By Cheryl Smith
As Paul Quinn College prepares to celebrate its founding 150 years ago, this first Urban Work College and only minority-serving, federally-recognized work college in America continues to make significant strides and headlines with the announcement Monday of Southwest Airlines as its official airline.
Calling it a wonderful moment in history, it was like a pep rally in the lobby of the Herb Kelleher Building at Southwest Airlines’ Headquarters in Dallas as Paul Quinn’s President, students and staffers, as well as Southwest Airlines’ executives toured the LEAD (Leadership, Education and Air Crew Development) Training Center facilities.
“This is a wonderful moment in the history of the Quinnite Nation,” said President. Michael J. Sorrell. “This is really a community partnership and a community effort. Please do not underestimate what an enormous moment this is. Fifteen years ago the idea that Paul Quinn College would have an official airline was not on the top of anyone’s mind.
“We got to this place because the community and a group of people believed in what was possible and now we have the opportunity to continue to rise, continue to become nothing but extraordinary, to continue to exceed anyone else’s expectations except our own; because they are absurdly high…We are still just warming up.”
Joined by Southwest Airlines’ Juan Suarez, Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Laura Nieto, Director of Community Outreach, it was also announced that the airline was becoming a member of the school’s Urban Work College Program, which would expose students to the aviation industry, through paid internships and mentoring.
Calling it a celebration and a shared commitment, Suarez said, “We are thrilled to share our commitment to recruit and place students from Paul Quinn College into internships as part of the College Work Program. And we can’t wait to have the Paul Quinn College Tigers within our walls learning about Southwest and giving us a chance to learn from them.”
Nieto also praised the Work College Program and said she is looking forward to engaging and hopefully developing a “passion” within Paul Quinn students for Southwest Airlines and the industry.
“We are inspired by the work that is in motion at Paul Quinn’s Urban Work College Program, which aligns with our commitment to developing programs that meet the needs of our diverse communities,” she said.
The program began in 2015, providing students with the opportunity to gain real world work experience while limiting their reliance on student loans.
To see more opportunities opening up for his students is equally important as the exposure, said Dr. Sorrell, as he introduced the students in attendance; all whom he knows very well, some dating back to elementary school.
In addition to the internships and several other opportunities, the school was presented with 150 round trip airline tickets that President Sorrell said would benefit the school significantly as Paul Quinn continues to expand its footprint nationally and internationally.
“We are excited for our partnership with Southwest Airlines that goes far beyond discounted tickets and feel-good moments,” he said. “It is substantive and focused. In addition to supporting the travel needs of our students and staff, our relationship will result in employment opportunities for our students, learning opportunities for the two secondary schools on our campus, and the potential for a very unique academic program. The Southwest Airlines/Paul Quinn alliance will be special.”
For the oldest HBCU west of the Mississippi, this announcement was added to a long list of firsts since Sorrell took the helm in 2007.
From making headlines when the football program was abolished and a farm grew in the area on campus that was the football field and adopting a new student financial structure called the “New Urban College Model” which, among other characteristics, reduced student tuition and fees and provided students with the ability to graduate with less than $10,000 of student loan debt, to Dr. Sorrell being named one of Fortune Magazine’s “World’s Greatest Leaders” in 2018 and the Male President of the Year by HBCU Digest for the third time; Paul Quinn is setting a standard for educating in a new millennium.
Considered one of the most innovative small colleges in America, the private, faith-based, four-year, liberal arts-inspired college was founded on April 4, 1872 by a group of African Methodist Episcopal Church preachers in Austin, TX, for the purpose of educating freed slaves and their offspring.