Eighteen scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 were awarded to individuals nationwide who will now be able to fulfill their dream of completing flight training. Through the support of generous donors, the AOPA Foundation awards scholarships annually to assist flight students who may otherwise struggle financially to complete their training for a pilot certificate.
"These scholarships support the recipients’ dreams of flight, and also demonstrate that AOPA believes in them and is a partner in their aviation pursuits," said Mike Tompos, AOPA Foundation vice president of philanthropy.
Amy Schafer, 26, is a self-proclaimed Air Force brat whose love for aviation began at a very young age. “Though we lived all over the country, moving every couple of years between various A-10 bases, the flight line always felt like home to me,” said Schafer.
Throughout her school years, Schafer participated in aviation activities including a Wright Flight program in the fifth grade, school projects focused on Amelia Earhart, the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Air Academy where she became a Young Eagle, and glider lessons to focus on the fundamentals of flight during high school.
Schafer plans to earn her private pilot certificate and apply to be a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. “I can’t imagine anything more gratifying than being able to fly as a second career while serving my country,” she said. “One of the most formative events inspiring me to be an aviator was the privilege of meeting several WWII WASPs when I was only 12 years old—their immense tales of flight at a time when women were largely excluded from the field have been a source of joy and inspiration. The ability to carry on and share their legacy would mean the world to me.” (Watch a video of Schafer being surprised with the news of winning the scholarship.)
Joseph Bou Saada, 23, is from Lebanon, where general aviation is “non-existent.” After graduating from the Lebanese University in Fanar three years ago, he moved to the United States and began flight training at Lawrence Municipal Airport in Massachusetts.
Flying on the weekends and working full-time during the week, Saada is focused on his aviation goals and future career as a pilot. The scholarship will allow him to fly more often rather than postpone flights due to financial obstacles.
Saada helps Boy Scouts earn their aviation merit badge, and looks forward to using his pilot certificate to help nonprofit aviation organizations such as Patient Airlift Services (PALS). “I look forward to spreading the flying 'bug' to the next generation,” he said. “The effort I am putting into this journey is worth it. I am reminded of this each time I get airborne, and [a] wide smile finds its way to my face.”
For Lauren McGough, 30, her love of flight evolved from her love of falconry. “I’m from Oklahoma and have been a licensed falconer—that is, someone who hunts with a trained bird of prey—since I was fourteen.”
McGough was learning how to skydive when she realized she enjoyed the airplane rides as much as the skydive itself. “My most immediate goal is to earn my private pilot certificate. My next goal is to obtain a commercial pilot’s license and become a jump pilot to give back to the skydiving community that first inspired me. Once I have my private and commercial I can build on that momentum to fly in ways that are more financially viable than now, as a student pilot,” she said.
“Anthropologists often work with remote, isolated and marginalized peoples—sometimes the only way to access them is by bush plane. I can think of nothing better than to use aviation to benefit both traditional peoples and magnificent birds! I would truly enjoy applying my avian expertise toward aviation safety. That would be a real world impact to be proud of.” (Watch a video of McGough being surprised with the news of winning the scholarship.)
Robert Hochwarth III, 17, has always wanted to be a pilot. When he built his first computer, the first thing he did was install flight simulators. He’s also an active member of the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation (VATSIM) community, which has given him knowledge about airspace and ATC that he applies to his flight training.
“Flying is my escape from the ‘real world’ and all of the stresses that come with it,” said Hochwarth. “I can be free for an hour or two, and not have to worry about a thing.”
Hochwarth said that once he earns his pilot certificate, “the first thing I will be doing is bringing all of my friends up, who haven't been in a plane yet. I want to spread my love of aviation with others and I think the best way to do that is to bring people along with me, because why not anyways when I'm paying $135/hr for an empty seat.”
Chase Harting, 18, a recent high school graduate in Minnesota, has been working hard to complete his private pilot certificate. The immense support that he receives from his aviation community has brought him a long way toward his goal of becoming a commercial pilot. Harting received an additional boost in the form of an AOPA Foundation Flight Training Scholarship and was presented with a check by AOPA President Mark Baker during EAA AirVenture 2017 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
With a Japan Airlines cabin attendant as a mother, 24-year-old Nana Obayashi’s childhood toys were miniature models and stuffed toys of commercial airliners. “The speed, the beautiful bird-like structure, the power, and the capability of flight seemed mystical and continued to fascinate me throughout my adolescence.”
