May 02, 2006
SIUC student is ready for her career to take off
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- From the time she was 12 years old, Juisell Timeisha Lewis knew she wanted to be involved in aviation. Yet as she was riding in the jump seat of a United Airlines 737 airplane to Southern Illinois University Carbondale during an annual Aviation Career Day in April 1999, Lewis couldn't have predicted where her journey during the next seven years would lead.
Since joining SIUC's nationally recognized Aviation Management and Flight program as a freshman in the fall of 1999, Lewis took time off from school to help pay for college, changed her degree program, and even drove military trucks on missions in Kuwait and Iraq.
Lewis, the daughter of George and Grace Lewis of Chicago (7328 S. Euclid Ave.) is preparing for her next challenge. She graduates with a degree in aviation management from SIUC's College of Applied Sciences and Arts during commencement ceremonies at 11 a.m., Saturday, May 13, at the SIU Arena.
The degree prepares Lewis, 24, for a job in airport operations, management, planning, consulting, security and safety.
"The industry is very broad, and so is this degree," she said. "That's the great part because I'm not really restricted to engineering, product support, or just aviation flight."
Lewis' interest in aviation goes back to an announcement in her church bulletin when she was 12 about an upcoming aviation conference of black airline pilots. Her first flight was through the
Young Eagles program at Meigs Field, and she later worked in summer programs through high school at the Gary Flight Academy. A graduate of Kenwood Academy, Lewis won an essay contest to earn a jump seat ride on a visit to SIUC's program, where she met aviation management and flight chair David A. NewMyer.
She considered aviation programs at other universities but "they didn't come up to SIUC's standards," she said.
Lewis joined the Illinois Army National Guard in January 2001 as a way to help pay for school. After going to basic training in May 2001, she completed her advanced individual training in truck driving three days after Sept. 11 – too late to enroll for the fall 2001 semester.
Returning to school in January 2002, Lewis transferred from aviation flight to aviation management. But her unit, the 1244th Transportation Company, deployed in January 2003. Within a few months, Lewis was in Kuwait transporting food and ammunition to troops along the front lines in Iraq, driving five-ton trucks with a 30- to 40-foot trailer. The missions ranged from two days to two weeks and included living out of trucks unless the camps had enough room to accommodate them.
Lewis returned to SIUC in August 2004. Thoughts of resuming her academic career kept Lewis motivated when she was not on a mission.
Lewis completed her degree requirements last fall, but took additional classes this semester because her mother wanted a spring graduation. She finished an externship with the Illinois Department of Transportation's Division of Aeronautics in March.
NewMyer praises Lewis' work ethic, and believes a key is her maturation and focus following her return from Iraq. Lewis is a "great ambassador" for the University and the aviation program, he said. Resuming classes after her tour of duty is a "major hurdle" that students who leave sometimes do not clear, NewMyer said.
She was one of three students named to a comprehensive focus panel of aviation and automotive industry experts the college assembled in March that is looking at ways to achieve diversity in student and faculty recruitment in the aviation and automotive programs. There are about 325 students in aviation management and flight and about 12 percent are female and about 5 percent are African American, NewMyer said.
NewMyer hopes Lewis considers potential internships at O'Hare International Airport or Midway International Airport. Both are "excellent learning grounds," with a large number of SIUC aviation graduates, he said.
Lewis' many activities include being a student worker in the aviation department, and an officer in the student-registered Global Aviation Organization.
"I see great potential in Juisell as a future airport operations specialist or airport manager," NewMyer said. "I think she is going to go far."
Lewis is one of the first African Americans, male or female, "to really take an interest in this area, come through the program, and really go down that path," NewMyer said.
"There are relatively few African American students coming through aviation in general, and for her to take a path in airport management – it makes her a bit of a trailblazer," he said.
Lewis is also involved with the Student Alumni Council, Student Programming Council, Abundant Health at the Eurma C. Hayes Center in Carbondale, and Saluki Volunteer Corps.
She is hoping for an internship this summer and is looking for a job, while also considering re-enlisting in the military in January to an aviation-geared discipline. Due to the amount of industry cross training, Lewis plans to complete her flight requirements. She is considering graduate school next year with an eye toward international business, but acknowledges four trucking companies have been unsuccessful in their inquiries whether she is interested driving for them.
Lewis appreciates the hard work by her instructors.
"You have to work hard; the professors are demanding," she said. "But I'm glad I chose this program because aviation management, I think, has the best teachers SIUC can offer. We have professionals who have been in the field; they know what they are doing."
Lewis smiles at thoughts of participating in commencement exercises as her parents and a younger brother, Germel Lewis, an art major at Harold Washington College, look on.
"Yes, I have to. All this work," Lewis said with a laugh. "Oh yeah, I'm walking across somebody's stage; you better believe it. This has been a long time coming. I will be doing cartwheels and hugging the chancellor and the dean and everybody else."
Providing high-quality, comprehensive undergraduate education is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.
(Caption: Looking to the future – She has served in the Illinois Army National Guard, including 18 months in Kuwait and Iraq, but Juisell Timeisha Lewis of Chicago is now looking toward a career in aviation management. Lewis will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in aviation management from Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s nationally recognized Aviation Management and Flight Program, Saturday, May 13, at the SIU Arena.)
Photo by Jeff Garner