Growing up in Calumet City, Ill., at the southwestern edge of Lake Michigan in what is referred to as "Chicagoland," Ed Florek was the youngster who took apart the mechanical alarm clock or the family's lawn mower to learn what made them tick. As a 2020 graduate of the WMU College of Aviation with a degree in aviation technical operations, Florek is one of the first WMU students to take advantage of the AAR Eagle Pathway Program.
Raised in a southwest suburb of Chicago as a childhood aviation junkie, there was a pretty good chance Luis Jaime would pursue an aviation career at a collegiate program based "just down the road" in Southwest Michigan. But what sealed the deal for Jaime was one of his two summer camp experiences at the Western Michigan University College of Aviation's location near Battle Creek.
Will Doe, a 2015 graduate of the Western Michigan University College of Aviation, was born in Liberia and spent his first 10 years in the southwest African nation located at the top of the continent's ice-cream-cone-like bulge along the Atlantic Ocean. By the time his age hit double "ones," he was living within visibility of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest terminal in the world and the first on the planet to crest more than 100 million passengers in a calendar year.
A senior double-majoring in aviation flight science and aviation management/operations, Mardoian is not the first Bronco aviator who makes music up in the sky and on the performance field as well. "I did not want to be just someone twiddling their thumbs throughout my college years," he says. "I wanted to make a difference. I had been part of a marching band since my years in junior high. I didn't want to stop doing what I loved. So, I didn't at Western. As a drill instructor, I'm part of the leadership team for the trumpet section in the Bronco Marching Band."
A person's first flight can be an eye-opening, perspective-shifting and career-focusing experience. It was for WMU College of Aviation junior Emma Anderson, and hers was even more of a milestone. She took off and landed on . . . water. Raised in Sparta, Mich., something of a bedroom community for Grand Rapids to the south, Anderson was 16 at the time and on her way to becoming a 2018 graduate of Sparta High School.
A single failure doesn't equate to total, abject failure because each setback can be a valued learning tool. Brian DePuy has the life experiences to prove that. For the WMU College of Aviation alumnus who now flies as a first officer for Envoy Air out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, compiling a bunch of rejections in his quiver is how he eventually hit the bull's-eye. Don't believe that? Just ask the successful novelists who plaster walls their work room with rejection slips.
Dominic Nicolai has rubbed elbows -- and wings -- with some of the giants of the WMU College of Aviation in his 28 years as an instructor. A flight instructor since his 1993 graduation from the WMU program, he has these achievements on his resume -- named FAA Flight Instructor of the Year for the Grand Rapids area in 1996 and garnering master-instructor status in 2008 from the National Association of Flight Instructors.
As a sailor, Zach Orfin mastered his way through and on top of the water. As a College of Aviation student, he's soared amidst the clouds far above the solid ground. There appears to be a third medium in his future -- space, the Final Frontier, in the words of Capt. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise.
"Western was in that perfect spot for me," he says. "It's just far enough where I could get the experience of going away for school, while still being close enough to easily go home if I needed to. Plus, when I went on a tour of WMU, I fell in love with the campus in Kalamazoo and with the aviation facilities in Battle Creek. That pretty much made my decision."
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times -- and WMU College of Aviation alumna Heather Cooper has experienced her industry's "worst" twice. Now a United Airlines captain piloting the largest of aircraft, she survived the panic after "9-11" and, like the rest of the world, is pondering the future of the planet amid the personal, cultural and financial ravages of Covid 19.