Captain Dave Powell, dean of the College of Aviation, is often quoted as saying, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky, than good.” Very often, we have the best of intentions; going into something with a keen sense of where we are heading. However, it is common to experience some turbulence, or other life-changing event, resulting in rerouting our plans. Sean Egglesfield was both good and lucky.
For Sean Egglesfield, aviation was not his dream. Graduating from a high school in Crete, IL, Egglesfied’s mind focused on two things: football and medicine. “I will tell you, when I graduated from high school and selected Western Michigan University as my college of choice, becoming an airline pilot was the last thing I would have told someone as my goal for a career,” remembered Egglesfield. “I chose WMU solely on being awarded a ‘presidential’ academic scholarship (part of the Medallion program) and being recruited in high school as a wide receiver to play Division I football for the Broncos.”
Entering the University as a freshman, Egglesfield’s concentration was on running routes, catching passes, and keeping up in his biology major. “My first year at WMU was spent studying biology/premed with all intentions of going to med school after graduation,” said Egglesfield. However, he would soon catch something other than a mid-field pass from Tim Lester: he would catch the aviation bug. “Long story short, after a dorm friend, who was enrolled in the aviation program took me flying one weekend, I instantly saw the ‘career light’ and chose to switch majors beginning my sophomore year.”
Many people ask, is it possible to study aviation and play Division I varsity sports? The time requirements for both of these pursuits are significant and occasionally push people away from doing one or the other. As Egglesfield recalls, this was no walk in the park, “I will say playing Division I football and being enrolled in the aviation program was no easy task. At the time, there were only two of us that attacked the extremely strenuous schedule.” Both Egglesfield and Bronco Hockey player Jason Redenius, currently with FedEx, took on the challenges.
According to Egglesfield, “The experience of playing football for WMU while seeking an aviation degree taught me how to prioritize my time and a lot of internal discipline. There were times I had to pass on some of the traditional ‘fun things’ that my friends, who were typical college students, got to experience. Ultimately, it all paid off. Having lettered in football after playing for four years and, more importantly, graduating from the WMU College of Aviation, I was WELL prepared for the road that was ahead of me, leading eventually to my dream job at Southwest Airlines.”
Much like others in aviation, Egglesfield's path to this field of aviation was not always a dream. Similar to others, he has worked his way up the ladder to his current position at Southwest. Graduating from WMU in 2000, Egglesfield soon found his way into the world of flight instructing, working at WMU from August 2000 until March 2001. This was followed by a stint at C&M Airways flying a Convair 640 from April 2001 to December 2001. For the next three years, Egglesfield flew a Saab 340 for Chicago Express Airlines until February 2005. Continuing in the Saab 340 over the next year and a half, Egglesfield worked with Colgan Air until July 2006. Making his last jump in August 2006, he landed in the Boeing 737 flying for Southwest Airlines.
While Egglesfield looks back on his time at Western Michigan University fondly, it took a while before he realized the value of his WMU aviation degree. As he recalls, “I didn’t realize the importance of receiving a degree from the WMU College of Aviation until I got to my dream job at Southwest Airlines and met many other colleagues that were former Broncos. I often fly with pilots from other backgrounds, who continually tell me the great things they have heard about the WMU program. From my perspective, this speaks to the reputation the program has gained in the airline community.”
Summing up his experience at Western Michigan University, Egglesfield said, “Every time I fly over West Michigan heading into DTW or GRR for Southwest, I look down below and reflect on the memories of flying in and out of airports like Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Marshall, Three Rivers, Coldwater, and of course the grass strips like Plainwell. Each time, I cannot help to think how blessed I was to learn to fly where I truly believe is such a beautiful part of the country. I also know that it really wasn’t that long ago that my instructor Pat Denney got out of the 172R we were flying there at BTL and said, ‘It’s all you” for my first solo. To see where I am today from where it all began, I owe the WMU College of Aviation and its people (i.e. Decker, Ardema, Rantz, Homen, Grossman, Schneider, the Seilers, and many more) all the gratitude in the world. The program and the people helped to mold me into the professional aviator I am today! GO BRONCOS!”
Started WMU Aviation program the first year it moved from AZO to BTL and became an official College at WMU
Starred in a Southwest Airlines commercial in 2010 playing my guitar, a favorite hobby of mine
Just recently played in a celebrity softball game honoring the 25th anniversary of the movie “Field of Dreams” at the actual field in Iowa with Kevin Costner, Bob Costas, fellow Michigander Timothy Bussfield, and my brother, actor Colin Egglesfield
Originally born in Warren, MI but grew up in Crete, IL, a south suburb of Chicago
Currently reside in Chicago a half mile west of Wrigley Field with my wife Tammy (WMU Class of 2000) and two kids, Meg (4) and Tristan (2).
Still a die-hard Tigers, Pistons, and Red Wings fan. Became a Chicago Bears fan when we moved to Chicago the same year of the 1985 Super Bowl champions (I was easily influenced!)
Three quarters of a century. A drop in the bucket when thinking about the galactic calendar, but pretty significant when talking about the history of aviation. 75 years ago aviation was barely an industry; at worst – a fad, at best – the next best thing. Standing on the precipice those many years ago, only those with vision, fortitude, and instinct were brave enough to trust their instincts and launch themselves head first into this brave new world.
Fortunately for the fledgling “Western State Teachers College,” in 1939 the Michigan State Board of Education authorized and approved a two-year, non-degree curriculum in Vocational Aviation Mechanics. As the first instructor of the new program, Elmer C.“Buck” Weaver began his tenure for both the mechanics program and the pilot training initiative, which was sponsored by the federal government and included the ground school portion of the Civilian Pilot Training program.
Flash forward to 2014 and much has changed. The growing teachers college has long since evolved into Western Michigan University, while that small two-year program has morphed into the third largest aviation program in the United States and is consistently being viewed as one of the premiere aviation programs in the country.
Sitting in her office where she masterfully directs the business and finance portion of Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation, Dace Copeland can’t help but think of diamonds. In addition to her normal duties at the College, Copeland volunteered to chair the 75 Years of Aviation committee. When thinking about her involvement, she quickly began waxing poetically about her involvement, “There are many facets to the College of Aviation – we are made up of so many great parts and it is important we celebrate all that we were, all that we are, and all that we can become.”
From a traditional sense, the 75 year anniversary has always been associated with the diamond. Much like the luminous gem associated with the “dodranscentennial” celebration of the College of Aviation, the aviation program has grown with time, while undergoing a lot of pressure. As those associated with aviation know, the industry is not easy, it is subject to a lot of ups and downs. However, aviation education at Western Michigan University has managed to sustain its course, and continues to climb. As Copeland states, “WMU has been teaching aviation for 75 years. That is a very important milestone. We started from something small and have grown into the program we are today. By looking at the history of the program, we are able to see the changes that were made, how those impacted our students and graduates, and help us direct the program into the future.”