After studying aerospace engineering and fluid dynamics in school, Obayashi decided to pursue her pilot certificate to gain practical knowledge about airplanes. Once training is complete, she looks forward to sharing aviation with family, friends, and colleagues.
“Now that I have a stable work schedule, I can place flight training at the top of my priority list, and fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a pilot,” said Obayashi.
Abel Leon, 31, originally from the Dominican Republic, remembers his first airplane ride at the age of nine. His passion for aviation has continued to grow since then. Since moving to the United States on his own at age 20, he has not been able to financially pursue his flight training goals, and thought they were out of reach.
Leon graduated from school as an aviation maintenance technician (A&P mechanic) to stay close to aviation and is working for a major airline. With encouragement from his wife and family, he recently decided to make a hard push by pulling his finances together to achieve his dream.
“I believe general aviation is the foundation for an individual that wants to pursue a career in aviation,” said Leon. “My plans for promoting aviation would be based on my experience, from the maintenance and flight perspective to encourage and inspire others specially minorities like me that the dream of aviation is achievable if one is willing to sacrifice work hard for it.”
Bing-Ngai Joseph Lam, 27, was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, and recently moved to Seattle. Focused on his goal of becoming a commercial pilot, he is working as a delivery driver to save money for flight training.
“My goal ultimately is to get enough hours for my ATPL and land a job in an airline,” Lam said. He said that at his current pace without financial assistance, it would take him more than four years to earn his commercial pilot certificate.
“Aviation is important to me because it is my goal to become a commercial pilot, and I can't imagine myself doing anything else,” said Lam. “My plan in the future is to help aspiring pilots reach their dreams.”
Juanita Falck, 55, from Riverside, California, has been a nurse for more than 25 years. She became interested in flying later in life, taking her intro flight at age 50, and has been very involved in the community since then, volunteering her time at aviation shows, seminars, and ground school sessions.
As an adult with financial responsibilities, the expenses of flight training have been challenges that she has worked to overcome. “Once I made the decision to train, I haven’t looked back,” she said. “I have had many obstacles along the way, but I keep on track by staying focused and training when I can.”
Her goal is to become a commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor to promote aviation to school-aged children so they are aware of the opportunities in the industry. “I also want to be able to share the joy and challenges of flying with young people especially because I wish someone would’ve done that for me when I was younger,” said Falck.
Cinnamon Franklin, 23, is a college student studying aviation management and professional flight. The first member of her family to attend college, she has a 4.0 GPA. While not in school or studying, Franklin works part time at her local airport and volunteers at the humane society as a foster parent for dogs and kittens.
“Aviation is important to me because it does so much for a community,” she said. She began her flight training in December of 2015 and has been persistent in pursuing her passion.
This scholarship will help Franklin expedite her flight training. Her goals are to earn her private pilot certificate; complete her degree; and get friends, family, and the local community involved in aviation.
Jazmine Hickerson, 28, is a single mother of two. She didn’t think being a pilot was achievable for her. After studying her second love, anthropology, in college, she realized her passion for aviation wasn’t going away.
While working as a flight attendant to be in the aviation industry, Hickerson was encouraged by the airline pilots she met. She recently left that job to pursue flight training, and hasn’t looked back. “It’s been the most amazing accomplishment I’ve ever had,” said Hickerson.
She plans to continue her flight training beyond the private pilot certificate. Her goal is to become an airline pilot, just like those who were so encouraging to her and guided her on her journey.
Sandya Narayanswami, 62, raises funds for science organizations focused on aerospace and spaceflight. She comes from an aviation family and her first flight was when she was only a few months old.
Once she began flight training, she had the privilege of meeting the late Bob Hoover, who encouraged her to persist. “This was an incredibly inspiring moment,” said Narayanswami.
Her goal is to become a private pilot and share the joy of aviation with family and friends. She plans to be an active member of the Caltech Flying Club and introduce flying to her niece and other young women.
