Propelling aviation students to ascend to new heights

Aeronautical management technology student McKinley Richie accepts the Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial Scholarship.

Pictured: McKinley Richie (middle), a fourth-year aeronautical management technology student, receives the 2022–23 Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial Scholarship, or Tbird2 Scholarship, from Steve Ziomek (left), chairman and president of Tbird2 and Rudy R. Miller (right), chairman of the Tbird2 advisory board and scholarship committee.

Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial, Inc. has been offering scholarships and mentorship to aviation students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University since 2019.

“We want to make sure students have the ability to focus on their discipline and get the support they need so they can find their place in the aviation industry,” says Rudy R. Miller, chairman of Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial, Inc., or Tbird2, advisory board and scholarship committee.

With close ties to the Scottsdale Airport, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization launched in 2014 with the mission of preserving the history of the airport and aviation in Scottsdale, honoring and supporting military veterans and, most importantly, supporting aviation students around the state as they accomplish their academic and professional endeavors.

“Scottsdale Airport was built in 1942 to train U.S. Army Air Corps pilots for war and it was one of the largest training facilities in the world at the time,” says Steve Ziomek, chairman and president of Tbird2. “Aligning the history of this airport with the next generation of aviation professionals is important to us.”

McKinley Ritchie is the most recent ASU recipient of the scholarship. He is a fourth-year aeronautical management technology student concentrating in unmanned aerial systems. Ritchie says that this scholarship enabled him to redirect some of his college savings into earning his private pilot’s license.

Along with funding, Miller and Ziomek offer their personal mentorship to scholarship recipients.

“It’s a very moving and personal opportunity for us,” Miller says.

Ritchie says that “while the monetary value attached to the scholarship was much appreciated, the true value is the connections and knowledge that Steve and Rudy provide.”

He will take the knowledge and skills he has learned from his degree and the mentorship and support he has received from his professors as well as Miller and Ziomek as he embarks on the next phase of his education and career: earning his private pilot’s license and applying to become a pilot in the Air National Guard.

“The ASU aviation program is proud to announce that McKinley Ritchie is the 2022–23 recipient of the Tbird2 Scholarship,” says Marc O’Brien, program chair and associate teaching professor in ASU’s aviation program. “McKinley is an excellent student who holds an outstanding 4.00 GPA and will continue with his dreams of becoming an aviator for the U.S. Air Force.”

2020 Tbird2 Scholarship recipient Rachael Shantz earned her bachelor’s degree at ASU in aeronautical management technology with a concentration in air traffic management in 2021 and recently completed her management of technology master’s degree in aviation management and human factors in 2022. 

“The generous scholarship was truly life-changing for me,” Shantz says. “In a rather turbulent period of my life, the contribution to my education allowed me to focus on what matters most: my studies and my air traffic control training.”

Shantz’s long-term goal is to be an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Based on research by the Federal Aviation Administration and Aviation Business Association, this country will be more than 50,000 pilots short over the next 10 years,” Ziomek says. “But this scholarship isn’t just for pilots, it’s for mechanics, air traffic controllers, avionics technicians, individuals advancing drone technology and any aspect that is tied to aviation. It’s for all aviation students and we are proud of that fact.”

In January 2023, the TBird2 board of directors decided to increase Tbird2 Scholarship funding, furthering its commitment to aviation students and the future success of the aviation industry.

Share with your students: Learn more and apply

Visit the Engineering Scholarships webpage to apply — applications due Feb. 1. For more information about the Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial Scholarship or to give, visit the scholarship page or reach out to Jennifer Williams, assistant director of development at the Fulton Schools, at [email protected].