Change is inevitable in any industry. Aviation, with its roots deeply entrenched in science, technology, engineering and math, lives in a world engulfed by change. The aviation program at Western Michigan University is no stranger to change. As Copeland recalled, “Some of the most visible changes have occurred with our flight program. Ever since we began offering a degree in flight, as aircraft and technology have evolved, our fleet has evolved too. This has continued into the modern era with the adoption of our current Cirrus SR 20 fleet. We have always believed in the importance of cutting edge technology to give our students a competitive advantage. By integrating the most advanced technology into the curriculum, we provide our students the tools to make themselves a highly sought after commodity.”
In addition to celebrating the importance of this milestone, Copeland also reinforces how it impacts a multitude of stakeholders. “This celebration is important to a lot of different groups: alumni, current students, the WMU faculty and staff, our industry partners, and both the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek communities. This celebration helps us demonstrate to all of these constituents what the College of Aviation is made up of. How we have, and continue to add to each of these groups. There are many facets that have helped to make the aviation program at WMU what it is today. Our celebration provides the College of Aviation and opportunity to demonstrate to each of these groups how they have helped us shine.”
The celebration is also a special time to reach back and connect to our alumni. With 75 years of aviation education at Western Michigan University, alumni from the program have had an opportunity to make a big impact on the field of aviation. According to Tom Thinnes, Director of Recruitment and Outreach for the College of Aviation, “Reaching out and connecting with our alumni is one of the greatest things about my job. It provides me the chance to hear great stories and understand first-hand the impact the graduates from WMU have had in the aviation industry.”
This impact is felt in all areas of the aviation world: maintenance, flight, management, military, business, etc. Graduates of the aviation program from WMU have been “out there doing it” for these past 75 years. “Getting our alumni involved also helps demonstrate the fortitude of our program to our current students,” stated Copeland. “When they hear from our alumni, there is a sense of well-being about the program. It helps to solidify their decision to attend WMU and see the success of former students in the program.”
Just as important as all of these ethereal benefits, there is another reason to take part in the 75 year celebration. “Fun!” exclaimed Copeland. “I think getting involved, reaching back to the alma mater, and taking part in some or all of the planned activities are a great way to have some fun. We all get caught up in the daily grind. Taking time from that and reconnecting with old friends, faculty, staff, or seeing how the aviation program has evolved is a great way to step outside the confines of our daily lives.”
Additionally, as alumni get involved, there is the non-tangible effect their involvement has on current students. Many people in aviation know the importance of networking, with many jobs being won and many barriers being broken down through the power of connection. According to Copeland, “We have been trying to do a better job of reaching out to our alumni. It is great when our alumni reach back to us.” The involvement of our alumni continues to grow; many have come back and taken part in events like Aviation Outlook Day or have served as class presenters. “This connection between alumni and our current students helps to motivate those students currently sitting in class,” said Copeland. The alumni enlighten the students about the career and the pathway they will need to take. Sometimes the road is rocky, but it is a valuable message the students need to hear.
The diamond anniversary of Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation is shining brightly. Its radiance has been created by a multitude of facets, all highlighting the program and helping it grow into the program it is today. To celebrate, the College of Aviation is hosting a variety of different events and you are invited. Events range from our Alumni and Friends Cookout at AirVenture in July, to our 75 year Gala in October. For a complete list of events, please click here or visit our website. If you are unable to attend but wish to make a financial contribution, please click here. Your donation will help ensure the success of the 75 Year Celebration and the future of the College of Aviation.
Embrace the past, enjoy the present, and envision the future. The past 75 years were great. The next 75 are going to be amazing. Buckle up; it’s going to be one heck of a ride!
As a student at Western Michigan University’ College of Aviation, George “Chip” Wasinsky dreamed of the day his career would take off. With a solid aviation blood line, Wasinsky was destined to enter the business. His journey would run the gauntlet – taking him from the bottom, up the career ladder.
|Chip and his fiance, Liz White.
The two plan to marry in September, 2014
Upon graduating in 2005 from Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township, MI, Wasinsky found himself enrolled at Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation. His career path was pre-determined. Not only has his father been involved in the aerospace manufacturing industry for 30 years, his grandfather piloted for Frontier and American Airlines after serving in the navy. “For me, it was a natural thing to do,” said Wasinsky. “Aviation has always been a part of my life. I thought it was so cool that my grandpa was a pilot.” The fact Wasinsky was at WMU pursuing a degree in Aviation Science and Administration was the logical step.
While at Western Michigan University, Wasinsky understood the importance of connections. Having the family background in the industry helped to solidify his need to become involved and make industry connections. “I loved living on campus, especially the Aviation House in Henry Hall,” remarked Wasinsky. “This was the best way to start my ‘local’ networking. I made friends in Henry that remain to this day. Henry Hall provided us an opportunity to establish a brotherhood.” The bonds from not only pursuing a similar degree, but also the opportunity to live and share so many experiences had a distinct impact on him. “The time on campus created a close knit group. I keep in contact with those friends to this day.”
The time on campus also solidified the necessity to prepare for a career beyond the college classroom. As a student in the College of Aviation, Wasinsky saw the need for a strong student government and ran for the Aviation Student Council President. Basing his campaign on the reorganization of the organization, Wasinsky won the election and was sworn in during the spring of 2009, helming the chair until the spring of 2010.
During his term, Wasinsky lead the organization in a needed face lift. “Reorganizing and re-launching the Aviation Student Council was one of my major tasks,” he recalled. Additionally, he has fond memories of helping bring to life the College of Aviation anniversary celebrating 70 years of aviation education and 10 years as the 7th academic college of Western Michigan University. “One of my most memorable experiences was helping to put the gala celebration together. The Aviation Student Council helped to secure Dale Klapmeier (Founder of Cirrus Aircraft) as one of the keynote speakers. Not only was it a great opportunity to meet one of the brothers who helped to bring the College of Aviation fleet to life, but it was also inspiring to hear his story and the many obstacles and challenges they encountered as they struggled to bring the aircraft to fruition.”
Time spent at Western Michigan University also prepared him well professionally and academically. In addition to the solid footing he obtained in the field of aviation, Wasinsky commented on the skill set he improved on while studying at WMU. According to Wasinsky, “Numerous things come to mind about my time at WMU. First and foremost was Crew Resource Management taught by Professor Gil Sinclair. I liked that class a lot. All of the classes added to the development of my critical thinking skills, the ability to organize tasks and see them to completion, and the reinforcement of the importance of being a team player.”
