, attendance and community service.
“Thus far, these students have exceeded the goals set by SCMS Program Director Bryon Dickens, so much so they have expanded the program,” Walls said.
Walls sees her role as a mentor involving helping students navigate through the unknown by answering questions about processes, avenues and alternatives for the students’ careers of choice, providing encouragement through empathy and guidance, assisting with technical questions and promoting good study habits.
“I believe that having a mentor is one of the biggest steps in preserving the motivation of newcomers in any arena,” she said. “Knowing that there is someone who cares, who has likely walked in the same shoes or had the similar experiences is powerful to self-reliance.
“Often, when we are going through challenging circumstances, we may feel that we are alone, and doubt can creep in. Having a mentor can help normalize feelings and redirect behaviors in a positive way.”
It’s the beginning of what Walls hopes will be a long-term partnership in her life and career.
“I was very excited about the prospect of young women being invited to participate in the program,” she said, “and I thought that partnering SCMS with the Women in Aviation - Sooner Chapter could be a perfect fit. My thought process was that OUWAI members who were Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs) could start mentoring while in the OKC area and continue it into their flying careers.”
Walls said the program is excited to have OU’s Women in Aviation speak to both their male and female students in the coming months. Currently, her role is to generate interest in careers in aviation among students in the program.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘Everything you ever wanted is waiting for you on the other side of fear,’” she said. “We often fear the unknown, and as a mentor, I can play a part in removing some of it. This is my goal. I hope to be a meaningful partner to the program and to impact the life of one or more of these students by assisting them in any way that I can to succeed.”