LAKELAND, Fla. – Southeastern University became one of 11 universities in the U.S. to be awarded a contract with the U.S. Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) Flight Academy program. Conducted at universities across the nation, the Air Force JROTC Flight Academy, Chief of Staff Private Pilot Scholarship program is an eight-week summer aviation training course that allows high school students to complete a Private Pilot’s Certification.
“Southeastern University is pleased to partner with the AFJROTC Flight Academy. Through this program we are able to introduce potential students to Southeastern and also play an important part in solving the critical pilot shortage,” said Dr. Joe Childs, director of aviation programs.
The scholarship program is intended to combat a national pilot shortage that the U.S. is currently experiencing. Both commercial airlines and the military are lacking sufficient numbers of pilots to keep up with the need. The Flight Academy also encourages diversity within the aviation industry. According to the U.S. Air Force, “Women make up less than 6% of pilots and minorities represent less than 10%.” The 125,000 cadets currently enrolled in high school Air Force JROTC make up the Air Force’s most diverse program.
Southeastern welcomed their first group of JROTC students on June 3 when eight students arrived to stay on SEU’s campus and begin training for their Private Pilot’s Certification. Southeastern is hosting a diversity of students in this summer program from Puerto Rico, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, North Dakota, Colorado and one from Hardee County, Fla., including three women. Seven of the students are high school juniors or seniors, and one is a college senior. The high school students applied through their JROTC program to receive the scholarship through the United States Air Force and the college student applied through her university’s ROTC program. Out of 10,000 applicants, only 150 were chosen to receive the $20,000 scholarship.
“Coming in as a Latina female I was nervous, but I was welcomed with open arms from the moment I touched down here. The staff and instructors have been so kind and supportive and I am so thankful for that,” said Kiara Cabrera, a college senior at the University of Puerto Rico. Cabrera is studying mechanical engineering while also being a part of their ROTC program and she plans to be commissioned into the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant.
The students complete coursework through Southeastern earning them six credits. This includes ground training such as emergency medical techniques while flying and learning aviation technology. They also fly once every weekday at Lakeland Linder International Airport with certified flight instructors.
“I loved that the first day we came to the airport for our lessons, we were already flying. It has been such a great experience already,” said Brenna Crouch, a rising high school senior.
Students who successfully complete the Flight Academy program will be awarded their Private Pilot’s Certification. This certification allows the individual to fly a private aircraft anywhere as long as they are in compliance with the airspace regulations set by the country of destination. The students will also be required to join the civil air patrol with funding from the U.S. Air Force which allows the students to continue to fly one to two times a month.
The JROTC students live on Southeastern’s campus and are supervised by two chaperones. They are transported to and from the airport each day and they also eat meals together, often in the campus restaurant. The chaperones take the students out for some meals, activities and trips to the store multiple times a week. Southeastern plans to continue hosting JROTC students and hopes to have 20 students for the summer of 2020.