The Air Up There Podcast
Aerospace Pathways: Hampton University's ATC Program

Season 6, Episode 6

In the world of aviation, a diverse crew doesn't just enhance the view; it transforms the entire horizon. Join us on a flight to explore the dynamic world of aviation through the lens of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

In this episode, we connect with two guests from Hampton University, the first HBCU that is an FAA approved Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative School. Dylan Halsey, a Hampton University alumnus, shares his journey to becoming an air traffic controller and tips for people on a similar path. Timothy Johnson, an Assistant Professor for Hampton’s Air Traffic Control program, discusses the pivotal role of diversity in aviation and imparts valuable advice for those contemplating a career in aviation.

Share this episode with colleagues, friends, or anyone that might be intrigued by the intersection of education, diversity, and careers in aerospace.

Learn more about the FAA’s HBCU Initiative Program, opportunities in recruitment, internships, grants, and collegiate programs. 

Meet Our Guests: 
Dylan Halsey is a Hampton University alum with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Management/Air Traffic Control, who graduated with his Collegiate Training Initiative certification. Dylan works as a Remote Pilot Operator at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). 

Timothy Johnson is an Assistant Professor, Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative Program Manager for Hampton University’s aviation program. 

Disclaimer: Reference in this podcast to any specific commercial product, process, service, manufacturer, company, or trademark does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. government, Department of Transportation, or Federal Aviation Administration. As an agency of the U.S. government, the FAA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any specific product or service.

Aerospace Pathways: Hampton University's ATC Program
Aerospace Pathways: Hampton University's ATC Program
Audio file

Dylan Halsey: My interest in aviation was sparked by my father, who was also an air traffic controller at DCA airport. So, I used to see him in the tower. I used to go up to the tower all the time. I know his coworkers. And so, from an early age, I was just able to just see a lot of airplanes, and I was just fascinated about just, you know, the technologies, the radar systems and everything. And that's what really drove me towards air traffic control.

Lucy Jabbour: That is Dylan Halsey, a Hampton University alum who is pursuing a career as an air traffic controller. 

Kelsey Crimiel: In this episode, we’re talking about Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs. 

Lucy Jabbour: We’ll also be learning about Hampton University’s aviation program. We’re your hosts. I’m Lucy Jabbour. 

Kelsey Crimiel: And I’m Kelsey Crimiel and I support the FAA’s HBCU initiative group and I am a proud Hampton University alumni - and this is the Air Up There!

Various People: You are listening to the Air Up There, The Air Up There, The Air Up There. You’re listening to The Air Up There. This is your captain speaking. The feeling I get when I’m flying is just; you get an adrenaline rush. Seeing something fly is awesome. It’s incredible to be able to fly. Flying airplanes is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I get so excited about aviation, aeronautics, space, engineering, and tech. Like star gazing and just wondering what it would be like to be up there. I just fell in love with it. Stick with your passion and pursue it. Just know you can do it. There is not a room, there is not a cockpit, there is not a place that you don’t belong. There’s certainly a place for everybody in aerospace.

Kelsey Crimiel: Historically, HBCUs provided educational opportunities for many African Americans who were once legally denied education. Today, HBCUs continue to promote scholarship and educate students of all races, ethnicities and cultures from around the world.

Lucy Jabbour: At the Annual National HBCU Week Conference Career and Recruitment Fair in Washington, DC we talked to students from a variety of HBCUs.

Various People: So, I just graduated from Howard University. So, I go to Bowie State; Jackson State University located in Jackson, Mississippi; Benedict College in South Carolina. I am currently going to school at Howard University in DC. I graduated from Tennessee State University. I am a PharmD candidate at southern University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. I attend Alabama A&M University. So, I recently just graduated from Bowie State University. I attend Lincoln University in Jefferson City Missouri. 

Lucy Jabbour: And asked them what they liked about attending a Historically Black College or University.

