As the college admission process grows increasingly competitive, students have taken it upon themselves to participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible. Still, not many students can say they fly airplanes as a hobby.
For many people, the mere thought of flying conjures feelings of unease, anxiety and even dread. For others, such as Alco Robinson, a senior who attends Canyon Springs High School and the Leadership and Law Preparatory Academy, flying brings feelings of freedom, excitement and contentment.
Although most people are passengers aboard airplanes, Robinson has the skills required to take control of the cockpit while enjoying the ride.
Although Robinson has firmly set her sights on becoming a lawyer, she has embraced piloting as a hobby and possible career choice.
Robinson's interest in aviation began last year when a family friend, Southwest Airlines pilot and Tuskegee Airmen Inc. member Larry Jackson, persuaded her to join the Aviation Career Education Academy in Phoenix.
Tuskegee Airmen Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of African-American pilots who fought in World War II. As one of six students chosen to represent the Western region of the Tuskegee Airmen, Robinson graduated as one of the top students in her class.
Jackson, who is now abroad on an African safari, said by email that Robinson has a bright future.
"She is smart, likes flying and most of all she has the desire to become a pilot," he said. "Her performance in school indicates that she can do it."
Robinson said her experience at the Arizona academy was interesting.
"We had lessons in the morning followed by flight simulator practice," she said. "The flight simulation was so real, if you crashed, you could actually feel it.
"I never crashed, but my mom did."
Robinson was among one of six students attending the academy from out of state. She was also the only girl.
"Piloting is a male-dominated field," Robinson said.
But as Jackson observed, "There are three times as many women pilots as there are black pilots."
Following her experience in Phoenix, Robinson attended another event held at the Southwest Airlines headquarters in Dallas that was meant to help nurture her interest in aviation.
"She competed and was accepted at the Continuing the Legacy in Aviation presented by Southwest Airlines in October 2011," Jackson said. Continuing the Legacy in Aviation is an essay-based selection program held by the airline, which provided student finalists with an all-expense paid trip.
Then, in August, Robinson was the mistress of ceremonies at the Tuskegee Airmen Youth Luncheon in Las Vegas. She sang the national anthem to the crowd of more than 800 people.
"She was fantastic," Jackson said.
Robinson's parents remain the most fervent supporters of her flying.
"I know it will be difficult, but I'm not worried about her," said Preston Robinson, her father. "With her energy and drive, she can do anything. She has a passion for life."
Despite all the time required to continue her flight training, Robinson is involved in multiple extracurricular activities and holds a part-time job, all while maintaining academic excellence.
The skills she has acquired through aviation lessons have increased her responsibility and confidence.
Through flying, Robinson said she has learned that "if you don't believe in yourself, no one will."
"To be a pilot, you must have dedication, confidence, perseverance and determination," she said. "It takes a different level of expertise than just driving."
Robinson now has her flight certificate, allowing her to fly accompanied by a pilot. She is on track to get her pilot's license in a couple of months.
"When I'm flying, it feels like I'm on top of the world," Robinson said with a smile. "To be a pilot, you have to want it. You won't succeed if you quit when it gets tough."