There are a few days left for high school students to submit applications to the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarships, which award prospective college study in aviation, aerospace, and science technology.
The scholarship application must include a two-page essay about the applicant, and a one-page essay about the legacy of the all-Black fighter squadron that helped defeat the Nazis in World War II, due Feb. 2.
"Our focus in the last few years has been to target it towards the Afro-American male," says Tuskegee airman Jerry T. Hodges Jr. "We do not discriminate against any ethnicity — we accept applications from any student graduating from high school who has a B average and submits through one of our local chapters."
He said last year there were slightly over 100 applications received at the national level; of those, 43 students were awarded grants of $1,500 a year for the first year of schooling.
"Now, it's not very much, it's not very much, but with schooling the way it is now that would probably cover their books, just," Hodges said. "But we believe that if we can get the students into college, just one year and get that exposure, they will find a means to complete at least their first year as an undergraduate – and most of our students go on to graduate school."
Recently, in addition to the $1,500 grants, the Tuskegee Airmen Foundation entered into an agreement with Pratt and Whitney Corporation to award $20,000 a year for one student's four-year college career — $5,000 a year. The prize is called the Golden Eagle Scholarship, and a new one is given out each year for students planning to study aviation, aerospace technology or research.
"We're in the fifth year and the first student who's gone through it is graduating this year, he's going on into grad school," Hodges said.
"So last year we gave two Pratt and Whitney grants, and that happened to be for the first time to two girls, twins, who went into aerospace engineering, and they're doing quite well," he said. "Three years from now we'll have two students graduating from that course."
Hodges said that it's working so successfully that they're attempting to set up the same arrangement with other corporations.
"Now apparently that's going to be kind of rough because of the overall economy, but we still believe we can extend the impact of our focus on the African American male," he said.
Hodges said his fellow retirees in the airmen's group are concerned about the future of young men in the community.
"Our experience is very similar to that because even through all the Afro-American applications we get, the Afro-American male only amounts to less than one half of the total," he said.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the country's first Black military airmen, trained during the early 1940s at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala.
Most of the pilots were college graduates or undergraduates, and all faced not only enemy fire, but also the racial segregation of the U.S. military.
Applicants must be students of accredited high schools who have graduated or will graduate in the school year 2008-2009. Additionally, applying students must have a GPA of at least 3.0.
Application forms and instructions are available at the website, www.tuskegeeairmen.org, or the airmen's scholarship foundation website, www.Taisf.org, or any Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Chapter.
Completed applications are due on or before Feb. 2.