Nearly 150 students, teachers, and other aspiring pilots were awarded funds that will help them pursue their dreams for a future in the aviation industry.
Awards for AOPA scholarship recipients range from $250 to $20,000, with an average scholarship amount of approximately $9,000. Scholarships are allocated to help recipients pursue pilot, aviation maintenance, and aerospace careers; cover the cost of flight training; and provide funds for advanced ratings and certificates. The 2023 awards include the largest group of recipients and the most scholarship funds distributed to date.
After pausing her training for a year, she was excited to resume flying.
“I’m actually surprised at how much I remembered,” Dawar said. “I missed being in the sky.”
It’s the freedom and opportunity that draw her to general aviation and she hopes to use it in the future for both recreational and volunteer flying. “It just sounds very pleasant to me to have a plane and be able to take it wherever I want.”
These scholarships are made possible through the AOPA Foundation—the 501(c)(3) philanthropic arm of AOPA that, through generous donations, funds programs that AOPA membership dues don’t cover. Beyond helping people reach their aviation goals through the annual flight training scholarship program, the AOPA Foundation funds content distributed by the AOPA Air Safety Institute and You Can Fly initiatives that help build the pilot community and keep it safe.
Harsh Patel is one of the newest members of the pilot community, but he’s loved aviation since he was 4 years old, when he immigrated with his family from India to the United States for his dad’s job working with jet engines.
“I play video games based on aviation, I study books on it in my free time,” said Patel. “I’m going to be pursuing it for my career, and eventually I’ll be flying recreationally as well. Aviation is basically everything to me.”Patel is currently a student pilot working toward his primary certification. He graduated as valedictorian of his high school this spring and plans to attend Purdue University and obtain a degree in aerospace engineering.
He lives in Hartford, Wisconsin, and the proximity to EAA headquarters had afforded him opportunities to explore aviation maintenance, flight, and even the chance to help build a Van’s Aircraft RV–12, which he’ll be able to use for flight training.
Patel was awarded one of nearly 100 AOPA Foundation You Can Fly High School Flight Training Scholarships. Made possible through the generosity of the Ray Foundation, these $10,000 scholarships give high school students a chance to earn their private pilot certificate. Flight training scholarships are also awarded to teachers who use the AOPA Foundation You Can Fly High School Aviation STEM Curriculum.
Five Boeing Professional Flight Training Scholarships of $20,000 each were also funded by Boeing this year, supporting the organizations’ common goal of building the pilot population. Boeing’s benevolence will make it possible for additional enthusiasts to pursue their aviation dreams.
“AOPA and Boeing have a common goal of helping more aspiring aviators to take flight and keep our nation’s freedom to fly strong,” said Elizabeth Tennyson, senior vice president of the AOPA Foundation and You Can Fly. “We are grateful to our friends at Boeing for their generosity and look forward to a long-term and fruitful partnership.”
Kristina Siry is a recipient of one of the scholarships funded by Boeing and a flight instructor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with aspirations to make it to the major airlines. She recently earned her CFI instrument certificate and plans to use the scholarship to work toward her multiengine instructor and seaplane ratings.
“Once I go to the airlines I want to still stay in GA somehow,” said Siry. “I want to still be a part of this general aviation community.”As a student, Siry has battled a lack of confidence and financial hurdles. Perseverance was the biggest thing she learned, and she hopes to pass it on to her students. As an instructor, Siry draws from her background in education to bring patience and a diversity of learning styles to the flight deck. “You have to be organized and you have to be willing to go above and beyond for your students because they see that and it pushes them to work harder,” she said.
“I’m learning every day and it’s something I’m passionate about,” said Siry. “To have found out I received this scholarship was an incredible honor because it just opened so many doors.”
Caitlin Thomas is another Boeing scholarship recipient. Born and raised in Hawaii, Thomas was exposed to aviation through her grandpa, who was an aircraft mechanic, and her mom, who is a flight attendant. But she didn’t realize she could pursue aviation as a career until after college.She is currently working toward a career in the airlines and is preparing to take her instrument checkride. The scholarship will help her in continuing to pursue her commercial certificate and multiengine rating. “I am so completely honored and thankful for this scholarship,” said Thomas. “It’s changing my life.”
“I think the biggest challenge in my aviation journey so far has been finances,” she said, describing the cycle that many flight training students and pilots encounter of trying to save enough money and make progress in flight training, then running out of money and interrupting their training. “The scholarship will definitely help me to keep the momentum going.”
Thomas points to the aviation community she’s built, including the Hawaii chapter of Women in Aviation International and the Aloha Ninety-Nines, as an extremely important part of her flight training perseverance. Even with stops and starts and breaks, her determination hasn’t waned.
“I’ve been applying to AOPA scholarships since 2019,” said Thomas. “I’m really glad that I kept trying and want to be able to encourage others to keep applying and just trust the process and timing of things.”
Congratulations to all of the 2023 AOPA scholarship winners.
The You Can Fly program and the Air Safety Institute are funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To be a part of the solution, visit www.aopafoundation.org/donate.
—AOPA Senior Director of Communications Eric Blinderman contributed to this report.