As a student, Wasinsky also understood the importance of networking outside of Henry Hall and the confines of Western Michigan University. “When summer time came, I found myself looking for career work. I didn’t want any job, I wanted a position that would accentuate my opportunities upon graduating,” Wasinsky remembered. As he stated, not any job would do. He required one that would provide opportunities. Enter Triumph Gear Systems, part of the Triumph Group. Wasinsky secured an entry level position sweeping floors. He would spend his summers at Triumph, returning to WMU in the fall to continue his studies.
Not only did the job provide him spending cash during the school year, it also provided network connections that would pay off in dividends upon graduating. Through connections he made during his summer employment, Wasinsky secured gainful employment with Triumph Gear Systems soon after he graduated in 2010. “I started as a Quality Associate specifically assisting in the metallurgical lab. I worked with the heat treating of all our gear components,” stated Waskinsky. During this time, he increased his knowledge about the manufacturing process and supply chain management. “At Triumph, we follow the Six-Sigma philosophy developed by Toyota. Ultimately, we are focused on a lean manufacturing process, seeking a more efficient way of producing a product.”
“One of the great things about working at Triumph Gear Systems is their ‘Success Factors’ program,” said Wasinsky. Success Factors is a program that nurtures talent from within, providing an opportunity for current employees to advance within the company. “I had an opportunity to speak with our company president about advancement opportunities. I was offered six months of training, the finances fell into place, and I was finally offered the job.” Four short years after graduating, Wasinsky accepted a promotion as a Program Manager. This unique opportunity places him in charge of the manufacturing and supply chain for Rolls Royce and Boeing. With a smile on his face, Wasinsky said, “Not only do I get to work with Rolls Royce and Boeing, I am the main point of contact for both companies.”
Wasinsky’s leadership and support continues to be demonstrated on many levels. Not only has he risen within the ranks at Triumph, he also feels the need to be a leader as an alumni of the College of Aviation. Wasinsky was the first person to donate to College of Aviation’s 75 Year Campaign, celebrating the momentous aviation anniversary. “I think it is my duty to give back to the program and college that gave me so much,” said Wasinsky. “Western Michigan University did so much for me, donating money is the least I can do. It is my duty as an alumnus to pay it forward. I want to ensure the continued growth of the College of Aviation.”
When looking at the experiences, accolades, and impact of Clarence Newton (Pappy) VanDeventer, it is hard not to be wowed. The man was immersed in aviation, his influence reaching far beyond the boundaries of Western Michigan University. Summing up her father, Cheryl VanDeventer said it best, “Keep in mind, my father was first and foremost a teacher, who just happened to have a lifelong love of anything to do with airplanes.”
“Pappy” VanDeventer will be honored by Western Michigan University, when he becomes the 13th member inducted into the College of Aviation’s Hall of Honor. VanDeventer served as an associate professor of transportation technology from 1955 until his retirement in 1975.
Transportation was destined to be in VanDeventer’s future, with the rich history of railroads established in his birthplace of Herrington, Kansas. However, as he grew up, his attention was directed towards two things: teaching and airplanes. Upon graduating in 1946 with his bachelor’s degree from Winona State Teacher's College, VanDeventer was committed to combining his avocation with his vocation. Prior to coming to Western Michigan University, he was a teacher and established the Aviation Department at Hammond Technical Vocational High School, in Hammond, Indiana. As his daughter stated, he had merged the two passions.
Throughout his life, VanDeventer was the proverbial busy beaver. While World War II raged in Europe and the Pacific, VanDeventer served as an instructor for the Army Air Force Cadet Training Program. During 1958, he earned his master’s degree from Purdue University. In addition, he was a licensed FAA commercial pilot, flight instructor, airframe and powerplant mechanic and served as the Dormitory Director for Henry Hall from 1960 – 1966, and Eldridge-Fox Halls from 1966 – 1968. He also acted as the student Aviation Advisor in the Transportation Technology Department from 1969 until he retired in 1975.
Throughout his tenure at Western Michigan University, VenDeventer helped establish programs and carry on traditions that live today. Not only did he serve as an advisor to WMU’s competitive flight team, the Sky Broncos, VanDeventer was also instrumental in establishing the Western Michigan University Pilot Training Program in 1956.
The impact of VanDeventer was also felt beyond the classroom and Western Michigan University. To assist students as they navigated the complex world of aviation, he established the C.N. VanDeventer Loan Fund for Students in Transportation Technology. Furthermore, in 1965 he authored the textbook used by the Armed Forces Institute, “Introduction to General Aeronautics,” with the 3rd revision being published in 1974. In addition, he was cited by the FAA in 1965 for outstanding contributions made to the aviation industry.
VanDeventer died July 15, 1993 in Lansing, Michigan. He will posthumously be inducted in Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation Hall of Honor on Friday, October 24, 2014 at the College of Aviation’s 75th Anniversary Gala.
"Doc" was born and raised in Illinois where he began looking to the skies and dreaming of flying an airplane. He started taking flying lessons at the age of fifteen and received his PPL at seventeen. "Doc" graduated from the University of Illinois, Institute of Aviation with an A&P Mechanics license, then entered WMU to complete his aviation education.
At WMU "Doc" started his MS, and also began teaching as a graduate instructor. In 1983, "Doc" graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Before he knew it, 31 ½ years of teaching had passed by and he retired as an Associate Professor in the College of Aviation in 1999. During his tenure at WMU, "Doc" focused on curricula, course, and laboratory equipment development. "Doc" was instrumental in forming the Department of Aircraft and Automotive Engineering. He was a Faculty Senator, AAUP representative, and served on many University, college and departmental committees.
"Doc" served outside the university on various boards and committees that included SAE International, Transportation Research Board, AIAA and AABI. He also served as a technical expert for Technical Advisory Service for Attorneys. For many years "Doc" served as an FAA Designated Mechanics Examiner.
"Doc" considered the direction and development of the FSc and BSc degrees in Aviation Management at London Metropolitan University, London, England, as one of his most satisfying and challenging work experiences of his career. "Doc" returned to the College of Aviation as Interim Chairperson of the College Faculty.
In 2007, "Doc" and his wife, Sylvia, retired to Florida, where "Doc" found his way to Piper Aircraft. At Piper he became a Lead Systems and Propulsion Engineer for the Altaire jet aircraft project. While there "Doc" continued to inspire young people to experience the wonders of aviation, while passing on his passion for aircraft design, maintenance and flight.
As the college kicks off a celebration of 75 years of aviation education, our diamond anniversary, we thought it would be fitting to update you on recent important events and the many facets that are helping to shape the future of our graduates.
