Jon Cooper | The Good Word -
This is the third installment in a summer-long #TGW series featuring student-athletes participating in the 2018 Fifth Street Bridge Program, Georgia Tech athletics’ summer internship program. For more on the Fifth Street Bridge Program and a full list of this summer’s participants, click HERE.
Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is a big place (156.1 acres, 6.8 million square feet) and it takes a lot to keep it running at all, never mind running as smoothly as it does -- some 275,000 passengers go through the world’s busiest airport, which sees an average of 2,700 flights arriving and departing every day.
Not surprisingly, it’s a former Georgia Tech student-athlete that has taken on that herculean task. That man is Dr. Kofi Smith, class of 1998, a Tech football letterwinner and the president and CEO of Atlanta Airlines Terminal Corporation (AATC), which maintains the more than 7.2 million square feet of the airport's Central Passenger Terminal Complex (CPTC). Partnering with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, AATC hires 55,000 employees and serves over 100 million passengers annually.
Also not surprisingly, Dr. Smith knows where and what to look for in finding the best and brightest for the future of AATC. That’s at Georgia Tech and, specifically, its student-athletes.
A four-year cornerback and special-teams player for the Yellow Jackets, Smith makes annual visits to The Flats. A visit last fall helped him net Tech student-athletes Rebecca Dow (cross country/track), Jahaziel Lee (football) and Chris Martin (football). Their internships runs right up to the start of their respective sports this fall.
“It’s been one of the best experiences of my life so far,” said Martin, a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, who credits director of football operations Mike Huff for recommending him to AATC and Smith for the opportunity. “When I figured out what I wanted my concentration to be, which is operations/supply-chain management, I was trying to find an internship for it. I’m learning a lot of things, doing a lot of great things that are going to help me for life after football, which is what I’m really focused on because football doesn’t last forever.”
Dow, a senior who runs long distance for track and field during the spring in addition to cross country in the fall, got her foot in the door, after meeting Smith following one of his talks on campus.
“We had a ‘Welcome Back’ event for student-athletes, where they invite different alumni who were student-athletes at Tech and have gone on to be successful in their careers to come and speak,” she recalled. “He offered his business card and said to feel free to contact him if you want advice or help. I was able to talk with him after the event, then got in contact, had a chance to meet with him and get career advice from him. He told me about the internship program that AATC has and offered me a position within their program this summer.”
Dow, Martin and Lee -- Martin’s frequent opponent on the offensive line who actually works in the same department at AATC as his football teammate -- have a variety of duties and are building their resume while keeping the world’s busiest airport running.
Martin likes the variety.
“I think as people we should always be trying to learn and grow and make ourselves better in some type of way every day,” said Martin, who spent last week helping a co-worker write and edit RFPs (Request For Proposals). “I’m sure next week I’ll get on something else. The fact that I can come somewhere and they’re teaching me something new every day and it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life, it’s a blessing and a great opportunity. I come to work every day eager to learn, eager to do something different and better in order to better my future.”
“I’m officially in the business administration department of AATC,” said Dow. “I’ve been working with a couple of their industrial engineers and one other person. They’ve been giving me some projects involving asset management, some data analysis of things like injury rates, anything from looking a little bit at the snow plan that they have, as well as simple things like mapping out cleaning areas to help improve their cleaning schedule.”
While both Dow, Lee and Martin all have big plans for their upcoming seasons -- Lee is the Jackets' two-year returning starter at left tackle, Martin had a superb spring and is working his way up the depth chart on the defensive line in Georgia Tech’s new 3-4 defensive scheme and Dow is looking to build on a strong showing in cross country last year -- they also see the summer as a major building block for life after college.
“I plan to get my master’s degree while I’m at Tech. I want to get in project management or procurement, so I want to learn the insides and outs of that,” Martin said. “Plus, working with the operators at the airport -- Delta’s a big name -- and if I do a good job, I’m sure other people can help get me in most airports in the United States. My manager said most internships [at AATC] turn into full-time positions and you can work at almost any airport without an entry-level job, so that’s a good thing.”
“There’s a lot,” said Dow, who last year held an internship studying with the Georgia Tech AE/ISYE Limerick Summer Program in Limerick, Ireland. “I’m improving my skills in simple things like Excel or just learning more about the operations of the airport and asset management. It’s only my second week, so part of it was just some training and orientation of things. I still have a lot to learn.”
Martin has found the atmosphere at AATC refreshing in that he’s being treated as a peer, not as a “intern.”
“Honestly, what was surprising for me was just the dynamic of the whole working office,” he said. “I always thought when I would work an internship, people were going to be talking down to me like I was just a kid and I didn’t know a whole lot what I was talking about. But they treat me like I’m an adult, they respect me, they’ve given me some tasks that are meaningful and hold some weight. So they’re not babying me or trying to keep me from doing anything that’s important, which I think is very valuable.”
Also valuable has been the ability to manage time. Dow, who is working a full 40-hour week at AATC, is training by running at night. Martin is also working five days a week, taking classes in management science and computer science and working out with the team during player-organized activities on Tuesday and Thursday.
He’s embracing his busy summer even if he is being thrown right into the fire.
“I’ve never been someone that’s scared of a problem or scared of a challenge,” he said. “So I appreciate it and take it and do the best I can and learn from it.”
Dow has learned a greater appreciation for the workings of an airport.
“Just seeing how much goes on behind the scenes at the airport,” she said. “How much there is to manage and handle at the airport and things you don’t normally think about, like cleaning or just maintenance or all the operations of the airport. It will be a little bit different flying out now that I have a little better of understanding of how things operate and understand the airport more.”