Ready to Fly High as an Alumna
Bailey Pollard entered a whole new world as a first-generation college student at NC State. This private pilot has taken full advantage of opportunities including internships and study abroad, setting herself up to reach lofty future goals.
Bailey Pollard, who graduates this month from NC State, doesn’t like to just skirt along the edges. No, she prefers to fly above the fold.
This Rocky Mount native can feel confident that she made the most of her time on campus. And while being a first-generation college student can bring its own set of challenges, Pollard rose to meet them with some help from private support such as the Extraordinary Opportunity Scholarship and has set herself up for future success.
In just three years at NC State, Pollard compiled an enviable résumé. Entering her freshman year already a licensed pilot, she immersed herself in classes for a business administration degree and Spanish minor, holding two on-campus internships simultaneously before procuring a national internship at Southwest Airlines and spending a semester studying abroad in Spain.
Pollard took full advantage of every opportunity she could. Now, she is well on her way to a bright future as a newly minted Wolfpack graduate.
Finding Peace in the Skies
Pollard’s father was always a big supporter. Although she grew up in a family where a college education wasn’t always the expected path forward, Pollard never felt like she couldn’t do great things.
“He always wanted me to follow my dreams,” Pollard said.
One of those dreams began when, as a young teenager, Pollard first flew on an airplane with her family. Much to her surprise, she was greeted during boarding by a woman pilot. It was an eye-opening moment. Suddenly, she thought to herself, “Maybe I could do that, too.”
And just like that, her love for aviation was born.
Pollard’s dad was the first ardent supporter of her dream of becoming a pilot. While —coming from a banking background — he might not have fully understood it, he was the one who accompanied her on her first flight.
The summer before her senior year of high school, however, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Seemingly out of the blue, doctors gave him two weeks to six months to live.
Pollard decided to spend as much time with her father as she could. In March 2019, months before her high school graduation, he passed away.
The week before his death, Pollard received her acceptance letter to NC State. She fondly recalls being able to tell him the happy news.
It was the only place she applied.
Following the loss of her father, Pollard took a gap semester before entering NC State to support her younger sister, who was 12 at the time, and to be present with her family.
Never one to sit idle, though, she did take the next step in her love for aviation and earned her private pilot’s license through a school in Louisburg — a prestigious achievement for anyone.
“The only way I felt peace after my dad passed was being in the sky because I felt very close to him at that point,” Pollard remembered. “It just made sense to me. The only thing I loved doing at that point was flying — it was like my therapy, in a way.”
Taking a Weight Off
When Pollard arrived at NC State, she decided to pursue a business administration degree with an information technology concentration because her father had worked in IT at BB&T.
As quickly as she could, she used NC State resources to get involved and explore her interests.
In order to make ends meet, though, Pollard spent much of her free time working a variety of jobs including waiting tables and lifeguarding.
“After my dad passed away, we didn’t really have much money, so it was left on me or on any grants or scholarships I got. It was so stressful,” Pollard said. “One semester, I was working two jobs and taking 21 credit hours because I wanted to fit in as much as I could and graduate sooner, so I didn’t have to pay for another semester. It was very hectic, but I was determined to do it.”
Eventually, Pollard got on-campus internships: one with the NC State Office of Information Technology in its high-performance computing lab and one as a Business Sustainability Collaborative intern with Professor Jessica Thomas.
Pollard also became the vice president for the Wolfwings Aviation Club, a campus group for fellow aviation lovers. With Wolfwings, she helped host a fly-in to raise money for a scholarship to assist others in pursuing their private pilot’s license. The club awarded its first recipient with a one-year scholarship to Raleigh Flying Club in spring 2022.
All the various activities and jobs, however, took their toll. Pollard found it increasingly difficult to focus on her number-one priority: education.
“There was this one day I was having the worst day ever,” Pollard said. “My thing getting me through it was: ‘one day at a time.’ I woke up and got this email, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing!’ It just lifted a pile of bricks off my chest, and I felt like I could breathe.”
It just lifted a pile of bricks off my chest, and I felt like I could breathe.
Pollard actually received three emails that day, one of which informed her that she had been awarded one of NC State’s Extraordinary Opportunity Scholarships. The other emails let her know she had received two additional scholarships.
“It took a weight off my chest,” Pollard said. “[With the scholarship support], I’m able to actually do what I want to do here, like traveling and trying a bunch of new things that I would have never had the opportunity to do.”
Southwest Airlines, Spain and Beyond
Another one of Pollard’s main interests is traveling and experiencing new cultures. When she first considered what she would study at NC State, Poole Global — the Poole College of Management’s effort to send hundreds of students abroad as they work toward obtaining their degrees — helped seal the deal for her.
“I told myself that I wouldn’t graduate until I studied abroad,” Pollard said. “It has been my dream since I was in elementary school.”
Pollard signed up to spend the fall of 2022, her final semester of college, with one of Poole Global’s partnership programs: the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain.
After years of gritting her teeth to take as many classes as possible while working so she could pay her way through school, Pollard could now pivot to what mattered most. Scholarships made studying abroad possible and would allow her to focus on her education and on new experiences.
“It’s been amazing,” Pollard said. “I’ve been able to do everything I wanted to do. … I’ve really gone out of my comfort zone a lot, and I feel like I’ve grown as a person through seeing a different culture, seeing many different people from all walks of life. It’s been absolutely amazing.”
Pollard was able to travel to more than 10 cities in Spain and to 10 different countries. She rode camels on the beach of Morocco, hiked the Pentland Hills of Scotland and saw the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.
She even got hit by a baby bull during a bull run in Cuenca, Spain. Well, “baby” can be misleading — she estimates it weighed more than 1,000 pounds. If you don’t believe her, she has the bruise (and video) to prove it.
Prior to heading to Spain for her last semester of college, Pollard completed a remote internship as a technology analyst with Southwest Airlines — a full-circle moment. She was flying on Southwest when she met the woman pilot who so inspired her.
Pollard was selected as one of 80 interns out of roughly 30,000 applicants.
“It was my dream come true,” Pollard said. “I actually got offered a full-time role starting in January after I graduate, which is exciting.”
And so, Pollard’s next stop in January will be Dallas, Texas, to begin working for Southwest Airlines as a full-time technology analyst. The goal of becoming a commercial pilot lives on — she plans to get involved with groups like the Ninety-Nines and fly on the side. In the future, she hopes her business background will help her open her own flight school.
No matter what’s next for Pollard, she will be ready to take full advantage of every opportunity afforded her, just as she did at NC State. As she moves to her next step, she said she will look back fondly on everything she accomplished and loves about being a member of the Wolfpack — from Howling Cow ice cream to dance classes to the endless communities full of amazing people.
“I’m so grateful for all of it, too,” Pollard said. “[College] feels like it went by like that. It’s so crazy, especially with COVID, because I had a year at home. So, I feel like I only had one full year of staying on campus. So, when I look back, I’m like, ‘Wow. OK, I did do a little bit.’”