“Since I was a little kid, I had never been in an airplane, and I wanted to see how it was,” he said. “And the amazement of how a human being creates an enormous vehicle to allow people to fly from place to place.”
At Aviation High School, the Corona resident said he received a hands-on education that motivated him to pursue a career in the field. Now, he will get the chance to do so debt-free.
On Friday, Zuma was announced as one of the six recipients of a new four-year scholarship to attend Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in East Elmhurst. The $1.3 million scholarship program is part of a partnership between the college and the Port Authority.
The six recipients will not only receive a tuition-free college education, but will be offered paid internships at Port Authority airports during the summers.
Upon graduation, they will have an opportunity to work for the Port Authority in the field of aviation operations.
“This type of opportunity is really amazing,” Zuna said. “I’ve known a lot of college friends who remain in debt. It’s a rare opportunity.”
Zuna added that he had planned to attend Vaughn College after graduation specifically because of their focus on the airline industry. He said wants to eventually work for JetBlue.
For East Elmhurst resident Anthony Uran, who is Zuna’s classmate at Aviation High School, receiving the scholarship means his father won’t have to worry about how to pay for his son’s college education.
“Having the opportunity to be debt-free allows my dad not to be that stressed,” he said. “I’m helping him out, but I’m also doing my part by getting a proper education.”
Uran lives just four blocks from Vaughn College, and said he always passes by the school and see airplanes fly above him.
That’s what piqued his interest in the aviation industry, and why he attended Aviation High School.
Uran said he was shocked to receive the scholarship, but also proud.
“It’s a big opportunity,” he said. “Not just anyone can get it.”
Another recipient is Raihan Mamun, a senior at Newcomers High School. The Elmhurst resident said he was afraid of student loans, which is why he felt lucky to receive the scholarship.
“I’m so grateful,” he said. “I don’t have to take out student loans, which is a great relief.”
Other winners include Jonathan Quezada and Scarlet Zambrano from Aviation High School, and Lilidania Rodriguez from Queens High School for Language Studies.
To maintain the scholarship, recipients must remain enrolled full-time at Vaughn College, maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0, successfully complete a career development seminar, and participate in Vaughn’s Leadership Academy.
In January 2017, Vaughn College was recognized as the top educational institution in the nation for upward mobility, according to a study conducted by The Equality of Opportunity Project.
More than 2,130 colleges were analyzed for their ability to move students from the bottom 40 percent in income to the top 40 percent. The City College of New York (CCNY) and Baruch College placed second and third in that study.
“Education changes lives,” said Dr. Sharon DeVivo, president of Vaughn College. “Vaughn is a really good example of that.”
DeVivo added that the opportunity to graduate from college with no debt, boost a resume with internships, and have a possible job out of college will forever change the students’ stories.
“This is really significant and important,” she said. “We’re just so proud.”
The scholarship recipient announcement coincided with the opening of a new LaGuardia Career Center in Corona. The $1.5 million office is funded by the Port Authority and the Council for Airport Opportunity (CAO), and will be located within the community organization Elmcor Youth & Adult Activity.
According to Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority, the office has already made more than 400 contacts and placed over 30 people into jobs in the first two months.
With so many employers within LaGuardia Airport, Cotton said they will work to fill positions in management, technical aviation spots, and customer service.
“We are committed in terms of ensuring that the first stop for our employers is here with CAO and Elmcor,” he said.
Cotton said the scholarship program and career opportunity office are part of ongoing efforts by the Port Authority to make sure the local community benefits from the LaGuardia Airport rebuild.
According to the Port Authority, the project has already resulted in the issuance of nearly 900 contracts, valued at more than $1.23 billion, to certified Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs).
The redevelopment seeks to build on the nearly 400 new hires for the airport’s Terminal B concourse. More than half of those hires are Queens residents.
Cotton added that they will soon surpass the $400 million mark for contracts awarded to Queens contractors.
“We have a bright future in terms of making those numbers higher,” he said.