Various People: I think my favorite thing is just, for the first time in my life I feel like I belong somewhere. I grew up in a predominately White space where I did always feel like the odd man out. The different amount of people you see. There’s a lot of diversity on the campus. So, there’s a lot of people you can relate with. People you can connect with; and then also being around people who look like me, but were also more successful. I love that there are a lot of opportunities for HBCU students, especially coming to an event like this at HBCU week. Being able to learn and having experience with professors who are like myself. Being able to focus on school, because I wasn’t focused on the social aspects of being the only of something at school. It’s a community of people that look like me and that are there to support me and want what’s best for me. Just the culture and the diversity. The people; the energy. It’s the community, really. Everybody is just very supportive; and having a support system and everybody being there for each other. The sense of Black community and the understanding that we have with each other. 

Kelsey Crimiel: The FAA establishes relationships with HBCUs that are training aviation safety professionals, like Hampton University which has a program for future air traffic controllers where students learn procedures in simulated tower and radar environments. Let’s meet a recent scholar of the program, Dylan Halsey.
Kelsey Crimiel: Why did you decide to attend Hampton University's aviation program to receive your degree?

Dylan Halsey: In high school, once I realized I wanted to do air traffic control, I really started off wanting to do like a two-year program, and then try to just, you know, apply for the bids and go that route. But I was encouraged by my family members to at least, you know, go to an HBCU. Like have that experience there with your, you know, peers that look like you. You know, go through the similar things that you're gonna have to go through in life and have the HBCU experience.

Kelsey Crimiel: Definitely. That was my next question. Why was attending an HBCU so important to you? I went to Hampton. What I enjoyed the most was just being around like-minded individuals who looked like myself, who had similar goals and interests. Hampton is a smaller campus; smaller class sizes. So, I was able to connect more with my professors and students and that just really made for a well-rounded HBCU experience. 

Dylan Halsey: So just to touch a little bit what you said the smaller classroom, especially for air traffic control are extremely small, like. So, I had a lot of one-on-one time with my professor. I was able just, you know, to really figure out what career path I wanted to take. How I wanted to do it. Hampton is really big on networking. So, when they had the job fair, like, you know, twice a year, I was able to go to see different airlines. You know, I learned about what a dispatcher was and they really helped out with like networking. Networking was a very big thing like, I just took value in those relationships in you know, opportunities.

Lucy Jabbour: How do you feel Hampton prepared you to pursue your career in aviation?

Dylan Halsey: Basically, my teacher being an air traffic controller. He was, my professor, he was an air traffic controller in the military. You know, he was able to walk things through and, you know, give his point of view. That helped, you know, a lot with my experience, I will say.

Lucy Jabbour: So, I heard a rumor that you took the test to be an air traffic controller with the FAA. Is that true Dylan?

Dylan Halsey: This past Friday, I took my ATSA exam, which is the Air Traffic Control Skills Assessment and I'm looking forward to you know, how everything shakes out.

Lucy Jabbour: What is some advice that you have for somebody who might be planning to take the same exam? 

Dylan Halsey: I will say this first. Take your time. Don't rush yourself. You just want to, you know, get your head set and very calm. You just wanted to be extremely calm. It’s really mental. It’s a mental game, you know, taking that test.

Kelsey Crimiel: Can you tell us a little bit about what is the most exciting part of the journey to becoming an air traffic controller?

Dylan Halsey: Being new into the journey, you know, in the halfway point of the journey, I will say the most exciting thing is just, every day learning something new. Once you discover that, you know, there are, you know, very numerous opportunities in which you can go on your career path. That is exciting.  You'll find out that you can move all over the US. You can even, you know, do air traffic controlling overseas, you know.

Kelsey Crimiel: So, Dylan. What advice would you give to those pursuing a career in aviation?

Dylan Halsey: A lot of people don't pass the test the first time, the second time. It’s really just, you’re gonna have stumbles, but just stay on the, you know, your course. 

Lucy Jabbour: Well, best of luck on the test. 

Kelsey Crimiel: Yes. Good luck.

Dylan Halsey: Appreciate it. Fingers crossed.