Partnerships Yield Internships, Scholarships
The Michigan Business Aviation Association's
Board of Directors and several member organizations chose WMU to roll out the organization’s new MBAA Education Initiative
: Bridging the Gap Between Graduation and a Career in Business Aviation.MBAA, in partnership withDassault, staged a brand new Falcon 7X business jet in the hangar for students, faculty, and staff to enjoy during the evening event. This initiative provides potential internship, scholarship, and employment opportunities never before seen in corporate aviation.
Recruitment and Retention
The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals
continues to be an important partner in addressing challenges that will aid in eliminating barriers and open a more diverse pipeline of students into aviation education.
The college has enjoyed steady enrollment growth over the last few years due to the outstanding efforts of the recruitment and outreach team. The college currently has over 800 majors with growth increasing or remaining steady in each of the three programs: Aviation Flight Science, Aviation Maintenance Technology, and Aviation Management and Operations.
Outreach efforts span the gamut from K-12 to community college visits to attendance at national college fairs. K-12 outreach efforts include the West Michigan Aviation Academy
charter school in Grand Rapids and Davis Aerospace High School
in Detroit, now part of Go Lightly.
In addition, our recruitment team is a fixture at national conferences such as Women in Aviation International
and theOBAPconference. The team also attends events such as Oshkosh and Sun N Fun to promote our programs to potential students.
The Western Michigan University Board of Trustees voted to move the College of Aviation from the number three position on the Building Project Priority List for the Five-Year Capital Outlay Plan to the number one position. This move does not address the entire Campus Physical Development Plan for the college that was created in 2009, however, we are grateful for the potential opportunity to increase our footprint in Battle Creek. The plan entails an addition to the Aviation Education Center, not to exceed $19M. The original plan included an additional $32M for phase II improvements and buildings, however, new state requirements for outlay plans have eliminated new buildings and include other specific criteria that would not allow for phase II at this time. We have been working very closely with our partners across the state who are campaigning at the legislative level on our behalf.
Renovations to the Office of Advising
in Kohrman Hall have been completed. Improvements included an expansion of the space to accommodate additional faculty offices and student work and commons areas. This space is critical to our students and other visitors and serves as the link on main campus to the college in Battle Creek. We are now engaged in bringing Air Force ROTC
into the office space next to our completed renovation.
Maintenance faculty members are in the early stages of identifying improvements to thePowerplantlaboratory that would provide for education tools for maintenance training at the college. These improvements are necessary since the lab remains virtually unchanged since the college moved to Battle Creek many years ago. We believe this investment will benefit our students for many years to come.
Political Support Growing in Michigan
As the only comprehensive collegiate aviation program in the state, it is imperative that our legislators are aware of our unique contributions to higher education and the professional aviation industry. They need to know we are increasing enrollment and contributing to the importance of job growth in Michigan. A number of legislators have recently visited the college to learn more about the way theCoAwill benefit Michigan’s economy. Partners across the state are including the college in the efforts to put a spotlight on aviation, which represent some of the highest quality jobs in Michigan.
Restricted Air Transport Pilot Waiver
Directed by the United States Congress, the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 called for increased minimum requirements for airline first officers. The new rule mandates that airline first officers hold an air transport pilot (ATP) certificate or the new “restricted ATP.” An ATP certificate requires, among many other qualifications, that the pilot be at least 23 years old and have logged at least 1,500 hours of flight time. Students trained atWMU will benefit significantly as the 1500 hour requirement is reduced to 1,000 for graduates of a four-year degree program such as the one at theCoA.
Accreditation and Research
The Aviation Accreditation Board International
has reaccredited the College of Aviation in all three degree programs.
Additionally, the college was selected as an Affiliate Member of the new FAA General Aviation Center of Excellence: the Partnership to Enhance General Aviation Safety, Accessibility and Sustainability (PEGASAS
). Partners include Ohio State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Florida Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University, Iowa State University, Kent State University, Southern Illinois University, Arizona State University, Tufts University, Florida A&M University, North Carolina A&T University, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The center is funded for ten years and is lead by Purdue University.
Andrew Kincaid, aviation maintenance technology, won the national championship in aviation maintenance technology skills as part of the 2013 SkillsUSA Championship series held in Kansas City, MO. The contest scope was based on the FAA airframe and power plant certification guidelines. This is the first time a WMU student has entered this competition.
Troy Booker, aviation management and operations, received an Undergraduate Research Excellence award for Fall 2013. He was mentored by Professor Lori Brown, Faculty Specialist.Faculty members
Lori Brown, TerryMichmerhuizen, BillRantz, VladimirRishukin,GeoffWhitehurst, and Jim Whittles are continuing their research endeavors that include engaging community youth to enhance the math and science curriculum, integrating mobile flight-deck technology into classrooms to recruit, retain, and engage the next generation of aviation professions, integrating tablet technology in flight training, and understanding how hydraulic noise is propagated in aircraft electric motor pumps.
The faculty, staff and students in one of Western Michigan University's most technically advanced disciplines are about to spend the coming year turning back the pages of history to celebrate their roots.
Throughout 2014, WMU's College of Aviation will mark its 75th year of providing aviation education through what has become one of the top such collegiate programs in the world. The college's three undergraduate degree programs date back to 1939 when WMU jumped headlong into what was still an area of study and an industry in its infancy. The Wright brothers' first sustained flight had only taken place 36 years earlier in 1903, the year WMU was founded.
The college is planning a series of events during the coming year to mark the storied history of aviation at WMU. The first events will take place later this spring and the anniversary celebration will become part of many of the college's regularly scheduled events. The initiative to mark the 75th anniversary will formally conclude in the fall with a major celebratory event.
In 1939, the Michigan State Board of Education authorized and approved Western Michigan to offer a two-year non-degree curriculum in Vocational Aviation Mechanics designed to prepare students for positions as licensed airplane mechanics, licensed engine mechanics, airplane factory mechanics, and pilot mechanics.
That same year, WMU began offering the ground school portion of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, sponsored by the federal government, with the flight portion of the program contracted out. Both the mechanics programs and the pilot training initiative were under the direction of Elmer C. “Buck” Weaver
By 1947, WMU had established a four-year bachelor’s degree curriculum called air transportation, and by 1955, the University started its own flight-training program at the Plainwell, Mich., airport. The Kalamazoo airport was the program's home from 1959 to 1997, when it moved to Battle Creek, Mich.'s W.K. Kellogg Airport. In 1999, WMU's aviation programs were organized into the College of Aviation--WMU's seventh degree-granting college.
Look for information on special events that will be published regularly
; we hope you can join us in our celebrations throughout the coming year.
