Hear From Our Students
Students come to WMAA for many different reasons. Some are passionate about aviation. Others are looking for a challenge. Still, others seek a sense of community and purpose that rises beyond a traditional high school experience.
Here are just a few stories from WMAA students.
"I Want to Be the Best Person I Can Be"
Bridget’s focus on character and achievement is what led her to WMAA. “I was homeschooled through middle school,” she shares. “My brother was at WMAA, so I added this to my tour of high schools. I liked the organization of WMAA, the staff, and the student body, so I chose to come here.”
And she was not disappointed.
“I love that WMAA puts so much emphasis on character. We are taught to treat others as we want to be treated. That‘s important. We are all human and we all deserve respect.”
While she was in high school, Bridget also applied her energies to scouting. Bridget earned the highly-respected rank of Eagle Scout on December 1, 2020. Why was this so important to her? “We talk a lot about being prepared in scouting,” she notes. “You have to demonstrate that you are ready for anything life throws your way. You also have to demonstrate leadership. Being an Eagle Scout fits my personal values very well because I want to be the best person I can be. I don’t ever want to do anything that would cause people not to come to me with a need.”
Bridget says her experiences in both scouting and high school have helped her narrow down her post-WMAA plans. “I’m leaning towards forensic science,” she shares. “One of the reasons I’m interested in this career is because I would be helping people who can’t help themselves. I would be speaking for those who no longer have a voice.”
“The Bonus is Character Development”
The Franks’ path to WMAA started when Aaron was only 10 years old. At the time, Mark, Loree, and their son Adam lived near Detroit. They took Aaron to the flying camp at Oakland Yard Athletics.
“Aaron was not at all sure he wanted to do this, “ Loree recalls. “But we encouraged him. He tried it, and loved it!”
A friend recommended that the Franks check into high schools that participated with the Civil Air Patrol. That’s when meticulous mom Loree started researching. “I found three options: one in Novi, one in Detroit, and one in Grand Rapids,” she remembers. “We came to WMAA for a tour, and Aaron got very excited. Other schools had great programs, but WMAA’s focus on character development was the bonus for us.”
As Aaron wrapped up his first year at WMAA, both Mark and Loree were surprised by the outcome. “The first year was tough,” Loree admits. “Aaron struggled with his homework, and it was hard to be away from his friends. But he got really excited when he started planning for 10th grade. Now that excitement is motivating him. He’s doing better with his homework. He has made good friends who inspire him.”
Mark and Loree also agree that struggle is okay. “Kids who struggle in high school do better in college because they have learned to persevere,” she notes. “We wanted Aaron to learn the value of hard work and commitment. Our entire WMAA journey thus far has certainly met these goals!”
Students with Staying Power
“My family is originally from Ontario,” says Evelyn Kralt. “We moved to the United States 10 years ago, but my dad’s work took him back at the end of my junior year. Quebec students end their high school education in 11th grade and then spend two years in a pre-university school called a CEGEP. If I had gone back with my family, I would have been in limbo. I would not have a high school degree from either country, and I would not be able to start college, either.”
So Evelyn stayed in Grand Rapids to finish school and fulfill her dream of earning a private pilot license, which began in middle school.
“I attended a camp for girls interested in STEM, sponsored by Grand Valley State University,” she recalls. “We toured WMAA, rode in a small plane, flew the simulators, and saw the radio-controlled planes in the air. I was hooked!”
Evelyn has been involved in the radio-controlled flight club since her freshman year and was elected as the club’s first female president. “The RC club is a fantastic opportunity to spend time with the aviation instructors,” she says. “You learn basic stuff about planes, like aerodynamics, but you also get to interact with the staff and older student mentors. Now, as a senior, I’m instructing younger students. I’m learning leadership skills, both as the president of the club and as a mentor.”
Evelyn is committed to her education and to WMAA. “Yes, it’s hard to be separated from my family, but this is where I should be and I’m doing what I want to do.”
This Young Man is Going Places
Luke has some fairly unique interests. He’s probably one of the few young men you’ll ever meet who started his 18th birthday celebration by registering to vote. He’s passionate about politics and U.S. history, fascinated by engineering, and all in when it comes to liberal arts. He’s also a self-described “Supreme Court nerd” whose hero is Antonin Scalia.