Lucy Jabbour: So, we're gonna switch gears a little bit. Also, joining us today is Tim Johnson or I guess, right, what you said earlier, Tango Zulu. Can you kind of tell us a little bit about your role at Hampton and probably explain where that Tango Zulu thing is coming in to people who might not be familiar with that speak?

Timothy Johnson: Oh, absolutely. Again, my name is Timothy Johnson, Assistant Professor here for air traffic control at Hampton. So, I did 20 years of air traffic in the military. Retired and now joining the Hampton University program. And when it comes to the letters, T-Z, Tango Zulu, all controllers, you know, have initials, two letter initials that they use when they transmit on frequency because everything gets recorded. So, when you're talking to other facilities and stuff, you always end your transmission with your operating initials. You know, outside of work people just usually call the other controllers by their initials.

Lucy Jabbour: Really?

Timothy Johnson: Yes. 

Lucy Jabbour: That's kind of fun. 

Timothy Johnson: Yeah. So, you know, I rarely heard Tim. It was always, “Hey, TZ what's going on?” You know. So, that's the reason for the operating initials. 

Kelsey Crimiel: So, working, you know, many years in aviation and now teaching at Hampton, why do you feel that diversity and inclusion is so important for aviation?

Timothy Johnson: Just because, a lot of people don't think they're able to get a job in aviation. You know, just showing that they can. I remember one of my students when I first came here, they wanted to go to another university for aviation and they had an instructor that said, well, air traffic really isn't for Black women. To hear something like that when, no, it’s actually something for everyone, you know. So, I think it’s great that you’ll also take other classes to understand the African American culture, while also still becoming an aviation professional.

Kelsey Crimiel: How does Hampton work with airlines and other industry partners to help students find pathways to a career in aerospace or aviation?

Timothy Johnson: We're going to be adding dispatching as part of the curriculum. So, while you're waiting for FAA taking that test. You see, it takes months to actually get hired and stuff. While you're waiting for the FAA, you can get your dispatch license and with that, you can become a ramp controller or something at an airport. You can have that job and that license, while you're waiting to get hired on at FAA. So, we're setting up programs like that. Getting our students licensed and going right to airlines to work for them, you know, to start making some money, you know, while you're waiting to get hired on at FAA. So, not only just waiting to become an air traffic controller, getting other licenses and working with companies to get hired on to have a job waiting for you right when you graduate because the FAA is a process. And it's for a reason, but it still takes a while to get hired on as a controller with FAA.

Lucy Jabbour: What advice would you have for, you know, other people who are maybe taking a peek at air traffic control as a possibility for a career?

Timothy Johnson: Be honest with yourself. So, when it comes to those tests, be honest with yourself when answering the questions, you know. Be honest with yourself when they evaluate you, you know. Don't try to give answers that you think they want to hear. When you're dealing with lives, you know, getting people up and down safely. It's very stressful and part of the test is trying to see if you're capable of handling those stresses. So, my advice is, just be honest with yourself. 

Lucy Jabbour: What would you say, I mean, makes the journey exciting, makes the career exciting?

Timothy Johnson: You know, after years of doing it, you just show up to work one day, you realize you're part of the aviation system. You're part of moving aircraft. Big ole machines. Metal things that fly, you know. You're part of that. Aviation is magic, you know. You got big ole things in the air that shouldn't be flying. Every once in a while, you remember that you're part of that system. It's rewarding and it's exciting as well.

HBCU Aviation Day PSA: Imagine a day filled with possibilities, where diversity soars and innovation takes flight. The FAA and Historically Black Colleges and Universities have joined forces for FAA-HBCU Aviation Day to highlight groundbreaking aerospace education programs. Learn how, together, we’re nurturing the dreamers and innovators who will shape the future of aerospace. For more information on FAA-HBCU Aviation Day, visit and search HBCU.  

Lucy Jabbour: Thanks for listening! For more information about today’s guests, check out Speaking of our guests, we did get an update. Dylan did pass his Air Traffic Skills Assessment. So, congratulations! Subscribe, like, follow where ever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss a single episode. Coming up next week...

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