Over the summer of 2021, Walla Walla University hosted students in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) flight program through the United States Air Force (USAF).
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the USAF reached out to Matthew Toelke, WWU’s aviation program director and assistant professor of technology, to ask if the university would consider hosting about a dozen recently graduated high school students selected for a special Flight Academy program.
“The USAF funded the students entirely, which included covering commercial travel to and from Washington,” Linda Felipez, department chair and professor of technology at WWU, said. “[We are] one of 22 colleges and universities throughout the country that is hosting students.” Cadets stayed in WWU’s Foreman and Conard residential halls for eight weeks and ate in the campus cafeteria.
During their time on campus, the visiting students studied flight and general aviation at WWU’s Technology Flight Center and Canaday Technology Center. The training and course work served as a foundation to prepare the students to successfully pass the testing needed to obtain their private pilot's license.
Kaleb Runyon, a student from Idaho, said he plans to use the training he received to gain an advantage before starting the USAF flight training program. “I got my pilot slot [in the USAF flight training program] last June, so hopefully, this experience would advance me a little more so that I can reach the higher ranks and make my way to [becoming] a fighter pilot,” Runyon said. Another student, who did not want to be identified, talked highly about his experience. “My favorite part about the program was that we got to fly every day [and got] a lot of experience flying to multiple airports.”
Faculty, staff, and qualified students in the department of technology worked as professors, certified flight instructors, and chaperones. “Teaching this class was my senior project, and I was super excited to work with the university and the junior ROTC program,” Lydia Krueger, a senior in aviation management, said.
Felipez said that two of the USAF’s main goals for being hosted by WWU were to increase general interest in aviation and the Air Force and to provide both female and minority students with an opportunity to explore aviation as a career.