And he is a young man with a purpose. “I came to WMAA because I was looking for something different in high school,” he recalls. “I thought aviation was cool, but it wasn’t really my focus.” He is, however, laser-focused on technology. “First, I want to get my electrical engineering degree,” he says. “Then I want to go on to law school so that I can work in patent and intellectual property law.”
Luke is also the recipient of the 2019 Gulfstream scholarship for WMAA students. Gulfstream is a long-time partner of WMAA, providing this scholarship as well as other significant and ongoing support. Luke is the first recipient not specifically pursuing an aviation career. His essay, his interests and his skills compelled the awards committee to invest in his future. “We are learning incredible life skills here,” Luke notes.
“We’re learning to be ladies and gentlemen. We’re learning to be polite and respectful. We need civility in politics, in business and in life. Education is great, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have personal integrity to go with it.”
"You Are Always Able to Help"
Theoretically, we all have 24 hours in each day. However, there are probably very few people who put as much into every one of those hours as Eliana Tucker does!
Let’s start with the fact that she chose WMAA because she wanted to be challenged. “I love school,” she says. “I’m not interested in aviation, but I’m really fascinated by biomedical engineering. I also like computer science. My brother’s WMAA experience showed me that this was where I wanted to be.”
But then there’s more. Eliana is also an accomplished ballet dancer. “I got into dance when I was in first grade,” she recalls. “I was really bad! But I stayed with it, and now it’s my passion.” Eliana dances with the Grand Rapids Junior Ballet, and the time commitment is staggering. “It’s a little challenging to fit it all in,” Eliana admits. “It’s pretty normal for me to leave the house at 7:00am and not get home until 9:00pm, sometimes six or seven days a week."
Eliana appreciates WMAA’s emphasis on volunteering. “The graduation requirement made me look into ways to volunteer, but now I do it on my own,” she explains. “Math and science are important, but volunteering makes you a well-rounded person. It shows you why you are doing everything else. And I’ve learned that you’re always able to help in some way, no matter what skills you have."
Meet WMAA’s Renaissance Man!
Sit and talk with Jaden for a few minutes, and you’ll be amazed by his wide-ranging interests. He likes to cook, especially Korean food. He’s handy with a pair of knitting needles. He’s a bit of an artist. He’s into languages. And, perhaps most importantly for his career at WMAA, Jaden loves engineering. “I knew WMAA had a reputation for engineering, but I also had some friends who were attending,” he admits. “I came for a few different reasons, but once I got into the engineering classes my freshman year, I was hooked.”
Jaden can’t get enough engineering. “I love all the choices here,” he says enthusiastically.
“We have so many engineering classes, and you can branch out into all kinds of different directions. I’ve explored Intro to Robotics, Digital Engineering, AP Computer Science, and now Autonomous Vehicles. I also love the fabrication lab, because I have unlimited access to all the tools and materials there.”
For Jaden, WMAA was “love at first byte.” “This is an unconventional place,” he notes. “The teachers really encourage students to explore and try things. I never had thoughts of going anywhere else!”
Meet One of Our “Leading” Students
We think it’s important to cultivate leadership skills in our students, and Nick Katerberg is a great example.
Nick’s “final exam” in last fall’s Leadership class required students to implement a community service project. Nick knew exactly what he wanted to do. “I heard a powerful speaker at the Hand2Hand dinner last fall,” Nick says. “He talked about a principal who found students foraging in the dumpsters on a snow day because they didn’t have a food source outside of school lunches. That really hit me. I knew I probably had some classmates that were hungry, and I wanted to help feed them.”
Hand2Hand focuses on providing weekend food for kids through church-school partnerships. The church buys supplies, and the volunteers assemble nonperishable food kits. Kids can pick up a kit on Friday that will help feed them over the weekend when they are not eating school meals.
This project required a lot of coordination and thoughtful implementation. Nick talked to the school administration and received their support. He formed a Partnership with Fair Haven Ministries and Thornapple Community Church. Then he worked with the staff to invite qualifying students, and he set up a discreet pantry in an accessible spot within the school.
“Kids are in and out of here all the time,” he says. “They can put food in their backpacks privately. I wanted this to be about feeding kids, not embarrassing them.”
Leaders take on difficult challenges and stick with them. We’re proud of Nick’s personal commitment to others and his demonstrated leadership skills. They will take him far in life and in his career!