Inspired by alumni grandparents, future Bronco aims to take wing as pilot

Contact: Zinta Aistars

Katherine Jendrasiak standing in front of the bridge in Grand Rapids.GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Not many know their career path by seventh grade, but a gift from her grandparents changed the course of Katherine Jendrasiak’s life when she was just 13. 

“It was their 50th anniversary, and they gifted the family a trip to Alaska to celebrate,” Jendrasiak says. “It was the first time I was up in a small plane. It was a seaplane, with pontoons. The pilot let me sit in the co-pilot seat—and I knew then that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

Her aspirations will begin to take flight at Western Michigan University this fall. Choosing the University’s top-notch College of Aviation to pursue her dream was a given for the Grand Rapids resident. 

While attending Grand Rapids’ West Michigan Aviation Academy as a high school student, Jendrasiak learned about Western’s comprehensive aviation program—the third largest collegiate aviation program in the nation and highly reputed as one of the best. 

“Representatives from Western came in to talk to us about their aviation program, and it sounded perfect for me,” she recalls. “I plan to major in aviation flight science with the goal of becoming a commercial airline pilot.”

The College of Aviation teaches management, maintenance and flight, offering the only comprehensive aviation program at a public university in Michigan. Over the course of its 80-year history, the College of Aviation has grown into a world-renowned program with a prodigious industry reputation. With more than 1,150 resident undergraduate students, the College of Aviation is recognized as one of largest aviation programs in the United States. With its fleet of 28 Cirrus SR20s, it is home to the largest flight school in the Midwest.

“I would actually like to start with international travel and then domestic,” she said. “I’ve never yet been outside of the country. Maybe Greece and Italy first? Being in Western’s study abroad program would be fun.”

When on the ground, Jendrasiak enjoys hiking and exploring local attractions as her personal style of travel. And exploring Western's campus is the beginning point of that adventure. 

Katherine Jendrasiak making a W with her hands in downtown Grand Rapids.“I’m an active person, and I want to get involved in all sorts of things,” she says. “It all depends on how busy my freshman year will be and what I can fit in. But I enjoy lacrosse, swimming, soccer, basketball and cheering. And I plan on rushing, too, to join one of Western’s sororities and become a part of the Greek life.”

With some 35 organizations that make up the sororities and fraternities on campus to explore during “rush,” hundreds of Registered Student Organizations and an array of intramural sports at Western, Jendrasiak will have plenty from which to choose to maintain her active lifestyle and find her fit. 

“I’m looking forward to meeting lots of new people,” she adds.

Her education at Western will be continuing a family legacy. The grandparents who introduced her to flying, she says, met at the University’s Lee Honors College. Her grandmother made a career in fine arts as a music teacher and accounting, while her grandfather ran a dental practice in the Detroit area. Jendrasiak’s mother also attended Western. 

For Katherine, the sky is the limit. It begins by earning her wings at Western. 

To read about more student experiences, visit First-Year Faces.