By: Eric Addison
How real is Morgan State University’s (MSU’s) Core Value of “Diversity”? Let’s just say it’s real enough for the renowned institution’s big tent to shelter not one but two top students from very different backgrounds who are both pursuing their childhood dreams of piloting commercial aircraft.
Bria Bailey is a Spring 2023 Bachelor of Science in Business Administration graduate, born and raised in Baltimore City. Her parents emphasized the importance of quality education to Bria and her two older siblings, and they also encouraged their children to live full lives through extracurricular activities, and travel.
“When we would go on our family vacations, the number one thing I would look forward to was being in the airport,” Bailey says. “Looking at the planes take off, looking at them land, I was just really fascinated by the mechanics of it all — the grace of this thousand-ton machine flying in the sky….”
Those experiences are the root of her aspiration to become a pilot, she says. During her junior year of high school, she developed Plan A: to enroll in the Professional Pilot Program at Delaware State University. Disappointed when she learned the program was beyond her financial budget, she enrolled in the Granville T. Woods Scholars Program at Baltimore City Community College, “a great decision” that led her to Morgan, she says. “It’s a partnership between that program and Morgan where if my GPA stayed above 3.5, I got to attend Morgan with a full ride.”
When we interviewed her last fall, Bailey was holding a 4.0 grade-point average as a Clara I. Adams Honors student in the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management, gaining knowledge about entrepreneurship.
“An entrepreneurial mindset is something that I’ve always aspired to have….” she said. “I can see myself in the future utilizing my degree, because I’m interested in developing different methods of income. I don’t just want to depend on my pilot income. I want to have investments in real estate and start my own business.”
Bailey made it a goal to fly twice a week from Martin State Airport as a student with Brett Aviation in Middle River, Maryland, working on her landings and building up flight hours in preparation for her first solo flight. In between flights, she trained in her dorm room, “chair flying” in front of a poster of an airplane cockpit, practicing maneuvers.
Bailey is a Spring 2023 initiate of the Alpha Gamma Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, and was active in a number of campus organizations — including Active Minds, a national organization dedicated to supporting the mental health of young adults. She says she’s benefited greatly as a mentee of Sisters of the Skies, Inc., “an organization of Black female pilots who are committed to supporting future Black aviators through mentoring, professional development, outreach and scholarships.” Scholarships from the group have helped fund Bailey’s flight training: $5,000 at the Sisters of the Skies Fourth Annual Scholarship and Fundraising Gala in 2022 and $10,000 at the gala held last February.
Bailey says she’s determined to help increase the representation of Black women pilots in the aviation industry: “As a young Black woman in America pursuing a career where we’re represented by so few — It’s less than half of 1% of all pilots who are Black women — it really just motivates me to want to move forward in this journey, being able to add to that number and reach out to Black kids, young Black adults who may be interested in pursuing something like this.”
Daniel Harrison’s passion for piloting began like Bailey’s, in an airport. As a five-year-old, the youngest of four siblings, growing up in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, he got to walk through an airplane during a school field trip. The career goal he set for himself at that moment still endures.
“Every step, every decision that I’ve made since then is because of that goal,” says Harrison, now a senior Electrical and Computer Engineering major at MSU. After beginning his aviation training in Jamaica, he felt compelled to change course when the flight school he’d chosen had a plane crash. “Ultimately, after I graduated high school, my parents and I decided I shouldn’t go there.” With little money and no other plans, “It was like, ‘What should I do now?’ My aunt (Denise Jarrett, Ph.D.), who actually works (as an English professor) at Morgan State, said I should look at opportunities here at Morgan or elsewhere in the U.S. So my family decided to take the financial risk, and I applied for a student visa.”
Harrison’s visa got him to the Community College of Baltimore County, where post-9/11 rules prevented international students from studying aviation. So he earned his associate’s degrees in general studies and science and transferred to Morgan in 2021, where he’s earned a 3.94 GPA and is serving as an academic tutor for the University’s Office of Residence Life and Housing. Engineering, he says, is “as close as I could get to aviation without actually flying. It’s teaching me to work on planes, and I get the joy of being around planes. I’m actually leaning toward starting my career’s journey in engineering and then jumping into aviation.”
A $3,500 scholarship from an organization named Legacy Flight Academy, two years ago, got his aviation career “off the ground, quite literally,” Harrison says, providing funds for pilot school. Recently, he has spent time on weekends moving toward his long-term goal, in flight training at Middle River Flight Center. His minor in French at Morgan is also preparation: learning a useful skill for his eventual flights to Paris as a pilot. In April, Harrison led the STEM team of a one-day outreach program hosted by the academy. The program, Eyes Above the Horizon, aimed to foster an interest in aerospace careers through flight introductions, mentorship and immersion into the rich history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
I can’t get these opportunities anywhere else, to be honest. I had other choices…but Morgan was far superior to the rest.
— Daniel Harrison, MSU Class of 2024
Last summer, Harrison took advantage of the opportunity offered by MSU Physics Lecturer Richard Damoah, Ph.D., to join NASA’s Student Airborne Science Activation (SaSa) internship program. Riding on a NASA plane collecting atmospheric data for science projects, he says, produced “a lot of the greatest moments.” His coming months may be just as great. Harrison recently accepted an internship at Cornell University’s Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility, in New York, where he is slated to conduct research for 10 weeks this summer. He’s also slated to begin a study abroad experience in France in August.
His aunt’s strong recommendation of Morgan was on target, says Harrison, who is a member of Morgan’s National Society of Black Engineers chapter, two national honor societies and the University’s Rocket Club.
“I can’t get these opportunities anywhere else, to be honest,” he says. “I had other choices…but Morgan was far superior to the rest. It’s affordable. It’s great. It’s an HBCU. It gives me a sense of comfort that we’re all together in this…. If there is any way I can give back, I’ll definitely keep Morgan at the forefront of my mind.”
Bailey is likewise grateful to Morgan and has plans to stay connected with her alma mater.
“The support and encouragement, the opportunities that I’ve gotten from Morgan, from professor connections, from the mentors I’ve had, through the Honors College, have been huge. Those have definitely helped me learn to advocate for myself and step out of my comfort zone,” she reports. “Through service and mentorship, I look forward to giving back to the Morgan State community.”