Tobias Rein, 17, has been juggling flight training with numerous activities. He also works nearly 55 hours per week at two jobs but wants to use that money for college. Finanically, flight training is a struggle. “During the school year I fill my time with rowing on the local competitive team, taking part on the unified basketball team, doing community service and going on trips with my boy scout troop, working as an intern at Rhode Island PBS, being involved with numerous clubs, and of course, flying!” he said.
Rein views his goal of a pilot certificate as an opportunity for adventure and discovery, to inspire others, and to see the world from a new perspective. He also wants to help aviation humanitarian efforts thrive, including transporting medical supplies in another country, giving rides to medical patients and others in need through organizations such as Angel Flight, Angel Airlines, or Pilots N Paws, or inspiring the next generation of pilots from a young age.
“Ultimately, my goal is to fly for a living,” said Rein. “Whether that is going to evolve into commercial or cargo pilot, flying in the armed forces, or some other form of pilot, flying is what I am destined to do.”
Raymond Jimenez, 26, has been fascinated with airliners, space flight, and Bernoulli’s principle since he was in grade school. As an electrical engineer, today he helps build and fly spaceships.
“General aviation represents the ability to go beyond, to grow as a person, to become street smart in addition to book smart,” he said. He sees from his pilot colleagues that flying has taught them how to manage risks and make smart decisions.
Jimenez recently soloed and plans to complete his training for his private pilot certificate this year. Future goals include an instrument rating. “I hope I can set an example for those engineers who might've been too timid, too afraid, to go learn to fly,” he said.
Flight lessons have been a life-long dream for Ryan Smith, 32. He began training at the age of 17 but put lessons on hold when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
Now a deputy sheriff, he volunteers his time and flies with pilots at the sheriff's office and the Civil Air Patrol. “I have dedicated my life to protecting and serving others,” said Smith. “I want to continue to do that by furthering my career in aviation as a law enforcement pilot.”
Smith looks forward completing his private pilot training, pursuing advanced certificates, and sharing aviation with his four children. He plans to get involved with charitable organizations such as Angel Flight. (Watch a video of Smith being surprised with the news of winning the scholarship.)
Samantha Bassett, 39, became interested in aviation during an internship at Aspen Helicopter, Inc., in Oxnard, California, when she was 17. “My bosses there were some of the best men I have ever known,” she said. “They encouraged me to learn as much as I could about aviation, encouraged me to enroll in community college and even allowed me work time to study.”
She feels that becoming a pilot will be an asset to her as an air traffic controller when she speaks to pilots about using ATC services.
Bassett’s goal is to achieve her dream of becoming a private pilot, and travel to fly-ins to promote interaction between pilots and air traffic controllers.
Linda Phillips, 48, had her first flight in a Cessna 172 at the age of 16, and two years later joined the U.S. Navy. After serving in the Navy, she became a nurse, but aviation was never far from her mind.
Five years ago, two of her four children joined the Civil Air Patrol and Phillips was there to watch them take off and land. That was the catalyst to pursuing her own dream of flight.
Phillips plans to become a private pilot, and then pursue an instrument rating and commercial pilot certificate. “My goal is to eventually fly for Angel Flight or another such organization that is mission oriented,” she said. “I also intend to become a CAP pilot, once I have the minimum required 200 hours.”
Kwadwo Eck, 31, first experienced flight at the age of 18. Before beginning flight lessons, he familiarized himself with Microsoft Flight Simulator, RC helicopters, and drones. With a degree in computer science, Eck would like to couple that with aviation by advocating for new technologies in formal flight training. He sees that as a way to attract young people to aviation.
“My immediate goal is to obtain my Private Pilot’s License,” said Eck. “I ultimately plan to work specifically with organizations that support relief and missions work overseas in developing nations, providing food and supplies, transporting people with medical emergencies, and delivering goods in times of natural disasters and shortages.”
Eck plans to pursue advanced ratings, including an instrument rating, commercial pilot certificate, and flight instructor certificate, and be a role model for young black aviators. (Watch a video of Eck being surprised with the news of winning the scholarship.)