If you think the epitome of college life is shuttering in your dorm playing video games, you don't want Braden "Brady" Wilson as a "roomie."
A WMU College of Aviation junior, this "Brady" has bunched together a number of activities, all designed to maximize the enjoyment of this phase of his existence while navigating a course aimed at career success once the higher-education chapter of life ebbs into personal history.
Of course, things haven't changed all that much from his high school days in Clarkston, located about a 45-minute drive north of Detroit -- if one observes the speed laws.
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Wilson was a class president, chased little white balls as a member of the golf team, and swam the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke for the Clarkston varsity, well enough to qualify for the state tournament.
When he wasn't rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, summiting 14,000-foot peaks or finishing third among hundreds of swimmers in a 5-K competition, Wilson lifeguarded at a local beach and taught swimming to special-needs youths in high school.
Wilson brought that level of energy to his first days on Western's Kalamazoo campus. "I knew from the beginning I wanted to get involved as soon as possible," he says about mirroring his high school experience. "I remember going to Bronco Bash my freshman year and seeing the rows and rows of student organizations that would help me grow professionally and as a person."
Why aviation? Well, how about another free-time activity while at Clarkston High? "I have always loved aviation. It always sparked my curiosity. There was something about busy airports that fueled an inner excitement." Symbolic of that passion was receiving his private pilot's license as a Clarkston senior.
So that naturally guided him toward an aviation-related student organization. Not a bad idea for someone majoring in airport management and operations. Wilson's minors are general business and data analytics.
"I met Taylor Wells, the president of Western's chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), at a tailgate party my freshman year," he says. "She got me involved and took me under her wing."
Three academic years later, Wilson has served on chapter committees as a chair and secretary. "Through AAAE, I have grown so much. I have toured countless airports, met industry leaders, and talked one-on-one with airport executives, planning firms and leaders of airlines such as Southwest. From mock interviews to resume reviews to grabbing something to eat after meetings, I have made many friends and become a better person. I can't wait to call them a co-worker someday."
Wilson has rounded out his resume by being a welcome ambassador for aviation students as they arrive on campus to begin their Western years. That brought him into contact with WMU President Edward Montgomery. As a "grizzled veteran" of academia, he's represented his college as a senator in the Western Student Association and was chosen president of the Pi Kappa Phi social fraternity.
More in sync with his chosen career path is being a teaching assistant for faculty specialist Jessica Birnbaum's introduction-to-aviation class. "I got to work with first-year aviation students and see them start their journey in the College of Aviation," he says. Beyond that value has been Birnbaum's mentorship. "Her experience and wisdom have helped me tremendously, from navigating application and interview processes to life-long lessons that I will take to my airport career."
Also earning summa-cum-laude status as a work experience was the time he logged with Annie Quardokus, manager of aviation dispatch and scheduling. "Being a dispatcher for flight operations," he says, "taught me not to be afraid to ask questions because, in the aviation industry, there is so much to know that you will not remember everything. It's OK to ask questions and learn where you can find the answers." In other words, there is no such thing as dumb questions -- only dumb answers.
When Wilson asked himself the question about where to go to college, to him the only answer was Western Michigan University. "I chose WMU because of its respected reputation in the industry and its size," he says. "I love the feeling of going to a large university, yet, at the same time, you can see the same faces in your classes and in the cafeteria. It's easy to see why aviation students choose WMU. From touring the campus as a high schooler to events for new students to 'Fall Welcome,' every Bronco I met was excited to be there."
In addition to courses taught by Birnbaum (airport operations) and Kenneth Pope (aviation security), Wilson gives a 4-point-plus rating to Stephanie Ward's new class in airport planning. As an airport planner for the architectural firm of Mead and Hunt in Lansing, she is among the many College of Aviation instructors who inject the real world into the classroom.
"She brought so many life experiences and new perspectives," he says. "She always did her best to bring in interesting extra material. She packaged so many aviation principles into one big picture. I can't wait to apply what I learned in the real world. It was also fun being the guinea pig for a new course."
Western is filling Wilson's scrapbook with cherished memories. "The faculty care so much about your growth and experience," he says. "I hope to return to WMU as a professor down the road after gaining experience in the aviation industry. I am proud to call myself a Bronco."
He's not the only one, as he found out returning from Minneapolis where he was successfully interviewed for an internship with Endeavor Air -- an opportunity temporarily thwarted because of the Covid pandemic. From getting up at 3 a.m. to catch a flight to Endeavor's headquarters in Minnesota to showcasing his personal best later in the day, it was a worthwhile experience, as was the flight home.
"The pilot, a WMU graduate, noticed my College of Aviation jacket," Wilson recalls. "We talked about my experience as a Bronco. I finally realized that he was a certified flight instructor while I was a dispatcher. The aviation industry is a small world and the COA family is even smaller. I have met Western alumni in some of the most random places -- Cedar Point and the Zion National Park. You never know when you will meet a fellow Bronco -- or your future boss."
Once he lands in the industry, Wilson plans on continuing his educational path by pursuing a master's in business administration. "It's hard to focus on a dream job because there are so many aspects of aviation that interest me. I do know that I will be prepared for any of them, thanks to the College of Aviation at Western."
As Wilson looks forward, he says he will never forget what has helped him in the past -- such as the David Barns Faith and Hope for Life Scholarship. Barns was an all-state basketball player who went on to letter for the University of Detroit Mercy, and earn, as a dean's-list student, a bachelor's in business administration and a master's in computer information systems in 2007. He went on to coach youth basketball teams.
A rare form of cancer that attacked his sinus led to a series of intricate surgeries and eventually a stroke. Barns died in November of 2017 at the age of 30, and his family created a scholarship to honor his life's accomplishments.
"The Barns family has played a huge role in my college career," Wilson says. "I will forever cherish them for welcoming me into their organization with open arms. I can't wait to graduate and remain active in remembering David Barns."