Marching with Mardoian – Dylan Sets His Sights on the Sky
There are aviation programs that focus solely on that particular skilled technology. And there are others -- such as the WMU (Western Michigan University) College of Aviation -- that is based at a comprehensive university and offers a more-rounded experience.
Dylan Mardoian is not the first to choose the latter. And he won't be the last.
Now a senior double-majoring in aviation flight science and aviation management/operations, Mardoian is also 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."
And that's not the only beat in his collegiate rhythm. He's belonged to the Women in Aviation International chapter at Western since his freshman year and served WMU's Alpha Eta Rho unit as the administrative chair and "Initiate Member Master" (handling rush activities) from the fall of 2018 to this past March.
Alpha Eta Rho, founded in 1929 on the campus of the University of Southern California and today with 190 chapters worldwide, is a coed aviation fraternity that connects the industry with higher education to promote careers in aviation, aeronautical engineering, and aerospace enterprises. Mardoian has been held in high enough standing to be awarded the organization's FedEx scholarship in the fall of 2020. His other allegiance, Women in Aviation, also a coed organization, seeks to improve this number -- less than 6 percent of the aviation industry is female.
Mardoian hails from Orland Park, a Cook County village of 57,000 people southwest of Chicago proper. Back in his home area, he's become a member of the Chicago Area Business Aviation Association, winning its financial scholarship in the fall of 2019. He's now part of that group, which was formed by professionals to promote training, networking, and other activities to enhance business aviation in Chicagoland.
A connection with the Michigan Business Aviation Foundation (MBAF) also brought him a cash scholarship to advance his career goals "instead of worrying about bills," he says. "That has also opened doors to networking and future employment opportunities."
Mardoian wasn't born to be an aviation aficionado, but it was pretty close. "Ever since I was a kid," he recalls, "I enjoyed going to the Chicago Air and Water Show. Seeing the raw power of the fast, low-flying aircraft always captured my attention. Plus, we traveled as a family almost every summer. I was always that kid pressed against the glass at airport terminals waving at the pilots and pausing in the galley to look into the flight deck when boarding. Because I loved traveling, I was amazed to learn I could get paid doing this daily."
Searching the web for "the perfect university," Mardoian said WMU "always popped up at the top. I came for a tour the summer before my senior year in high school and again during an admitted-student event. My guides -- Emily Hause and Tyler Herndon -- were very inclusive. I was amazed by the advanced aircraft and by the technologies at the students' disposal. I felt very welcomed when I walked through the college facilities."
So welcomed that Mardoian knew he had to "pay it forward" by becoming an aviation ambassador in the spring of 2019. "Doing this has taught me so much about the aviation industry," he says, "and the collegiate world of aviation as well. Sharing my passion for aviation with other prospective students is something I will never take for granted. There is just something very rewarding knowing that you helped their passion grow by sharing your own."
In high school, Mardoian said he never had anyone with whom to share his love of aviation. "When I came to WMU. I felt at home," he says. "Coming to WMU was always the right choice from the start."
Mardoian is not a two-trick pony (aviation and the marching band) when it comes to spare-time activities. Close to his father, who died in 2014, they shared the same interests -- classic "muscle cars, retro dirt bikes, and wrenching on anything that had an engine, made a lot of noise, and went fast. I always feel happy and calm wrenching on something. It makes me feel like he's always with me."
The native Illinoisan has many warm feelings about Western, from the class in global navigation taught by faculty specialist Kyle Jehnzen, with the real-worldexperiences he brought into the course, to the "great mix between a large-school feeling with Division 1 sports (and a wide variety of groups to join)" and the sense of community that envelopes the College of Aviation. Also, in that team photo of favorites is the "aircraft we fly."
Because of the fleet's capabilities, he says, "the possibilities to fly to interesting places greatly widens. For my long cross-country in the Commercial Multi Engine course, I flew to Niagara Falls. Seeing it from the air is quite the sight, even though it looks very small from the air." Completing that course "allows me to fly multi-engine aircraft and get paid for it, putting me one step closer to achieving my dream."
One of the benefits of the MBAF scholarship was the opportunity to link with Avflight, which operates a chain of 23 fixed-based-operator enterprises from its headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich. "Working the line at an FBO (Fixed Base Operator) is highly valued for those interested in business aviation by greatly expanding knowledge of the industry and by interacting with mentors."
Don't bet the ranch against that not happening on the horizon.That experience led to what he had been coveting -- an internship with the Stryker Corporation's flight department based at the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport. "Once I met its director," he says, "I set my sights on an internship, but you must be asked to apply. It was supposed to start in the spring of 2019, but Covid shelved that. However, I still maintained contact with Greg Hamelink, the chief of maintenance. I was again offered an internship, which began in June. I will be able to keep it until I graduate, which is not like most internships. My duties include cleaning and restoring jets, shadowing the maintenance, and scheduling. I also will be able to 'jump seat' on Stryker's domestic flights and on one international trip."
Once that diploma is framed for wall hanging, Mardoian would initially like to fly for a seaplane enterprise in Florida, allowing him to build up his air hours and experience. Next step would be part of a corporate flight department. "But I am not closing doors to other opportunities in the industry down the line. To be truthful, I've always had an interest in flying for Southwest Airlines."
Western Michigan University's Bronco Marching Band, consisting of just under 300 members under the direction of Dr. Trey Harris, is recognized for its excellence in musical performance, fast-paced drill movements, and high energy entertainment. Comprised of students from virtually every academic discipline at the University, the band continues to build upon its strong tradition of musical excellence and first-class entertainment. In addition to the halftime shows for the Bronco football fans at home, the Bronco Marching Band supports our football team on select road trips, regularly performs in exhibition at area high schools and presents its annual “Season in Review” concert at Miller Auditorium on the campus of WMU. The band's performances are met with great acclaim.