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Former ACE Academy student launches successful start in aviation career

D'Anthony Ravenell (left) stands with two NCDOT employees during an operation on North Carolina's coastline to monitor coastal erosion with a drone.

RALEIGH — D’Anthony Ravenell, a former student of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Career Education Academy Program, has found much success in his continued career path in the aerospace field. 

In 2015, Ravenell attended the ACE Academy summer camp at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh. He said he learned about the program while visiting Elizabeth City State University’s webpage and thought it best to dedicate a week of his summer vacation to participate in the program.

“After I had an idea of what I had wanted to do, I thought the best way to start was to expose myself to the different facets of aviation,” Ravenell said.

NCDOT-funded ACE Academies educate middle and high school students about aviation and aerospace careers to inspire the next generation to pursue them, helping build a talent pipeline for the state’s aerospace industry. A new grant program will fund ACE Academies at selected North Carolina public airports in the summer of 2022. 

The Charlotte native said he gained many valuable experiences during his time in the program, including introductory flights in a single-engine airplane on the final day. This was his first experience flying an actual plane himself and he said it “was the most captivating moment” for him. Being a part of the academy also expanded his ideas for the various career opportunities available in the aviation field.

Ravenell said he remembered being obsessed with making paper airplanes as a kid and being interested in how each design allowed for different flight characteristics. With a passion for STEM principles and a desire to do something impactful and that he enjoys for a living, he decided to pursue a career in aviation. 

Prior to attending the summer program, Ravenell said he was already motivated to go to ECSU after researching post-secondary aviation schools and discovering the university’s emerging aviation program. In the summer of 2018, during his college freshman year, he volunteered as a counselor for the ACE Academy hosted at ECSU. 


He went on to earn his Private Pilot Certification through the flight program, his Part 107 Drone Certificate and his bachelor’s degree in aviation science from ECSU. During his college years, he participated in the NCDOT Office of HBCU Outreach’s Internship Program, serving as an intern in the NCDOT Division of Aviation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program. Following graduation from ECSU in May 2021, he joined NCDOT’s HBCU Fellows Program and is now serving a two-year fellowship for the UAS program. 

Ravenell said being a part of NCDOT programs has offered broad exposure and experience in aviation, from building model rockets to flying drones, and a unique perspective from his active engagement with the aviation industry.

“Along with learning how constantly useful innovations and ideas are being taken to task, I realized it pays dividends in having keen insight to an industry that continues to grow exponentially,” he said.

Ravenell, who grew up in a military family, said with most of the endeavors he has undertaken so far, “discipline” tends to be the leading word that can describe the path to a successful outlook. His path has taken him from flying simple drones for the first time at the ACE Academy to instructing others within NCDOT on how to fly and use the sophisticated technologies the UAS Program maintains.

To learn more about ACE Academies, visit the NCDOT Connect page. Applications are being accepted through March 7 from North Carolina public-use airports interested in offering an ACE Academy this summer. The academies will be announced in April.

Visit the NCDOT Office of HBCU Outreach page to learn more about the HBCU Fellows and Internship programs.

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