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Arnold School of Public Health

Gamecocks track and field star completes public health degree to fulfill dream of becoming an airline pilot

January 24, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

Ncincilili Titi has been fascinated by planes since he was a kid growing up in South Africa.

“I couldn't understand how they flew in ‘thin air’ with all those people on there and so fast,” he explains. “I used to spend entire days at the airport just watching them come and go. It's the career I want to do until retirement, and I think it's crazy that they'll pay you to do something so cool because I would probably do it for free.”

After his high school graduation, Titi attended Blue Chip Flight School to earn his pilot’s license, but he needed an undergraduate degree (preferably in an interesting and challenging field) in order to fulfill his dream of becoming an airline pilot. As he considered universities, one of his personal talents became an important factor in helping him make his decision: He also happened to be a track and field athlete.

Then the University of South Carolina came knocking. He was recruited to join the track and field team as a sprinter and offered a full scholarship. Spending anywhere from 30 to 60 hours per week on athletic activities, Titi excelled in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m events — holding the record for South Carolina in the 200m in both 2017 and 2018.

During his athletic career, Titi was named Southeastern Conference athlete of the week three separate times and selected as an All-American seven times. In 2018, he was named the Southeastern Conference track and field scholar of the year.

Inside the classroom, Titi met health promotion, education and behavior instructor April Winningham, who taught him about the many aspects of public health. He also learned about nutrition, which he now employs in his training as an athlete. Meanwhile, he consistently claimed a spot on the dean’s and/or president's lists throughout his tenure at South Carolina.

Off campus, he gained practical experience at the Joseph H. Neal Wellness Center (formerly known as the SC HIV/AIDS Council). In this role, he helped raise awareness of HIV prevention and treatment methods, encouraged use of the Center for free HIV and STD testing, and educated communities with populations at risk for HIV and STD infection.

“It’s a great degree to have because public health is a broad field which is quite sought out,” says Titi, who grew up helping and caring for people and therefore found the field to be a natural fit. “You can dip your feet in a variety of things.”

Since his December graduation, Titi is setting his sights on his aviation career, where he hopes to serve as both a pilot and in a public health capacity. He is also preparing to compete in the Olympics in the future.

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