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.
There are some amazing aviation genes in the genealogy of Alysse Matteson, a third-year student in the Western Michigan University College of Aviation.
- Grandfather Richard Matteson was a radio operator aboard a B-17, the four-engine Flying Fortress that pounded the heck out of German military and industrial targets during World War II.
- Grandmother Geraldine Matteson was a secretary for William T. Piper -- yes, that Piper.
- Dad Dave Matteson served as an air-traffic controller in the U. S. Army.
- A cousin, Scott Maisch, performs similar duties to keep the skies over Chicago safe.
It's one thing to choose to attend Western Michigan University if you hail from Saginaw, Ypsilanti, Ishpeming or some other home-state community. It's another to make a cross-country leap, say from Carlsbad, Calif. Meet Ryan Sewell, a WMU College of Aviation graduate who is not only now a SkyWest Airlines flight officer based at Detroit Metro Airport but also a dead ringer for David Grohl, a Nirvana alumnus and founder of the Foo Fighters.
If anybody can be defined as a legacy enrollee in the WMU aviation program, it's Michael Coldagelli. His grandfather, Paul Harding, is a member of the Western class of 1954. After his military service, Harding ended up as the executive vice president of marketing for -- where else -- Western Airlines, which, with its hub in Salt Lake City, functioned from 1925 to 1987 before it merged with Delta Air Lines. Originally from New Berlin, Wis., Coldagelli is double majoring in aviation flight science and aviation management and operations.