We are so grateful for the unwavering support of
our advisory board members, numerous partners, corporate leaders, alumni, other individuals, and friends of the WMU College of Aviation. Without your interest in our efforts to keep our college in the forefront of aviation education, we would not be where we are today. We welcome your comments and questions, so please reach out to me directly at any time should you wish to talk about the college and our efforts. We would also be happy to have you visit us and take a tour of our facilities.
Captain Dave Powell
Growing up in Corry, Pennsylvania, Abe Herr, a 2010 graduate of Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation, was surrounded by transportation. Although the little city, located in Erie County near the northwest border of New York, was better known as a railroad town, it also had an aviation connection.
Being the manufacturing location of the Climax Locomotive Works, the railroad had a big impact on the city. It was also the home of Charles F. Ritchel, who engineered a small, one-person dirigible during the mid-1870s. This lighter-than-air craft wasn’t the only thing to take to the skies over Corry. For Herr, the craft that caught his attention had wings, a propeller, and landing gear.
Over the course of one’s life, it is often stated it is better to be lucky than good. Fortunately for the aviation industry, Herr’s childhood house happened to be in the landing pattern of the Corry Airport. “The airport was close by my house,” he said, “so I was a regular over there. Not only did I get to watch the planes flying, I would also attend various fly-ins held there. I was fascinated by flight, and I knew this was something I wanted to do.”
After years of watching aircraft, the time came when Herr evolved from passive observer to engaged participant. He began flying while in junior high. As most new to the experience would attest, his first flight was a mixture of excitement and anticipation, but it was almost his last. “Yes, my first flight was pretty nerve racking,” Herr recalled. “The landing was incredibly turbulent and nearly changed my mind. However, I persevered and gained a lot of confidence on my second flight.” Herr continued flying at the Corry Airport until, unfortunately, his training plane took off. The flight school sold the aircraft and left the eager young pilot with lots of ambition but no outlet.
Not to be deterred, Herr began looking for universities that would meet his requirements. “At that time in my life,” he said, “I wanted to be an engineer and get my pilot’s license. Using technology, I plugged my requirements into a college search engine and 12 schools were listed,” one of which was Western Michigan University. Being a discriminating consumer, he arranged college visits in the quest to find the right fit. “Visiting the campus,” Herr said, “I immediately fell in love with Western, both the main campus and the College of Aviation. I was very impressed with the new Cirrus aircraft and had an opportunity to sit down and talk with the Dean Dave Powell. All of this sold me on attending WMU.”
With his college choice firmly made, Herr enrolled as an Aviation Flight Science student with an ambition to double-major in engineering. However, as he gained an understanding of aviation maintenance, his interest moved away from engineering and he soon declared his second major: Aviation Maintenance Technology.
Based on his initial visit to Western Michigan University and his experiences as a student, Herr wanted to share his enthusiasm for both aviation and WMU with other prospective enrollees. Knowing the benefits the University offered, especially to students from out of state, Herr became a student ambassador with the Office of Admissions. “The best part of this job was being able to brag about WMU, and inform new students about all of the great things the University has to offer,” Herr said recalling his experiences. “But, truthfully, the best part of the job was the fact I met Cari (Puska, his future wife and a May 2010 graduate of Speech Pathology and Audiology).”
Double-majoring in Aviation Flight Science and Aviation Maintenance Technology is no easy feat. For most students, this typically takes five years. Not Abe Herr. Much like that junior high pilot, Herr attacked his degree with diligence, finishing the programs in three and a half years and graduating in December of 2010. In addition to his academic load, Herr participated in internships and took advantage of opportunities that would directly impact his future career ambitions. He interned at Duncan Aviation, UT Flight, and the WMU Fleet Maintenance Department. He was also able to attend a King Air school on a scholarship from the National Business Aviation Association.
Currently, Herr is an aircraft mechanic/pilot for the Maryland State Police. His primary duties include the daily maintenance and repair of all medical-evacuation aircraft used by the state police: AW 139 helicopter, Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin helicopter, Cessna 210 and Beechcraft King Air 350. He often uses his WMU flight background with the Cessna. “The Cessna has become invaluable to our department as we are deployed to repair some of our aircraft. Instead of driving to the location, we are able to fly, which greatly reduces the turn-around time.”
The turbulence Herr experienced on his first flight is often felt in his daily life. Any given day brings a number of different maintenance scenarios. “My day brings just about anything to the table,” he said. “Based on the situation of our aircraft, I could be deployed to any part of Maryland to fix one of them. I’ve fixed aircraft in the field, in our hangar; I’ve even worked on one of our helicopters on the top of a hospital. You just never know.”
Regardless of where the job takes him, Herr’s favorite part is the extreme pace required to perform at an optimal level, and knowing he is part of a team that is providing an invaluable service to the people in Maryland. As Herr says, “We have a purpose in the state!”
Thinking back to Western Michigan University brings back fond memories. “If I had to pick my favorite, it would be a tie – flying around Lake Michigan ranks up there as well as all of the sporting events at WMU.” In his commercial aviation course he completed a cross-country flight with another student pilot. For this exercise, the two chose to fly around the lake.
“I got to see a full day from the sky,” he said. “We took off early enough to see the sun rise, and since the journey took the entire day, by the time we were landing in Battle Creek, the sun was setting.” To top it off, the scenery left a lasting impression. “This was the first time I saw a wind farm. We were flying in Wisconsin and there it was - these large wind machines stretching across the horizon. Added to this was witnessing logging trails in the Upper Peninsula and some incredibly beautiful waterfalls. Just a spectacular day.”
Coupled with his memories as a member of the “Lawson Lunatics” at the WMU Bronco hockey games, it is easy to understand why the memories are tied. He said “for me, going to the sporting events at WMU was pretty special.” As Herr points out, the sporting events provided great times and some great friendships were forged. “All of the students from Henry Hall (the Aviation Residence Hall) gathered together and attended the games. It wasn’t uncommon for 30 to 40 of us to head to the games. We had such great camaraderie and fun. These were the times when lasting, life-long friendships were made.”
Herr is passionate about his career and his time at Western Michigan University. “What I learned at WMU was invaluable,” the alumnus said. “I remember walking into my first job, and I was terrified. However, based on my preparation at Western, I was 100-percent confident I could handle the responsibility. I knew there was still going to be a lot of learning that needed to take place, but I was prepared and ready for the challenge. WMU established a strong foundation.”
In return, Herr is determined to help the next generation of aviation professionals. Based on his experience and the knowledge of what it takes to be successful, Herr has demonstrated a strong commitment in giving back. As a recent alumnus, he volunteered to deliver the keynote address to the new crop of aviation students in the fall of 2010. “Networking is so important in this industry,” he told them. “I began making connections as a student and have been pretty successful. I want to share my story with the new students. The more they know, the easier this industry becomes.”
