Alland Leandre ‘88 can trace his passion for flight to his early childhood. As a 3-year-old in Haiti, he joined family members in bringing his father to the airport. He watched out a window as his father crossed the tarmac. “I saw him walk to the airplane and climb the stairs,” Leandre remembers. “The idea the plane was flying him to a distant land—that just captivated me.”   

Leandre moved to the United States as a ninth-grader, enrolling in a public high school in Washington, D.C., and dreaming of studying aerospace engineering. He was drawn to Syracuse University not only because of the educational opportunities, but also, he says, because he had become a huge SU basketball fan, even though he lived in Georgetown Hoya territory. Despite his first bouts with the snow and cold, Leandre remembers, Syracuse was the perfect fit. As an aerospace engineering major, he found challenging and exciting classes in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and also discovered a love of Spanish literature, in which he minored. “I made friends from all over the globe,” Leandre says. “It really helped me enlarge my view of the world.  I learned so much.”

After working as an engineer for Ford Aerospace and serving in the Army National Guard, Leandre earned an MBA degree at the University of Michigan. In 2002, he founded Vyalex Management Solutions, a Maryland-based consulting firm that specializes in avionics engineering and program management services for government organizations.

In 2008, two things happened that made for a turning point in Leandre’s life. He read Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a report requested by Congress that stresses the importance of rigorous science education in the United States to maintain the nation’s global competitive edge, and he received the Entrepreneur Award at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference, sponsored by U.S. Black Engineer Magazine. Leandre says he used that award to do his part in boosting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, founding the Youth in Technology Summit. The annual summit, which draws 400 students from throughout Southern Maryland each year, is designed to inspire students to pursue careers in science and connect them with professionals working in the STEM disciplines. Leandre looks back on his own experience and knows what made a difference, in particular an internship as a 10th-grader at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “I believe that having people who cared enough for me to provide advice and mentoring was the key to my success, so I have always identified with young people who remind me of my early journey,” he says.

During Orange Central last fall, Leandre moderated an SU deans’ panel discussion titled “STEMming the Gap in Higher Education.” “I’m passionate about getting students interested,” says Leandre, a member of the School of Information Studies Board of Advisors. “I pushed my own kids first, and then I tried to get other kids excited.” Clearly the encouragement clicked with his two daughters: Verida is pursuing a Ph.D. degree in biomedical technology at Brown University, and Alexandra is a systems engineer for a national security contractor.

The most important step in igniting students’ interest is mere exposure to opportunities available in the STEM fields, Leandre says. “They need to know the basics of technology, and what sort of things people do. It makes it seem real.” While the dedication and the right courses in school are critical, often just as important is a mentor who has pursued a career in science, Leandre says. “Then a student can see herself doing this kind of work someday.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of the Syracuse University Magazine.