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The story of an inspiring aeronautical engineer, helped by SITA funding

Published on  15 October by Amber Harrison , Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, SITA
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I first met Jules on one of my initial visits to Wits University in South Africa. Since then our interactions have become increasingly memorable. His clarity of vision from a youngster, combined with his determination to be a successful aeronautical engineer, has resulted in a man who is inspiring many girls and boys in South Africa to love STEM.

From a student at WITS University, to becoming a graduate and part of the winning team in our SITA Air Transport Community (ATC) Foundation Innovation Award, Jules has impressed me with his determination and drive. He is now imparting his learning to the next generation. I was interested to hear more of his story, so we asked Jules to share his journey to success and hopes for the future.

“When I grow up I want to be an aeronautical engineer”

Growing up in Likasi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Jules knew from an early age that he wanted to be an engineer. Inspired by ‘Superman 2’, flying objects took on a whole new meaning and his interest began to grow. He was aware of engineering but the concept of an aeronautical engineer only came to him while watching television.

Before this Jules had never heard the term before. He wanted to become the first Congolese aeronautical engineer. Jules still has a VHS cassette of himself as a child, where on being asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, his response was unequivocal: “I want to be an aeronautical engineer.”

His advice to today’s youth of the DRC is to have a dream and a vision: “Without a vision, one would be like a pilot flying a plane with no specific destination in mind.”

Why does a helicopter need a tail rotor?

Understanding exactly what an aeronautical engineer did and how objects flew became Jules’ passion. With no internet and only basic television channels, his source of information was a set of encyclopedias at home, with which he learned the basics of aircraft, the atmosphere and even space. Jules recalls: “I still have vivid memories of my young self trying to understand why a helicopter needed a tail rotor.”

Barrier breaker, supported by ATC Foundation funding

Jules was accepted to study aeronautical engineering at WITS University, but as a foreign student his tuition fees were high and largely had to be paid in advance. To reach graduation Jules took on several jobs, needing to take breaks from studies to generate funds. We met him during this phase as he successfully applied for SITA ATC Foundation funding.

“I got an email saying that my application had been approved and I was going to receive funding… I could not believe it, it felt like a dream. That was one of the happiest days of my life. Immediately, in my mind I pictured the tens of thousands I already owed the university disintegrating; I saw my future tuition fees paid in full, and I also saw myself graduating.”

Jules’ siblings and nephew attended his graduation, and though his parents were unable to make the journey from the DRC, family pride was strong. They tell him he is the first of his kind in the family, a barrier breaker, and an inspiration for his nephew.

Positively disruptive drones

Jules giving drone instructionJules is not only inspiring his own family but has created a business, Aero247, which focuses on drones from a security perspective, while also providing training and consultancy. He believes drones have the ability to positively disrupt the human experience and is passionate about sharing his knowledge.

Jules has developed a program for holiday camps and school visits to create a drone awareness for the next generation while attempting to kindle children’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

School visits: inspiring young people

On visiting many schools Jules has realized that most children have never even heard of a drone, let alone seen one in action. He feels that if this is the case in South Africa, one of the more developed African countries, then awareness must be even lower across other parts of Africa.

As interest in his program spreads, Jules is inspiring young people to have clear goals, one of whom said: “Jules, I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do at university. But now I know I want to be an engineer. I will study either biomedical engineering or aeronautical engineering.”

Jules was invited to speak at an all girls school recently alongside many other groups and on arrival was told his session had garnered the most interest. “This was striking to me, because I realized that girls are just as interested in this kind of technology as boys are, if not more.”

Beat the odds

Kids with dronesJules’ mantra is taken from Elon Musk: “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” Clearly, this has brought Jules a long way and we look forward to seeing how he achieves his next goal to help the youth of Africa unleash their latent potential.

For me, it’s stories like this that really bring the work of the SITA ATC Foundation to life. Jules has seized the opportunities afforded him and has been generous in sharing his own new-found knowledge. He understands the importance of inspiring the next generation of young people in aviation, and I’m very pleased that our Foundation has been able to provide a little help along the way.

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