Herr has already been in touch with WMU about job opportunities and possibilities in his industry for future graduates. “I know the quality that is produced at WMU and I want more Broncos around me.”
Aviation is a unique industry. On a macro level, the industry has united a world in ways never conceived. Through the magic of flight, the world has shrunk: cultures, countries, and customs brought together, separated only by the time required in flight. However, every so often, aviation can be viewed on the micro level when the fantasy world of flight brings together two individuals. Their passion for aviation is only rivaled by their passion for each other.
Although they both grew up in different states, Megan Linnen and Adam Turner were energized by aviation in childhood. As a resident of Granger, Ind., Megan was inspired particularly by her aunt. Both her aunt and uncle were involved in aviation and would often fly into a small air strip when coming to visit Megan and her family.
Occasionally, Megan would take to the skies with her pilot aunt, experiencing the wonder of flight firsthand. According to Megan, “in a predominately male-dominated industry, having my aunt as a role model and pilot was incredibly important. Her influence and inspiration was very important in developing my interest in aviation all through my younger years.”
In addition to Megan, her aunt was also instrumental in infecting the “aviation flu” in other young girls. “My aunt regularly worked with various Girl Scout troops, bringing simulators for the girls to fly. She exposed a lot of them to the thrill of aviation.”
Adam grew up in Southwest Michigan and attended St. Joseph High School. Similar to Megan, Adam was also introduced to the wonderment of flight at a relatively early age. A friend of the family was a pilot and offered to take Adam for a ride. The two loaded into a Cessna 172 and took off for a ride that would change young Adam’s life. Over the course of their journey, the pilot and his young prodigy flew over Michael Jordan’s house. As Adam stated, “That was the coolest thing ever. I was hooked.” The sight of Air Jordan’s home elevated Adam to a new level of consciousness. Being a pilot was the key to unlock the door – it provided an opportunity to go and see whatever you wanted. The freedom of flight meant no boundaries, no limits and the ability to see the world.
The two young aviation enthusiasts were still far apart. Adam graduated high school in 2007 and enrolled at Western Michigan University, choosing to major in Aviation Flight Science. Meanwhile, Megan was still a year from college. However, fate played a role when Megan also decided to enroll at WMU. Arriving on campus in the fall of 2008, she was eager and ready to begin her studies as an Aviation Science and Administration student. Little did the two scholars know, fate wasn’t done with them yet!
Megan and Adam met during one of the “usual aviation social gatherings” at Western Michigan University. Luckily for them, they crossed paths in a college environment. Had they met in high school, both admit their relationship would have never worked. As Adam admits, “It was love at first site. I saw Megan and said, ‘That’s the one!’” With a little conning, Adam eventually convinced Megan to go on a date. And the rest they say “is history.” Their passion for aviation brought them to WMU; in return, WMU brought them together!
Graduating in 2010 with a degree in Aviation Flight Science, Adam has been on a whirlwind path. Finishing his degree in three and half years, Adam experienced a passion for Megan that paralleled his drive to succeed in the aviation world. As a student, Adam completed all of his flight training in 13 months – normally completed in two years – and soon began work on his career. Understanding the importance of networking and making connections, he sought and obtained work at WMU’s College of Aviation while working on his degree.
Not unlike many of his fellow graduates, Adam found the outlook for flight jobs challenging during the spring of 2010. As he looked for opportunities, he worked as a substitute teacher. Knowing this was only a temporary situation, Adam continued moving forward with his career ambitions. Within a short time, an opportunity opened up at Paragon Flight Training as a Certified Flight Instructor. With Megan still in school, this move could add a complicated layer to their relationship. With a firm understanding of the aviation world and lifestyle, Megan and Adam pushed forward and Adam took off for the Sunshine State.
With Adam “soaking up the rays” in Florida, Megan focused on her studies. Graduating in 2011 with a degree in Aviation Science and Administration, she too finished her program in three and a half years. As a student, Megan also understood the importance of career development and networking by participating in multiple student organizations. She was a member of Women in Aviation, Alpha Eta Rho, and the Aviation Student Council, where she served as the Public Relations Officer. More importantly, Megan had the foresight to understand the importance of an internship. Over the course of her last year at WMU, Megan was chosen for an internship with Northern Jet Management in Grand Rapids, Mich. Not only did the internship provide her with a wealth of experience and contacts, it also led to her first job in the industry. Upon graduating, Northern Jet Management hired Megan full time as a scheduler and concierge representative.
With their careers in motion, it was only a matter of time before the two reconnected both in matrimony and residence. With enough flight hours under his belt, Adam was ready to enter the next phase of his life. In 2012, he took a job with Air Services Inc. in Traverse City, Mich., as a charter pilot. It was also during this year that he and Megan chose to make the biggest move of their lives: the two got married! Megan also took a job with Air Services as a Flight Coordinator – a job that would literally allow her to tell Adam where to go!
However, much like many in aviation, the ground under their landing gear changes often. Megan has recently taken a job with L-3 Communications in Grand Rapids serving as a Customer Support Administrator and Adam has accepted a job at Northern Jet Management.
Both have worked incredibly hard, both personally and professionally. As Megan said, “As humble as (Adam) is of his accomplishments, I have no shame in telling everyone that I am so proud of all he has done! He has flown his butt off the last few years, he is always going above and beyond for his passengers and co-workers, and I am so excited for him to receive this opportunity!”
The legacy left at Western Michigan University by the Turners’ is one of connection, networking, and hard work. Both have been involved with the West Michigan Business Aviation Association (WMBAA) and have embraced the close relationship between WMU and the WMBAA. Since graduating, Megan has volunteered as a coordinator of the WMBAA scholarships and works closely with WMU to help promote the scholarships to current College of Aviation students. As a recipient of the Second in Command Scholarship from WMBAA, Adam benefited as exemplified by his promotion through the ranks to captain of a Lear Jet 31 at Air Services.
Additionally, Megan and Adam love the ability to share their passion for corporate aviation. There are many options in aviation, with many going unexplored. Adam believes “It is incredibly important to gain exposure to the various career paths that exist in aviation. Find your path by finding where your passions lie.” Commercial aviation is not the only route that exists for aviation students. Adam was able to find his passion for corporate aviation by taking advantage of a jump-seat program with Steelcase while he was a student. Experiences like this, and their subsequent work with WMBAA, helped establish Adam and Megan as corporate aviation ambassadors.
