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October 17, 2023
At Steppingstone, career readiness is just as important as college access. Our Alumni community of more than 1,600 professionals have established an impressive array of careers, with large concentrations in the fields of business, law, and health sciences.
Today, we’d like to introduce you to someone who is pursuing a “less traveled” career path. Meet Zachory Durham. He is studying to be a pilot.
Love At First Flight
A student at Bridgewater State University pursuing a degree in aviation, Zach has been dreaming of this career since his first time on an airplane.
“I remember the very first time sitting in the window seat on my flights to Haiti and Florida. I was just in awe of the fact that just two hundred years ago, being able to fly across great distances both internationally and domestically wasn't possible.”
Zach would have to wait a number of years before finding his way to the cockpit, but in high school, he found an innovative way to get one step closer—by coding an original custom flight simulator. He recalls the time he and his friend Revin embarked on this project together.
“Revin taught me how to code in Lua, which is a popular programming language. Together, we created an online flight simulation server that we called projectDash. It garnered over 23,000 unique players and 2,000 active members. In this server, users are able to create their own virtual airline based on real life.”
Zach then taught himself many other programming languages, which included Java, Python, Golang, and C-Sharp. While finding success and community in the coding realm, Zach also faced challenges familiar to many high schoolers.
A Transformative Journey
At Boston College High School, Zach struggled to connect with and relate to his peers, many of whom came from more privileged backgrounds. College wasn’t something Zach thought was possible for him, with tuition being a significant deterrent. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit during his junior year of high school when he was working on his college applications.
“I wasn’t really confident in myself or my abilities… I wasn’t doing well mentally. Zoom classes didn’t help. I was getting easily distracted. But thanks to my Steppingstone Advisor, Makeda Daniel, with her support and direction, I realized that college was still achievable for me.”
As his High School Success Advisor, Makeda saw how proactive Zach was in exploring his unique passion.
“He was so eager and ready to learn more about aviation and teach anyone more about aviation. He was never discouraged by how niche something like pursuing aviation was. Even though it wasn’t the most popular route taken by other high school Scholars, he saw it as something really special and not as something difficult to attain.”
Zach also credits his BC High advisor, Ms. Fargo, who took a genuine interest in his goals and provided ample aviation resources and opportunities. She referred him to the nonprofit Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), and he had the opportunity to attend their conference in 2022.
Professional Opportunities at Logan and Nantucket
With OBAP’s support, Zach landed (pun intended!) an opportunity with the ACE Academy of Logan Airport. For the first time, Zach was exposed to all of the different career paths that can come from working in aviation. After spending time at ACE Academy, Zach knew he wanted to become a pilot.
While Zach continued to explore opportunities and broaden his network, he credits one particular friend with giving him the opportunity of a lifetime: to work for one of his dream airlines.
“My friend Marc had invited me to stay with him and his family for the summer. He introduced me to the job of being a ramp agent for JetBlue at the Nantucket airport.”
As a ramp agent, Zach’s responsibilities included, but were not limited to: driving the machines to push back the plane, loading and unloading planes, as well as communicating with the air traffic controller and pilots. In the midst of gaining professional experience and networking, Zach also enjoyed unexpected perks — including a celebrity sighting!
Zach had the opportunity to meet comedian and musician Donald Glover, who snapped a selfie with Zach before jetting off with his family. Zach acknowledges his time as a ramp agent at the Nantucket airport as one of his most transformational experiences.
With more skills and experience under his tool belt, Zach is now able to reflect on the journey that led him to this point.
“Don’t Sell Yourself Short”
When asked about how Steppingstone played a part in his educational journey, Zach attests the team did an “amazing job” providing him the resources necessary to attend Bridgewater State University. His biggest takeaway from his journey is to never sell yourself short. He stresses that, no matter what your background or upbringing may be, you are still able to dream big and achieve your goals. His advice to all Scholars is:
“By showing up and showing others how passionate you are, and being involved with communities that matter to you, I’m sure any Steppingstone Scholar will find success.”
As Zach begins his sophomore year, this is only the beginning of what is to come. Through his hard work and perseverance, Zach is pursuing his dreams of becoming a pilot and making his goals a reality. With great aspirations and a bright future ahead, look out for Zach as your pilot on a flight coming soon.
Steppingstone is an educational nonprofit which serves students of every race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, or political beliefs to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to Scholars enrolled in the program. It does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, or national or ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship programs, or other organization-administered activities.