Thirty-six years following the iconic heavier-than-air flight by the Wright Brothers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Aug. 19th, Orville Wright’s birthday, as National Aviation Day. This day was to honor the impact of that first flight and acknowledge the influence flight would have upon the American way of life.
For National Aviation Day 2022, the University of Oklahoma celebrates and enjoys the distinction of recently being named the top aviation school by FLYING Magazine. The publication aims to provide prospective students with information regarding the top flight schools, aviation colleges or universities in the United States and Canada.
FLYING Magazine uses career partnerships, value, campus life, fleet and facilities/location as part of the criteria in ranking aviation programs. Out of a possible 50-point score, OU scored 43, placing the university ahead of fellow Big 12 institutions such as Baylor and Oklahoma State.
“This ranking is an incredible testament to the strength of our School of Aviation,” said Berrien Moore, dean of the OU College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. “[This] reflects the university’s continuing efforts to support the workforce needs for Oklahoma’s growing aviation and aerospace industry.”
With OU’s constant goal of excellence, the College of Aviation’s distinction is another example of that pursuit. The college’s overall environment, which encourages students to follow their passions as well as lead them into a potential career path keeps aviation a top priority at OU.
“We are very proud of our program, our students, our faculty and our staff,” said Eric Wydra, director of Aviation Studies. “It’s nice to see an acknowledgement of our excellence from an unbiased third party. We take great pride in this recognition.”
The university’s strong business focus within its curriculum helped the school achieve the top spot. With an “impressive contact list,” students are better prepared for life after graduation within the aviation industry. OU’s strong push in the field of aerospace and defense research and partnerships with aviation entities provides another example of that pursuit for excellence.
“OU has a history of being a trail blazer in these partnerships,” said Wydra. “The current airline partnership model you see across the country originated between OU and American Eagle (now Envoy) and is now a standard model for most airline/university partnership programs.”
Southwest Airlines' first college partnership was with the University of Oklahoma. By the end of 2022, OU will enjoy six total partnerships with commercial airline companies. Those partnerships are integral to attracting prospective students from all over the world to OU.
“This gives our students a ‘buffet’ of airlines to choose from,” Wydra added.
In addition to the partnerships and outstanding leadership with the College of Aviation, the students are what help sell the program. With a program that can work alongside a demanding schedule, students have flourished within the program.
Allix Huggan, a senior majoring in pro-pilot aviation with a minor in business, performed her first solo flight in January of 2020 – a year in which she also earned a spot on the Academic All-Big 12 Rookie team.
“My favorite memory flying at OU has to be my first solo,” said Huggan, who also is a coxswain on OU’s rowing team. “I was nervous, but my instructor was very kind and helped me build the confidence to fly by myself. My family was even allowed to say hello at the end! This day was my favorite not only because I got to accomplish my solo, but because I realized that OU was not just a flight school but also a family.”
Huggan’s background as the daughter of a United States Navy pilot may have suggested a career in aviation, but it was not guaranteed. When she was younger, Huggan believed in order to become an airline pilot, you had to serve in the military like her father. While young people’s thoughts of the future are fluid during growth, a full-time career in the military was not a venture Huggan wanted to pursue.
It was not until she toured Max Westheimer Airport before coming to OU that she understood a career in flight could be navigated without military experience. Following her tour, she felt this OU’s flight school is where she belonged.
With a kind and welcoming staff, as well as receiving an olive branch from the organization Women in Aviation, Huggan set her sights on an aviation degree.
“OU’s Women in Aviation group reached out to me and even gave me a mentor before I started the program, Huggan said in 2020. “I loved the atmosphere of support when I was at the university. To me, it seemed that OU not only cared about giving you a degree, but they also cared about supporting you throughout the rest of your future.
“I feel OU really cares about their students and where students will go after OU.”
Huggan hopes to become a pilot for Southwest Airlines following graduation. With OU’s relationship with Southwest, Huggan was accepted into Southwest’s Destination 225 program, setting her on an optimistic path for her professional dreams.
The family atmosphere described by Huggan is echoed by fellow student Henil Rathod, a senior from Dallas majoring in aviation management-flying.
“Being a student at the School of Aviation is like having a second family,” said Rathod. “OU Aviation fosters tight-knit and lasting relationships with like-minded individuals who share a genuine passion for aviation. The school represents a diverse background of individuals, which has allowed me to learn from and share unique perspectives during my time here. The culture here is what speaks for the program; everyone is extremely enthusiastic about what they do and motivated to help you succeed, whether it be faculty, flight instructors or even peers.”
Rathod is already a licensed commercial pilot and plans on pursuing his certified flight instructor rating this year.
Through its well-laid-out curriculum, hands-on experience through personalized certified flight instructors and access to internships and research opportunities, the College of Aviation is laser-focused on ensuring its students are set on a path to success.
“We have always looked at our degrees as preparation for our graduates to be aviation industry professionals, not just pilots,” said Wydra. “As such, these graduates have the skill sets to not only be successful pilots but be successful in the aviation industry.”
So, when an OU pilot graduate leaves OU, he/she is not only ready to be a professional pilot, but also be an aviation professional with options both on and off the flight deck.”