Attending Western Michigan University for Megan and Adam was a life-changing event. Their time was filled with great memories, and great friends. Not only did they have an opportunity to learn about aviation and pursue a dream, they were also able to establish life-long friends, none of whom can forget the squadron of aviation students living at Copper Beach, an apartment complex near the WMU campus. But most importantly, the two were able to unite themselves in two passions: aviation and each other.
Aviation gets into people’s blood. Talk to most aviation enthusiasts and they can pinpoint the time in their life when this happened: a gift of an airplane at an early age; the sight of a strange looking craft streaking across the sky; a first flight. Whatever the reason, these experiences change the individual forever. For some of these people, this enthusiasm for aviation turns to passion and begins a journey that has a lasting impact. Tom Deckard is one of these people.
As a young high school student, his infatuation with aviation was sparked after meeting a group of pilots at the local airport in Elkhart, Indiana. This triggered something in him, and it wasn’t long before Deckard clicked with a former U.S. Air Force pilot in the group. Their conversations intrigued the formative young man and after talking with the experienced pilot about aviation and flying, Deckard was hooked - he knew he wanted to fly for the Air Force.
By age 19, Deckard had already earned his private pilot license. The eager young pilot continued working toward his goal of flying for the U.S. Air Force when he enrolled at Indiana University in 1964. After completing his freshmen year at Indiana, Deckard decided to transfer to Western Michigan University, where, by 1967, he earned a Bachelor of Science in math, with a minor in physics. With his degree complete from WMU, Deckard set his sights on his original goal – becoming a pilot for the U.S. Air Force. In 1967, he was on his way.
As a newly anointed Air Force pilot, the recent flight training graduate was selected to become a T-38 instructor pilot in Florida. He would later fill the same role at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. While in Arizona, he found himself training a unique group of individuals. Deckard had no idea the U.S. Air Force would train foreign pilots. But there he was, training five South Vietnamese pilots during the time of the Vietnam War. One student in particular had a tremendous impact on the young pilot trainer. Deckard struck up a friendship with the young South Vietnamese student. Not only did the friendship grow, it prospered. Transcending the war, Deckard helped sponsor his friend as an immigrant into the United States, which changed his friend’s life forever. Reflecting on the time, Deckard remembers the elation he felt watching his friend not only become a mechanical engineer, but most importantly a U.S. citizen.
After six fun and exciting years with the U.S. Air Force, Deckard’s military tenure came to an end. Leaving the U.S. Air Force in 1973, he rejoined his alma mater as a graduate student and received his Master of Science in industrial supervision from Western Michigan University. With his master’s firmly in hand, he began a quest to join the WMU faculty team. By 1975, Deckard had held multiple roles at WMU, including Assistant Professor, Assistant Chief Flight Instructor, and Academic Advisor. During his time as a faculty member, Deckard specifically enjoyed teaching aerodynamics and fondly remembers the first classes he taught--Introduction to Aviation. As a pilot, Deckard was incredibly competent managing aircraft, systems and flight plans. How hard could it be to manage a classroom? Enter in his first class with over 300 students. To say his learning curve was steep is an understatement. However, with his typical dedication and perseverance, Deckard jumped in head first and quickly learned how to manage such a large group of eager young minds.
His contributions to aviation at this time went beyond his academic duties at Western Michigan University. In addition to his classroom responsibilities, Deckard was also a Designated Federal Aviation Administration Pilot Examiner for a few years. Conducting a multitude of check-rides for aspiring pilots provided an insight many in the aviation world don’t get to see. According to Deckard, the time spent as a pilot examiner provided him with some “unique experiences conducting check-rides.”
When someone is fortunate enough to combine their avocation with a vocation, the thought of retirement is a hard pill to swallow. In 1999, Tom Deckard retired from WMU. Looking back, Deckard remembers a life full of exciting and interesting memories during his over 20-year experience as a faculty and staff member. However, much like Al Pacino’s character in the finale of the “Godfather” trilogy, “just when he thought he was out, he ‘gots’ pulled back in.” Deckard was soon asked to re-join the WMU team as Director of Flight Operations and would eventually serve as Faculty Chair until 2005, when he would officially “hang up his hat.”
Deckard’s WMU years are filled with great memories and experiences. Looking back fondly, he remembers the personal satisfaction he received watching students develop. Watching them grow from eager-eyed freshmen to knowledgeable seniors, and then mature into professionals, was of great enjoyment to Deckard. When it comes to his colleagues, both at the Kalamazoo (AZO) facility and the current Battle Creek facilities, he has nothing but admiration. He mentions how the staff and faculty became like a family, they knew a lot about each other both professionally and personally. When the program moved to Battle Creek, this was “his cherry on the sundae.”
Deckard didn’t take long to find a new enjoyment during retirement. He admits it’s nothing like his previous jobs at WMU, but the new occupation provides him solace and a sense of relaxation. For the past seven and a half years, Deckard has been spending his time delivering RV’s to dealerships and customers using his own large pickup truck, which has faithfully driven him over 640,000 miles.
Deckard and his successes went beyond the cockpit. In his professional life, he logged over 50 years of employment, and over 10,000 hours of flying. In the logbook that matters, he has a more profound entry. His life would be forever changed when he met the co-pilot that would take the ultimate journey with him. Prior to entering pilot training, Deckard’s eyes caught sight of the woman he would soon marry. While on leave from the Air Force, the future aviator met Nancy. The whirlwind romance was soon followed by their engagement, which took place just two weeks after their first meeting. The two made the union official a month later and have been happily married for the past 45 years. Along with his love for Nancy, his two daughters and six grandchildren, three boys and three girls ages 8-14, have brought him happiness as he shares his passion for aviation with them as well.
Because of his prolific knowledge, Deckard was posed these questions: “What kind of advice would you give to the inexperienced pilots? What about the experienced ones?” With no hesitation, he expressed the need for the less-experienced pilots, specifically those in the 200-500 hour range, to avoid getting over confident. Their learning curve toward the 200-500 hour mark has been significantly steep. Deckard says, “(they are) feeling more comfortable with their skills, but it’s important to remember we are always a student and are always learning and growing.” For those that are more advanced in their career, Deckard throws out the buzz word “complacency.” He also mentions the fact, that while many pilots know the limitations of aircraft, many fail to take into consideration that each pilot has personal limitations that must be recognized to ensure they maintain safe operations as they advance into the later parts of their career.
Of all of his experiences in aviation, one memory bubbles to the top. “Formation flying is the best,” Deckard remarked excitedly. “Pushing past the sound barrier in a two-ship close formation is something nothing compares to.” On occasion, when conditions were right, Deckard said pilots were able to see the shockwave of the lead aircraft and fly through it, creating an amazing experience and one he will be able to recall forever. He does also put an emphasis on ensuring that those who enjoy or want to fly formation have the proper ground school and education to ensure safety during these maneuvers.
