When things don't go well, Thomas VanHowe is a testimony to the song lyrics "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again." VanHowe, raised in Eminem's home territory of Macomb Township northwest of Detroit, learned those lessons rather well if his resume is any indication. After his WMU graduation with a degree in aviation flight science in 2015, VanHowe stayed in the air as a flight instructor at the Oakland County International Airport, eventually landing at SkyWest Airlines.
Sarah Pagano kind of grew up near the airport that serves her home community of Midland, Mich., and today she is its "Top Gun" as manager. But she took a maverick-like path to get there -- an initial dive into a career in health care, a maneuver that made her a later-in-life nontraditional student, and a safe landing on her goal via an innovative knowledge-delivery system.
Alex Toger is the epitome of "Once a WMU College of Aviation ambassador, always one," even though the higher-education chapter of his life is years in the rear-view mirror. Being one of the program's "welcomers" and "introducers," the December 2017 recipient of a degree in aviation flight science says the ambassadorial experience taught him "how to deal with and answer questions that might not always have the desired response while giving tours and sit-downs."
Raised in Winter Haven, Fla., and learning all things aviation in nearby Lakeland, Chris Desmond never liked the cold. So naturally he would head north to Western Michigan University to pursue his degree and advanced training in aviation. And, of course, go even farther north to Alaska to begin his career. Five years later, he's still there and plans to stay. It's not that Desmond, a 2015 graduate of Winter Haven High School, missed the climate aspects of any geography class he ever took. Alaska's rugged, magnificent beauty and unmatched environment have warmed his psyche and tempered his body's response to chilly temperatures. For a pilot, there is a lot of unique and sensational flying up there. So, in effect, what cold?
Philip Kroll's life experiences fly in the face of author Thomas Wolfe's premise in his novel "You Can't Go Home Again." Not so for Kroll, a 2010 graduate of the WMU College of Aviation with a degree in aviation management and operations. He has -- in effect -- come "home" as the assistant director of the Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field, which is also the home base of the College of Aviation. And he returned to his career's genesis with some impressive credentials.
Pilot-spouses Katie and Aaron Mohnke (pronounced Monk) might assess their aviation careers so far as being "the best of times and the worst of times" -- with a majority emphasis on the former. Since their graduation from the WMU College of Aviation with degrees in aviation flight science in 2016 and 2015, respectively, there has been a period or two when they wore the same airline uniform; but other times -- including right now -- they have been flying for different enterprises.
Even when facing discouraging times, advises Mitchell Carr, who earned his degree in aviation management and operations in the spring of 2020, and when wondering whether "it was worth it," that is all part of the process and that "your time is coming." Carr says he tells prospective aviators to "just believe in yourself and that light at the end of the tunnel will shine when the time is right. Just keep going." Carr believes words from renowned Virginia preacher Bishop T. D. Jakes backs him up: "One of the tests of greatness is your ability to survive frustration."
"My advice to students is to get engaged," he says. "Engagement means going beyond passive participation and, instead, make yourself actively present in ways that enhance your student experience. Join a student organization. Participate in special events and projects. The connections you'll make and the people you'll meet will be invaluable in giving you access to more opportunities. You'll find more enjoyment in your journey and have a deeper connection to the industry."
No matter what your passions or personal interests are, it can be valuable to step back -- or step away -- to gain some perspectives and a clearer view of future possibilities. Just ask Griffin Norton, a WMU (Western Michigan University) magna-cum-laude graduate in 2019 in aviation flight science and now a first officer for Air Wisconsin, one of United Airlines' premier regional air-carrier subsidiaries and Aviate partners.