When it comes to WMU’s College of Aviation, he sincerely believes in supporting his alma mater. “It’s very important to come back to help your school,” Deckard says while talking about the value of helping develop new projects that cannot be funded by internal money. He also firmly believes in the increased value of a degree as a program continues to grow. As a program gains recognition, adding new programs and accolades, alumni benefit as their own degree gains more clout and identification.
Tom Deckard expressed his wish to tell his former co-workers that he is doing just fine and that he will never forget his WMU experiences. He hopes everyone is doing well, too. He also comments that he is extremely proud of the College of Aviation and all its achievements and accomplishments. He will continue to promote WMU aviation everywhere he can.
During Deckard’s long career he was the recipient of many awards. Some of these include:
- Outstanding Graduate – Officer Training School
- Outstanding Graduate – U.S. Air Force Pilot Training
- Master Instructor Award (U.S. Air Force)
- Grand Rapids FSDO District Instructor of the Year
- Western Michigan University – Teaching Excellence Award
- Western Michigan University, College of Aviation – Hall of Honor 2010
Growing up in Woodhaven, MI, Dan Homolek is “not quite sure” how his interest in aviation began. “If you ask my parents, they’ll tell you I loved airplanes from the age of 2.” Searching through the cloudy memories, Dan remembers knowing by 7th grade he wanted to fly as a career. Not that the career was always his first choice. He initially went through typical elementary career wishes: being a police officer was high on his list. However, in the back of his mind was always this fascination with aircraft. No worries he thought, “I can be a police officer who flies for a hobby.” Sometime during the middle of his foray into middle school, he had an epiphany: What if he was able to turn a hobby into a career? For Dan, the journey began at that point.
Much like many kids who passionately want something, Dan went after his dream with a vengeance. The cost to fly was expensive, and for most children in their early teens, out of reach. However, Dan’s passion was not going to be hindered by anything. As a 13 year old, Dan did what most kids wouldn’t – he went out and got a job! Busting suds part time at a local restaurant, Dan became a dish-washing animal. He worked enough each week to pay for his weekly flight lesson. The journey had taken off.
Arriving at the University in 2004 with his private pilot license in hand, Homolek quickly took advantage of a new curriculum change: freshmen could fly at WMU! Moving through the flight program at warp speed, Dan earned his certified flight instructor rating by 2006. Teaching other students to fly during his junior and senior years, he quickly began accumulating experience and hours. After graduating in 2008 and looking toward the horizon, Dan began plotting the next part of his journey.
As everyone knows in aviation, networking is instrumental in the pursuit of employment. Not only is it important to possess the skills necessary to operate and work within the aviation industry, a person must be fluent in networking and making connections. Understanding this, Dan reached way back into his networking bag and pulled out the ultimate trump card: a former neighbor from his younger days. After graduating WMU, Dan was ready to begin the next part of his journey. Not leaving any stone unturned, Homolek began the job search. With a job opportunity pending at the airlines, Dan’s gamble paid off. Contacting the former neighbor, Dan took a chance. Although he hadn’t seen this person for many years, the connection paid off. The neighbor, recently retired from what would become Dan’s current company, put a word in for Dan and an internship was offered. Jumping at the chance, Homolek turned down the opportunity with the airlines and began the next leg of his journey. Not only had he taken off, he was ascending rapidly!
Fast forward several years: Dan is currently a pilot for a major corporate flight department in southeast Michigan. When asked what he likes about his job, Dan easily responded, “What don’t I like! The quality of life is great and I can’t beat the schedule. However, one of the best parts of the job is working with the people.” The corporate flight department serves the company's employees by moving them to and from multiple locations within the mid-west and the lower 48. According to Homolek, “The locations provide enough variety to make (flying) exciting, but common enough to make it comfortable.” With two Phenom 300s, a Falcon 50EX, and a Falcon 2000, Dan is able to help his company efficiently and effectively conduct business. Due to the nature of the business, Homolek often sees repeat passengers. “Another nice attribute of my job is the fact I get to establish relationships with my co-workers. Not only are they passengers, we also work for the same company. So it’s nice to build those connections with fellow employees.” Dan’s journey reached cruising altitude.
The internship relationship between Dan’s current company and WMU has a long-standing tradition. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding! One quarter of the company’s current pilots started their career as an intern. According to Homolek, “Roger Salo, Director of Aviation of our flight department, is the Chairman of the MBAA. To accomplish one of the association's goals, he tasked our department with developing a program in which we reach out to the next generation of aviation professionals in an effort to educate them about the benefits of a career in corporate aviation, and to provide an opportunity for students to begin the networking process.”
When asked about the importance of establishing and continuing an internship program, Homolek responded, “The internship helps to continuously promote corporate aviation as a viable career opportunity. It allows students to understand the vastness of careers that exist within the aviation umbrella. Most importantly, it helps to break down barriers, make connections, and may even lead to full time employment. Our company is a great example of that.” As a former intern who understands its power, Dan has assumed the responsibility of pushing the internship program further with WMU. Over the course of the years, interns from all three programs have been representing WMU. Moving forward, Dan’s goal is to once again have students from the three aviation programs at WMU participating in opportunities within his company.
The commitment to giving back to his alma mater is very important to Dan. Like most everyone in aviation, he is intimately familiar with the challenges the career requires. With over 50% of the pilots at his company being WMU alumni (with 25% being former SkyBroncos), there is an overwhelming desire to reach back to the place that helped their dreams soar. Giving back is not always a financial obligation. Dan and his crew continue to demonstrate how giving back can sometimes be as simple as “going back.” Their goal is to help inspire current WMU students and broaden their horizons regarding career opportunities and new perspectives. For Dan, the motivation to reengage WMU in regards to his company’s new ride-along program for current students is a perfect example of giving back. According to Homolek, “This program is incredibly important. It allows us the opportunity to reach back and get involved with younger students.”
Dan’s experience at WMU is filled with many warm memories. Looking back are recollections of Stinson and Zimmerman halls, a beautiful campus where lifelong friendships were established, and numerous activities. Coupled with his time on main campus are the experiences at the College of Aviation. As with most aviation students, he loved the flying – numerous cross countries and, the Extra 300! Although this time represented a pit stop on his journey to become a professional aviator, it is a time he looks back on fondly.
To say Dan’s journey has taken him full circle is an understatement. As a child growing up in Woodhaven, he made moves that helped direct him towards a career as a professional pilot. While his journey took him places, it eventually brought him back to his hometown. Loving life and his job, Dan feels incredibly fortunate that his current job has brought him back to where it all started. While some might say Dan’s journey is complete, most would agree it is taking off for the second time!